Work begins on £22 million project for better access to Scottish National Gallery

Artist impressions of plans for the revamp of the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) and part of Princes Street Gardens
Artist impressions of plans for the revamp of the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) and part of Princes Street Gardens
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Images have been released that reveal the extent of changes to Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh by opening up access to the Scottish National Gallery as work begins on the project today.

The £22 million revamp of the Scottish National Gallery has been dogged by controversy in recent years due to soaring costs, delays in construction work getting under way and the impact on long-standing trees in the historic park.

The East Princes Street Gardens entrance to the gallery complex will be closed for several months to accommodate work both inside and outside the complex under the scheme, which has recently been scaled back and is running at least three years late.

A swathe of the gardens will be re-landscaped by the spring to create a new “accessible” zig-zag sloping pathway suitable for wheelchairs and prams, while work inside the building will continue for more than two years.

Officials have said 22 trees will be planted in the next few weeks to replace the 52 trees that were controversially cut down before Christmas as part of the preparatory work in the area where the new embankment will be created.

They have also revealed talks are taking place on planting extra trees in other parts of the city.

A two-minute video was today released by the National Galleries showing how the gardens and the gallery will be transformed by the project, which has already been in the planning stages for more than six years. It will see the creation of the first new exhibition spaces to house some of Scotland’s most important works of art in more than 30 years, which visitors will be able to access direct from the gardens.

They will also be able to view works by the likes of Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, Alexander Nasmyth, Anne Redpath and Phoebe Anna Traquair while enjoying new views to the gardens.

However, the work starting today will mean visitors will not be able to access the building from the gardens until later in the spring. The gallery shop, cafe and restaurant will also be closed for the next few months.

The project, which is being partly funded by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be the biggest change at the Scottish National Gallery complex since an underground link was created in 2004 to join up the National Gallery and Royal Scottish Academy buildings, which have both been fixtures of Edinburgh’s landscape since they were built in the 19th century.

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries, said: “We’re grateful for the public’s patience while we create these improvements to the galleries and the surrounding space.

“We want the Scottish National Gallery to be a place for everyone to enjoy. We have two years to go before opening, but we hope that as this year progresses people will already begin to feel the great benefits of the work we are doing here.”

Dr Tricia Allerston, co-director of the Scottish National Gallery, said: “With this once-in-a-lifetime project we will transform the way we show the world’s greatest collection of historic Scottish art, both in the new, light-filled, state-of-the-art display spaces and in the innovative way we will be showcasing the work of Scottish artists alongside our wider international collection.”