National Gallery revamp going over budget despite being cut back

A 16.8 million overhaul of the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh was due for completion in 2018.
A 16.8 million overhaul of the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh was due for completion in 2018.
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A long-awaited overhaul of Scotland’s flagship art gallery is set to go millions of pounds over budget - despite being dramatically scaled back in a bid to keep its cost down.

The National Galleries of Scotland has admitted it does not yet how much the revamp of its historic home at The Mound in Edinburgh will cost.

A five metre extension of the Scottish National Gallery into Princes Street Gardens has been shelved to try to keep costs down.

A five metre extension of the Scottish National Gallery into Princes Street Gardens has been shelved to try to keep costs down.

Bosses have revealed they may have to go back to the Scottish Government to ask for more financial help on the project, which has an official price tag of £16.8 million.

And they admitted they will have to seek fresh planning permission after abandoning plans to extend the complex into Princes Street Gardens - more than a year after the previous scheme was backed by councillors.

The booming construction market in Edinburgh city centre, where work is underway on a number of major developments, and the impact of Brexit have been blamed for the expected hike in the cost of the project.

A final budget and fundraising targets will not be set until the tendering process for the project is complete. Work may not now get underway until the end of 2018 - almost two years later than envisaged.

However Sir John Leighton, director-general of the galleries, insisted he was hopeful the project, first announced in 2014, will be finished by 2020.

The overhaul is predicted to double the amount of space for Scottish art treasures on The Mound following years of complaints that they were hidden away in a “dead end” basement, where less than 20 per cent visitors venture.

When the project was officially launched just over a year ago it was said to be aimed at tackling the “institutional embarrassment” of how work by the likes of Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, Alexander Nasmyth and Phoebe Anna Traquair is displayed.

But it emerged in May of that extending the existing 19th century building by around five metres had been ruled out due to the concerns over the cost and complexity of building above railway tunnels.

Sir John said: “We’re hoping to go back in for planning permission later this year. Once we have the necessary approvals we’ll go out to tender. We’ll only then be able to say with a degree of precision what the schedule of work and price will be. I’m not going to give an indicative cost. It will be more than the figure we gave before. How much more than that I can’t say just now. But we’ll be trying to keep as close to £16.8 million as we possibly can.

“The HLF have reconfirmed their support for the project. We will not be going back to them. The Scottish Government remains extremely supportive. We’re still working to an end date in 2020. We’re hoping to make some time back as the new scheme, in construction terms, will be simpler.

“A lot depends on how long the planning process takes. We’re hoping it will be relatively simple, but who knows?

“A lot will also depend on where the market is with the tenders we are putting out and how long they take to negotiate. It’s very difficult to put a precise time on that.

“The construction market was much more stable when we went out to tender the last time. A whole lot of uncertainties have entered into the frame since then, not least Brexit, and its impact on the cost of raw materials and construction. But by this time next year I’d hope we would have contractors on site and spades in the ground.”