A row has erupted over plans to create Edinburgh’s first new concert hall for more a century after backing was won from the body responsible for safeguarding the city’s world heritage status – in the face of protests from a firm behind a £1 billion shopping and leisure complex on its doorstep.
There are disputed claims the height of the venue has been increased since it won £25 million worth of backing from the UK and Scottish governments and the city council in order to accommodate larger audiences.
Developers behind the new St James quarter are demanding the height of the £45m concert venue is reduced to protect views to and from a five-star W Hotel envisaged as the centrepiece of the development, insisting the proposals ignore planning guidelines designed to protect important views across the New Town.
However, Impact Scotland, the charitable trust pursuing the concert hall, says the concert hall’s design was actually scaled back in the wake of a public consultation. It has refuted the suggestion the capacity of the venue has increased from 800 to 1,000.
Real estate giant Henderson, the firm behind the St James project, has embarked on a letter-writing campaign urging local residents to oppose the concert hall project due to its unsuitability for Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.
However, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust director Adam Wilkinson has praised the architect David Chipperfield for a “significant reduction in height” in the plans for the venue – a move that has triggered a demand for a retraction from Henderson.
Development director Martin Perry said: “The proposals have gone up in height and this begs the question as to whether Mr Wilkinson was misled or misinformed about the proposals. How can they now be acceptable if they have increased in height?”
An Impact Scotland spokeswoman said: “Throughout over a year of extensive consultation with the city, heritage groups and the general public, the shape of the building has gone through a number of iterations in order to both lower its height overall and reduce its mass within the city. The building’s shape, form and height have all been reduced to both minimise its impact and respond to the surrounding context.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh World Heritage said: “Mr Perry is clearly concerned about the views of guests from the new hotel down George Street and across the city. Our concern, however, is to protect the values of the World Heritage Site, including the extraordinary skyline so that it can be enjoyed by residents and visitors to the city alike.”