Edinburgh’s Calton Hill landmarks under threat, finds report

For centuries it has been one of Edinburgh’s most unmistakable landmarks.

For centuries it has been one of Edinburgh’s most unmistakable landmarks.

But now Calton Hill, the public park towering over the Scottish capital, is facing unprecedented threats to its future.

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An official report has warned of the need for a long-term rescue plan to protect its historic fabric and monuments, improve public safety, and safeguard historic views to and from the beauty spot.

Clampdowns on vandalism, antisocial behaviour, the amount of rubbish being left during peak periods and noise disruption from major events are recommended in a new long-term blueprint.

Woodland areas, grassland, railings, walls, drains, paths and steps on Calton Hall are all said to be in a declining condition.

The site is said to be dogged by “mediocre” facilities for visitors, marred by graffiti, under threat from climate change and suffering from a lack of resources.

Under plans expected to be approved by councillors next week, a proposed taskforce would bring together representatives of key departments, along with heritage bodies, local residents and a proposed “Friends of Calton Hill” group to coordinate efforts to transform its fortunes.

The blueprint has been drawn up to coincide with the opening later this year of a new home for the Collective Gallery in the former City Observatory, which include a restaurant which will be open in the evenings.

It is hoped the Heritage Lottery Fund-packed project will be the catalyst for long-awaited repairs and the introduction of new furniture, cycle racks and even rickshaws or horse-drawn carriages.

Other suggestions include clearing the base of the National Monument to help deter people from climbing up it and installing new lighting features to highlight key landmarks and tackle long-standing safety concerns over “blackspot” areas.

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The blueprint cites “mugging, threatening behaviour, drug abuse, vandalism, graffiti and anonymous intimate activities” as current deterrents to tourists and residents visiting Calton Hill after dark or in the evenings.

Calton Hill is used for a host of major events, including accommodating thousands of spectators for the Hogmanay fireworks, the Beltane Fire Festival and the Dussehra Hindu Festival.

However the official report has highlighted concerns about the level of noise from events and the impact they are having on the fabric of the park.

The new blueprint says: “The vision for Calton Hill Park is, through a combination of physical enhancements and revisions to its management and maintenance, to create a parkland environment that is complementary to its inherent landscape characteristics and to its exceptional landmark buildings.

“It must embrace changes which remove the air of neglect and which create a park which is notable for the quality of its public realm, the setting of its monuments, its panoramic views and its facilities for visitors.”

In a report for councillors, place director Paul Lawrence states: “The prominence of Calton Hill in physical, visual and cultural terms demands that this prominence is underpinned by a high-quality environment which is maintained to a high standard for the enjoyment and safety of all.”

Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, added: “For hundreds of years, Calton Hill has been a cherished place for walkers and star gazers and a symbol of the Edinburgh Enlightenment.

“It certainly remains a great place to admire the capital, particularly from the top of Nelson Monument, and when work to restore the observatory is complete this summer it will also feature an incredible new art gallery.

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“The restoration will be an important step towards improving the hill and has received significant investment from the council, but it is important we keep looking to the future and ensure the whole hill remains well-kept, well-loved and well-conserved.”

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “’Calton Hill is a place of exceptional significance due to its picturesque setting, fine buildings and monuments, and remarkable views. It is also associated with many prominent individuals from Scotland’s history such as David Hume, Robert Burns and William Henry Playfair.

“The management plan clearly states that the park in its current poor state does not match its importance to Edinburgh and to Scotland. It presents a detailed and comprehensive summary of current issues and failings, articulates a vision for its future and recommends a new partnership approach for its management, all of which is welcome. We urge the council to adopt the plan and allocate adequate resources, both in terms of people and money, to ensure that the plan is successfully implemented over the coming years.”