Design tsar: 'Changing capital city is like trying to alter course of planet'

THE award-winning architect hired to help shape Edinburgh's future delivered a withering verdict on the city yesterday as he signed off from his role.

Sir Terry Farrell – the capital's "design tsar" for the past five years – launched a stinging critique on the pace of change and leadership in the city. He said he was dismayed at the lack of progress during his tenure, blaming "introverted negativity and a concentration on the small scale and the short term".

One of Britain's best-known architects, Sir Terry claimed the city was being held back by a "pervading inertia" within the local authority and said attempting to enact change was like "trying to make a planet change its course".

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He warned the city council major mistakes were being made over the tram network and how the waterfront regeneration was taking shape.

He was also critical of efforts to transform Princes Street – he advocated bulldozing half the thoroughfare's buildings in an attempt to restore its fortunes and said work was desperately needed to bring its upper floors into proper use.

He said Edinburgh was in desperate need of visionary figures to provide strong leadership.

Sir Terry, mastermind of the city's financial district and conference centre, said many of his ideas had been ignored over the years.

But council leader Jenny Dawe rejected many of his criticisms and insisted Sir Terry had helped change the culture within the authority and influenced major changes brought about in planning and development.

The local authority has decided to take forward a key recommendation that a public-private sector task force – involving developers, architects and planners – is set up to recommend how Edinburgh takes shape over the next 20 years.

Sir Terry gave a keynote address at the City Chambers yesterday and issued all 58 councillors with a dossier mapping out his vision, which was published last year, and a new report spelling out his criticisms and recommendations .

He said he had argued throughout his tenure for a review of a decision to have only one tram stop in Princes Street and said it was "incredible" rail commuters at Waverley would have to walk half the length of the street to get a tram.

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He bemoaned the lack of progress over plans to create a new cultural quarter linking the Usher Hall with Festival Square and to create pedestrian-friendly crossings at the foot of Lothian Road, outside the Royal Scottish Academy and at the Princes Mall shopping centre.

Sir Terry was appointed by the previous Labour administration to help advise senior officials and councillors. But his tenure has been dogged by controversy, amid claims of a conflict of interest over his close involvement with a planned extension of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, his reluctance to comment on major developments in the city centre, and concerns that he has not been close enough to the decision-making processes in the capital.

However, Sir Terry said his experience had been of an "impoverished" city-making culture.

He said: "I don't actually feel my five years have been in vain, but it has failed to rise to most standards over the last ten years of urban renaissance. Other cities like Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, they all make Edinburgh look totally behind the starting line.

"I am aware politicians from the different parties have shown a good understanding of the challenges and have been very supportive. The issue is, they have to realise they control the bureaucracy which runs the city for them. They need to become more assertive and demanding of their senior officers or things will not change."

Sir Terry said he had found Edinburgh "afflicted" by projects to control traffic rather than attempt to give pedestrians priority in the city centre.

He accused heritage groups in the capital of "navel-gazing" and of ignoring major issues involving the tram project.

He said: "Do these bodies, and the people of Edinburgh at large, know there is only going to be one tram stop on Princes Street? It was only a year ago that the tram company's engineers admitted more than one stop could be created, but I was told it was too late to do anything about it.

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"Instead of helping the regeneration of the West End, a stop is being created on Coates Crescent, which will involve the narrowing of the pavements and cutting down of mature trees.

"The waterfront is a huge opportunity for Edinburgh and should be the next New Town for the city, but a radical rethink is needed. What has been created so far is less than second-rate and developers have been allowed to carve it up according to market demand."

Councillor Dawe said: "We are actually looking at a lot of the things he is critical about."


SIR Terry Farrell founded his London architectural practice in 1965, and it has continued in his name since 1980. Originally from Newcastle, he has particular expertise in urban design and planning.

His work was prominent in London during the 1980s – examples include the TV-am building in Camden with its famous twin eggcups.

Sir Terry, who was knighted in 2001, was the master planner for Edinburgh's Exchange financial district. His best-known buildings in the city are the EICC and the Dean Gallery.