Dust-up over capital's crumbling landmarks

HERITAGE chiefs have raised fresh fears over the future of Edinburgh's historic buildings after it emerged many face imminent demolition.

As many as ten buildings which have been deemed important enough to be given listed status have been given a death sentence in the last two years alone.

As councillors debate the fate of another city landmark – the B-listed Madelvic car factory in Granton – the debate between preservation and progress has been reignited.

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Campaigners say even the most bland of listed structures are important slices of history which must be retained. Developers point to useless buildings which are often blots on the landscape and hold up work to create the next generation of landmarks.

Both the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS) and heritage body the Cockburn Association believe too much emphasis is being placed on encouraging development at the expense of the Capital's architectural past.

Among those buildings earmarked for demolition since October 2007 are the former Odeon cinema on Clerk Street, the Old Sailor's Ark on the Canongate and buildings on Princes Street and St Andrew Square.

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Two listed buildings – a former home for nurses on Lauriston Place and a veterans' home on Gilmerton Road – have already been torn down.

The Madelvic factory, which councillors will rule on today, dates back to 1899 and is the oldest motor factory in Britain.

Marion Williams, the head of the Cockburn Association, said there was a real possibility that city icons such as the Tron Kirk – which has been unused since 2008 – could face demolition due to a lack of imagination about their future.

She said: "We've got to have some kind of strategic plan about what we want to do with our buildings and that needs to be adhered to. Economic development does appear to be the imperative, but it shouldn't be.

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"We need to find out how communities can find a new use for these buildings. Look at Edinburgh at the moment – there are so many new offices that have applications to be turned into student accommodation because no-one is using them. We would rather see a change of use than demolition."

Perhaps the most contentious development is the Caltongate project. Approval has already been given to demolish the C-listed Canongate Venture school and the Sailor's Ark homeless hostel.

Ms Williams, whose organisation formally objected to Caltongate, added: "Around Caltongate they're getting rid of very important pieces of built heritage. We're not happy with that at all. We could again ask the question whether we need to do that in the name of progress and the answer would be, emphatically, no."

Euan Leitch, spokesman for the AHSS, said that among those buildings approved for demolition within the last two years, in the majority of cases the argument given was that they were "not economically viable".

He said: "The economic argument seems to be particularly strong and the council often seems unable to counter that argument.

"In the majority of these cases I would say the development argument is winning out unfairly."

However, Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said there was a danger that an overemphasis on the importance of a building's heritage could stymie development.

He said: "Our view is that we should be leveraging our heritage to facilitate new development and we're right to be cautious in Edinburgh because of the richness of the urban landscape.

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"However, if you look at Caltongate, then those tenements (earmarked for demolition] were constructed in the 1920s and there are another 150 examples in Edinburgh. What's their real merit?"

Mr Birse said heritage sites such as Charlotte Square had benefited from having commercial tenants which preserved their character.

Council planning convener Jim Lowrie said: "We look at each case on their individual merits.

"We try to strike a fine balance between preserving our heritage and furthering the economic development of the city."


HERITAGE groups and Old Town residents have criticised plans to add an "ugly and unsympathetic glass box" to the house in which economist Adam Smith spent his final days.

The Edinburgh Business School – part of Heriot-Watt University – bought Panmure House from the city council for 800,000 in May 2008.

It is proposing a 2 million revamp to turn it into a major education and research centre for the study of business and economics, which would include a box-shaped glass-covered atrium in the courtyard.

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Historic Scotland said that the atrium would cause damage to the A-listed building, where Smith lived from 1778 until his death in 1790. Edinburgh World Heritage has also urged a rethink of the plans for the Lochend Close building.

Steven Robb, senior inspector of historic buildings at Historic Scotland, said that the glazed atrium and staircase was unnecessary as it could be contained within the existing building. He said: "Although we consider the use and link with Adam Smith as welcome, it doesn't outweigh or justify the damage that an external stair and glazed atrium would cause to this important category A-listed building."

In its design statement, the Edinburgh Business School said the proposals would "transform the public perception and image of the building", as well as enhancing it as a heritage asset.