THIS is an exclusive new image of how an Old Town eyesore will be transformed into an vibrant new district in the historic heart of the Capital – 12 years after blueprints were first unveiled.
The £300 million Caltongate complex – boasting hotels, a conference centre, homes and offices – will now preserve several under-threat landmarks in the Old Town once destined for demolition, as momentum gathers to breathe new life into the notorious gap site that has lain vacant since 2001.
Despite many false dawns, this updated artist’s impression depicts a bustling commercial quarter with the retained Canongate Venture building – formerly North Canongate Infant School – featured prominently and incorporated into new designs.
Also saved from the wrecking ball is the façade of the Old Sailor’s Ark building, where a million meals were served to hungry Edinburgh families in just one year, following the Second World War.
Heritage bodies had railed against earlier development plans to raze some remnants of old Edinburgh to the ground, but have welcomed revised blueprints which also aim to preserve the Jeffrey Street arches and views of Calton Hill.
The original Caltongate project was first announced in 2001 and gained planning consent the following year before the site was sold to London-based developer Mountgrange Capital in 2004. Plans which threatened the future of historic buildings and vistas were opposed by heritage groups, but granted planning permission in 2008.
A year later the firm collapsed, along with its more controversial designs, and the site was snapped up by South African-based consortium Artisan.
Lukas Nakos, the developer’s managing director, said: “We have the opportunity to create one of Europe’s most exciting and vibrant mixed-use communities which will set an international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development.
“We feel we now have a proposal which balances ambitious and exciting commercial priorities with a genuine understanding of the area’s community and civic context.
“This is a long overdue opportunity to revitalise a strategic city centre location between Waverley Station and the Scottish Parliament, whilst being part of the very fabric of the historic heart of the city.
“The location is the missing piece of the jigsaw which will see the rejuvenation of the Old Town as a vibrant commercial and social quarter of international appeal.”
Euan Leitch, left, of the Cockburn Association, which opposed plans for the area, said: “We are pleased to learn that Artisan intends to retain the Canongate Venture and the spectacular view from Jeffrey Street to Calton Hill. Keeping only the façade of the Old Sailor’s Ark is perhaps a superficial approach to conservation.
“Artisan have certainly responded to some of those criticisms that we shared with local groups and with Unesco of the Caltongate Masterplan and we are keen to see the details at Thursday’s exhibition.
“It is unfortunate that the consents for the demolition of these listed buildings may be renewed by the city council next week, which obviously raises some concerns should the site be sold on.”
DECADE OF DESOLATION
A HUGE area of the Old Town has lain derelict since stalled plans to create a five-star hotel, offices and housing were unveiled in 2001.
The former New Street bus station site is home to the former North Canongate Infant School – now the Canongate Venture building – which is said to have helped shape the Children’s Act of 1908, when its long-time headteacher became a key witness to a House of Commons study which led to the ground-breaking legislation being introduced.
Also housed on the site is the C-listed Old Sailor’s Ark building which fed thousands of impoverished Edinburgh households either side of the Second World War. It now houses the homeless charity Streetwork.