And now developers Dreamvale Properties Limited are seeking to evict protestor Simon Byrom, community councillor and local resident, at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.
Building of a 225-bedroom hotel, approved for planning by the city council in November last year, was due to start on the Cowgate site, to the rear of the city’s Central Library, yesterday.
On the edge of the busy Cowgate junction, next to the rear exit of Espionage nightclub, a solo sycamore tree sits on the edge of the contested land.
Simon has been a resident of the upper branches of the tree for seven days, eating and sleeping in a makeshift shelter, to draw attention to the cultural impact he believes the development will have and the effect on the local community.
He said: “This land needs to revert back to public ownership. It’s far too precious to be given away to private development.
“This land has been set aside as long as this tree has been here.
“And besides fundamentally compromising the library’s future development, the proposed hotel would overshadow the library with up to 80 percent loss of natural light.”
Simon has been sleeping under a leaky tent on wooden platforms, balanced precariously between the branches of the tree, overhanging wooden hoardings around the perimeter of the site.
Supporters, well-wishers and philanthropic passers-by leave food for him in a bag on a pulley.
But despite appearing drastic and potentially eccentric, he felt he had no other option.
“We assumed by challenging the authority [through legal action], and if we were successful, they would rescind planning permission and they’d have a chance to think again,” he said.
“Because they’ve gone ahead with it, I’ve had to take direct action.”
The public library was completed in 1890, originally designed to be extended into what is the current development site but plagued by council cutbacks, plans for an extension have not materialised and it has lain empty for over 40 years.
“The key issue here is that the Old Town community is hanging by a thread,” Simon said. “It’s in critical decline.
“And Edinburgh really, really does not need more hotels.
“There’s a certain irony here – the success of author JK Rowling has drawn much attention to the Old Town and yet consequently the Central Library is now under major threat.”
The old India Buildings on Victoria Street and land and buildings down to the Cowgate will be transformed into a four or five star venue, featuring a bar, cafe, and restaurant.
Planning permission has also been given to convert the neighbouring B-listed Cowgate Church.
Janet Dick, of the Old Town Community Council said a big hotel on this site would be “hazardous” to residents and pedestrians.
She said: “This is not about a mad man up a tree – there are a lot of people here who are very opposed to this.
“The principle aims of the campaign are the impact of the development on the library but the bigger issue is the impact it will also have on the people living in the Grassmarket.”
A petition launched by Simon against the hotel build, which details the impact of excessive commercial pressure on the well-being of the local community, has gained 4,400 signatures.