AN AWARD-winning architect yesterday defended his vision for a controversial £200 million building development, and said he made "no apologies" for the fact it would be visible on Edinburgh's historic skyline.
Richard Murphy was giving evidence at the first day of a public inquiry into the 200 million project on the former Morrison Street goods yard near Haymarket railway station.
The plan consists of a five-star hotel, a three-star hotel, offices, shops and restaurants.
The most contentious proposal is the 17-storey hotel. Critics including the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh World Heritage and the Dalry Colonies Residents' Association say it will dwarf the area, on the edge of a World Heritage Site.
Yesterday John Campbell, QC, acting for the Cockburn Association, questioned Mr Murphy – the Edinburgh architect who designed the scheme – and Tiger Developments managing director John Nesbitt.
Mr Murphy defended his design, saying: "The hotel does not block any significant views of Edinburgh Castle or St Mary's Cathedral. It is also clear the building can be seen on the skyline and we make no apologies for that."
Asked if the design should reflect something of the ethos of a World Heritage Site, Mr Murphy said: "I think that's getting into quite dangerous territory – it's like saying that it should look like the building next door."
When asked if the leaf-shaped overhang of the hotel's roof was "at the very least untraditional for Scotland", Mr Murphy replied: "Do you means in terms of a croft?"
Former judge Lord McCluskey, due to be called as a witness during the two-week inquiry, has compared the hotel to a "vulgar, tasteless cliff" and wants it scaled back or abandoned completely.
The scheme was originally backed by the council last June but was then passed to the Scottish Government for approval because the site had been owned by the council.
The public inquiry was announced after inspectors from world heritage body Unesco visited Holyrood to investigate the city's World Heritage status.
Mr Nesbitt said the proposed building had the "iconic status" demanded by the InterContinental Hotel Group for its first five-star hotel outside London: "A hotelier of this magnitude has an input into the design."
Asked if InterContinental would still come to the city if the hotel was significantly smaller, Mr Nesbitt replied: "I don't think they would come to a mediocre building."
Local residents attending the inquiry were not swayed by the arguments presented. Maria Kelly of the Dalry Colonies Residents' Association said: "We felt that even at 12 storeys the hotel was too excessive.
"We only found out from reading the Evening News that it had gone up to 17 storeys, and that was the day after the planning application went in."
Miss Kelly added: "I think people appreciate that the car park site has been empty a long time and we're not opposed to it being developed.
"We think the hotel is very oppressive situated next to listed colonies properties and we would like to see more open space included in the plans."
Barbara Thom, planning convener of the West End Community Council, said: "With regard to the design of the tower block, residents cannot understand the frequent reference to a 'leaf shape' in support of its architectural merit. The tower footprint can only be appreciated as such from the air and has no significance for the man in the street."