House that council rejected twice wins prize

A CONTROVERSIAL New Town house that was turned down twice by the city's planning board has won a major design award.

The "Japanese-style" mews home on Circus Lane sparked outrage from neighbours, heritage groups and community leaders when it was proposed in 2002.

But it has now scooped the award from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), who praised its "fresh and inventive" design.

The scheme was turned down twice and only won planning consent after architects appealed to the Scottish Executive.

Richard Murphy, the architect behind the scheme, described the award as a "lesson" for Edinburgh's planning committee, adding that the controversy behind the scheme had been little more than a "knee-jerk" reaction from neighbours.

He said: "The planning officials always supported this building - it was just councillors on the committee and local residents who whipped up a huge storm.

"The councillors back in 2002 effectively crumbled in the face of a rent-a-mob who just didn't want this building at all. I think this serves as a lesson to them and it shows that we [architects] do know what we're doing.

"I've always said that contemporary architecture is something that Edinburgh should embrace. Although there is a lot to be proud of already in the city, there is definitely room for contemporary designs in places like the New Town."

The award is Mr Murphy's 15th in as many years and he added that it was the "icing on the cake" after the struggle for consent.

Although it caused controversy five years ago, residents and community groups today said they had been "impressed" with how well the house had fitted in.

Local councillor Joanna Mowatt said: "People are always very cautious when it comes to putting anything new or different in an area like this.

"You don't know which new, contemporary designs are going to blend in well with the area or which are going to look terrible.

"However, in my view, there is nothing there that sticks out or jars on that street. It looks fine."

Neighbour Charlotte Mackenzie, a 32-year-old IT worker who lives on Cumberland Street, added: "I'm quite impressed with how it looks. It's a quiet mews street, so putting something new there was always going to be controversial, but it fits in nicely with the rest of the buildings."

Summing up the RIBA jury's impressions, chair Rab Bennetts said: "As a template for sensitive but uncompromisingly modern urban in-fill within a historic street, Edinburgh's planners could do much worse than look to this small project for inspiration."