Last-minute legal bid threatens to scupper Edinburgh concert hall plans

The proposed new concert hall faces an eleventh-hour legal challenge.
The proposed new concert hall faces an eleventh-hour legal challenge.
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Edinburgh’s first purpose-built concert hall for 100 years has been dealt an “extremely disappointing” blow after the real estate giants behind a neighbouring hotel, cinema and shopping scheme launched an eleventh-hour legal challenge to try to scupper the project.

The developers of the new £1 billion St James quarter in the New Town have mounted a bid for a judicial review of the city council’s decision to approve the new 1000 capacity complex, which was due to open by 2023.

They are understood to believe the city council has breached agreed masterplans for the World Heritage Site and a strict skyline policy for the city centre in approving the project.

The legal move could lead to a lengthy delay to work getting underway on the £45 million project, which is being funded by both the UK and Scottish governments, and the city council, and has been designed by the leading British architect Sir David Chipperfield.

The Dunard Centre, which is earmarked for a site off St Andrew Square, would provide a long-awaited home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a flagship venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.

The petition to the Court of Session for a judicial review has emerged despite the project being part of the £1 billion City Deal and securing the backing of heritage bodies and business groups. The council approved the venue despite protests from the St James developers that it is totally unsuitable for a site behind Dundas House, the historic home of RBS. It has agreed to lease the land to charitable trust Impact Scotland.

TH Real Estate strongly objected to the use of concrete and the close proximity to neighbouring hotels, and also raised safety and noise concerns over the access articulated lorries will need to the venue. The firm wrote to every city councillor last year warning that supporting the concert hall would be “a huge and damaging error for Edinburgh,” but it was approved in April after five hours of debate.

Impact Scotland chair Sir Ewan Brown said: “It is extremely disappointing that the St James’ hotel investors and developers are continuing to try and frustrate the creation of Edinburgh’s first purpose-built music venue in over 100 years and the flagship cultural project of the City Deal. It is particularly disheartening considering the public support for the project, and goodwill and philanthropy behind this world-class venue.”

Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association heritage body, said: “There is no doubt a concert hall on this site presents architectural and civic design challenges, but the benefits to the city are significant and the simple but elegant design by David Chipperfield will provide a less disruptive backdrop to Dundas House, one of the city’s finer buildings, than the rather intrusive hotel proposal which forms part of the St James development.”

Martin Perry, director of development at TH Real Estate, said: “We fully support the vision for a new concert hall for Edinburgh, however we firmly believe that the development should be designed to truly respect the setting of Dundas House and reflect both the wider masterplan and the city council’s skyline policy. The design must be appropriate in both scale and mass to ensure it fully integrates into the city’s landscape.”

A council spokesperson said: “The creation of the Concert hall will provide an excellent new venue and home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and will be another exciting development on St Andrew Square. This is all being made possible by our ambitious city deal and the generosity of philanthropists like Carol Grigor. We are aware of the legal challenge and are taking legal advice in this regard.”