Campaigners have said that “money motivated initiatives” such as the new Virgin Hotel are helping to “destroy” Edinburgh’s heritage.
More than 100 residents turned out to a public meeting at Central Hall last night to voice their anger at the 225-bedroom hotel which will include redevelopment of India Buildings in Victoria Street and a new-build development on a gap site in the Cowgate.
Their feelings have been echoed by big-name writers including Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Jackie Kay and John Byrne, who have criticised the council for giving consent to the Virgin Hotel. But Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson endorsed the project saying he had selected Edinburgh for his new brand because the city had a “big gap in the market” for high-end five-star hotels.
James Simpson, vice president ICOMOS UK said: “Edinburgh is facing a new threat coming from commercial, money motivated private initiative but sadly facilitated and encouraged by the city.
“Heritage cities all over the world are being prostituted in the interest of economic development.
“Edinburgh, Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona earn a great deal of money from this massively growing international tourist trade. It is destroying many heritage cities around the world.”
A recent daylight impact assessment found the penultimate floor of the neighbouring Central Library would suffer from a reduction of 82 per cent of daylight as a result of the new development.
Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association said: “The scale, height and massing is overly simplistic and therefore overly dominating in this historic area of the Old Town and a heritage site. The dominant singular use of the hotel actually mitigates what the city needs, particularly social housing.”
Virgin says the project will create up to 300 jobs with it expecting to generate £5 million for the local economy.
Raul Leal, CEO Virgin Hotels, said: “Preserving local heritage is a hugely important issue in Edinburgh, which is why we have made sure that the proposals had been accepted by the key heritage groups and that they would not damage the ‘outstanding universal values’ of Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns World Heritage Site.
“Virgin Hotels is more than happy to work constructively with any local groups to maximise the regeneration of Victoria Street and the Grassmarket.”