Claire Smith: Oh my God, what have they done to our fair city?

LIKE a lot of other people in Edinburgh, I had a weird out-of-body experience this week.

For the first time, I walked into the refurbished Assembly Rooms on George Street and found myself completely disorientated.

How many times have I walked through those doors. When the Fringe comes around it is magic time. Who is that little guy in the corner? Of course, it is Ronnie Corbett. And over there. Why it’s a real-life movie star, a

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famous classical actor, a TV star or a comic.

I’d heard the refurbishment of the world famous building was “fabulous” and half the office had already traipsed over to sample Jamie’s Italian.

Actually the Jamie Oliver restaurant is quite nice. But the rest of it?

Oh my God Edinburgh Council. This is a Georgian building. Have you ever been to the Brighton Pavilion? I think it demonstrates, quite conclusively, the Georgians were not big on minimalism. Also white walls – also grey carpets. And wall-mounted flat-screen televisions.

And also. This was previously the biggest and shiniest venue in the biggest arts festival in the world. It was chaotic, exciting, slightly down-at-heel. I remember violent arguments between rival promoters about whose racks of posters had the most space.

And now? No posters. Because nothing says biggest arts festival in the world like no posters, grey carpet, white walls and flatscreen TVs.

Of course it shouldn’t surprise me Edinburgh Council has transformed an architectural treasure and cultural icon into something like a job centre or a dentist’s waiting room. You only have to look at the ripped-up streets of this beautiful city to understand the biblical scale of its incompetence.

It reminds me of what Midlothian Council did to Rosslyn Chapel – in the 1950s they coated its intricately carved pink and orange walls in a grey concrete wash. Ask them about it and they say it was done “in accordance with the best conservation practices of the time”. But they are lying. No-one covered Chartres Cathedral in concrete. It was philistinism – pure and simple.