Comment: St James stone row typical of Edinburgh

two huge decision days are looming for the city as it contemplates the future of the tram line and the St James Quarter.

Drafting in external auditors to double-check the council’s own sums and asking potential contractors to estimate the cost of completing the line to Leith adds up to an ultra-cautious approach by the city council. But who can blame it for that after the debacle that went before?

Taking these steps shows there is a cautious optimism within the council that the next step of the project can be delivered in a cost-effective way. However, securing the views of independent auditors before taking a final decision can only help ensure councillors make the right choice.

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The future of the £850 million St James Quarter will have at least as big an impact on the city centre as the tram. It is no exaggeration to say we have been waiting decades for a development which would transform Edinburgh as a shopping destination in this way.

The plans look set to get the go-ahead next week but, in typical Edinburgh fashion, there are signs of a potential rammy brewing over one of the main building materials that will be used.

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City planning officials are understandably reluctant to agree a move away from the Capital’s traditional sandstone fearing the precedent it would set. Yet developer TH Henderson Real Estate is adamant that the massive amounts needed cannot be found in the next few years after scouring the length and breadth of Europe.

Everyone knows the built environment in Edinburgh is world class. The St James Quarter offers a chance to bring it up to a similar standard as a shopping centre. The new centre must of course respect its historic surroundings – it can hardly fail to enhance them given what stands there now. It would be a crying shame if the opportunity before us becomes bogged down in a row over building materials.