Comment: We will live with St James for long time

TOMORROW the city faces one of its biggest decisions for many, many years.

Artist's impressions of the St James Square designs submitted by Allan Murray Architects. Picture: Contributed

The Capital has never had a major city centre shopping complex before. Glasgow has its Buchanan Galleries, Manchester the Arndale Centre, Birmingham its Bullring, and so on, but all the biggest retail developments in Edinburgh over the years have been “out-of-town”.

All that looks likely to change with the £850 million St James Quarter proposals. But as is so often the case in Edinburgh, everything is not straightforward.

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Everyone agrees that the development would transform the Capital as a shopping destination. With 85 stores, 30 cafes, bars and restaurants, a multiscreen cinema and, crucially, 1650 underground car parking spaces, all linking up with the neighbouring areas, it is undoubtedly a game-changer for the city centre. Edinburgh rarely has the chance to get one over on Glasgow in the shopping stakes, but it certainly has that chance now.

Where there is disagreement is about the kind of stone that this massive shopping complex will be built with. City planning officials insist it must be sandstone but the developers are equally adamant that this is impractical.

Sandstone has been the traditional building material of the Capital for centuries, although there are notable exceptions, and the concern is that breaking with that tradition will spoil the appearance of the city’s historic heart.

We will all have to live with the results for a very long time, so it is crucial that we get this right.

Like every other major choice facing the Capital, from the trams to the future of the greenbelt, the debate has been played out in the pages of the Evening News.

The view of this newspaper is that the proposed limestone building would enhance a city centre which already boasts a rich mix of building materials. But don’t take our word for it. You can see the stone for yourself – as city councillors who will take the decision no doubt have done – by popping down to James Craig Walk where a sample is on display. The arguments on both sides are also laid out in detail on pages eight and nine of today’s paper.

This is a massive decision for the city. One that is likely to have a bigger impact on our future than the proposed extension of the trams.

The choice will be made tomorrow by the 15 sage members of the city’s planning committee. We wish them well in coming to the best decision for all the best reasons for the good of the future of Edinburgh.