Impact concert hall has ripped up Edinburgh’s rule book – John McLellan

Great news for developers; with a swish of a conductor’s baton Edinburgh’s planning rule book was ripped up to grant permission for the Impact Concert Hall on St Andrew Square.

An artist's impression of the concert hall's interior

Stone is an absolute requirement in the World Heritage site? Not any more, because concrete is “a sort of stone”. Block the one billion pound tram line with trucks delivering the double basses, kettle drums, lighting rigs and the rest of the gear? No problem whatsoever, sir, when will they be there?

Tack on an enormous extension to a Grade A listed building so you can cram in more paying customers for pop concerts? Of course, sir, how big do you need it to be?

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This is the reality of yesterday’s decision where the cultural benefits of the project eventually trumped normal planning concerns.

Why couldn’t the building be made of stone, or deliveries made through underground access like the new St James Centre? And is it so big? The answer is largely budget and in such a sensitive site a purely commercial venture or hotel is unlikely to have survived the planning process. The contrast with the recommendation to refuse a major hotel at Granton Harbour was stark.

For those of us who want the city to grow, for all aspects of city life to be encouraged, for the planning authority to facilitate and not obstruct development, the decision was fair. But for applicants whose well-developed plans have been dashed in the past, pile in. All you need is a string quartet.

The sum total of these calculations is that there are problems ahead

Readers will be well-versed in the claim that the £207m (and counting) three-mile Newhaven tram completion project will have no impact on the city’s services, to which you can and salt to taste.

Even if you accept that future fare revenue will fund the whole thing, is it not the case that the expanding population would still use public transport – like those huge double-deckers now plying the 11 and 16 routes – and so generate more fares? Indeed, that’s exactly what the council expects because it is demanding £20m over three years to help cover the initial tram costs.

The whole of Lothian Buses is therefore now geared towards funding the tram, but what about the rest of the city’s infrastructure? There is an intriguing paragraph in a document just sent by the city council to the Scottish Government in response to questions about how Edinburgh plans to fund the investments needed to meet its projected housing growth in the coming years.

“In total, the base capital cost of the infrastructure actions associated with the growth set out in the Edinburgh Local Development Plan is £469.337m,” it says. So give or take a day ticket, the city needs £470m to pay for roads, schools and health facilities, but acknowledges it still needs to find around £435m.

The expectation is most of it will come from developers’ contributions, but with many developments stalled and barely enough land to meet the council’s 20,000 affordable homes target never mind market development, where something isn’t adding up.

Edinburgh win loosens Oxbridge grip

Many congratulations to Edinburgh University’s University Challenge team, not only for lifting the title and breaking the Oxbridge dominance, but for keeping schtum about the result for a year. The closest I came to such glory was a spot on one of the Christmas specials a few years ago and even though Paxman went a lot easier on us than the student contestants, it was still a lot more nerve-jangling than it appears. I forgot the bleedin’ alphabet, and yes we lost to an Oxford mob.