Next week, a landmark decision will be made in Edinburgh for audiences and performers alike when councillors decide whether to grant planning permission for the new concert hall in the city centre being proposed by IMPACT Scotland.
If granted, this will be the first purpose-built music and performance venue in Edinburgh for more than 100 years, which will surprise many given Edinburgh’s leading place in the world for cultural festivals.
However, this is not a position which can be taken for granted; admired and coveted by many other cities, it is a status we need to work hard to maintain – not just through the range of innovative and entertaining performances staged, but by offering venues of a standard expected by today’s most sought-after performers and by audiences.
Over the last 100 years, many new performing arts venues and concert halls have been built around the globe, harnessing advancements in technology and the acoustic excellence they can achieve. We are incredibly lucky to have the Usher Hall, but we are selling ourselves short as a capital not to also offer a complementary venue of half its size, providing a completely different experience for audience and performer.
This lack of provision is something we now have the opportunity to put right. Through generous philanthropy, City Region Deal funding and a city centre location thanks to Royal Bank of Scotland, this wonderful prize is within our grasp.
We feel passionately that the IMPACT project addresses what is needed for the city to flourish in the performing arts, not trying to replicate what other cities already have, but what other cities will come to want.
If given planning approval, we will create a 1,000 seat mid-sized hall complemented by a 200-seat studio for performance, rehearsal and recording, a large foyer for all-day informal performance, a café/bar, and a range of rooms suitable for education, community outreach activities and conferences.
It will be transformational in terms of productions that can be programmed and in the audiences it can attract. It is designed to be a venue for audiences of all ages, all backgrounds and for all kinds of music from pop and rock, through folk, Celtic and jazz, to classical and choral. The aim is to create a lively, cultural hub where everyone feels welcome – a big challenge, but not impossible for a city as vibrant and forward-looking as Edinburgh.
The benefits it will bring to the whole region cannot be overstated – different kinds of music, audiences, performers, education, rehearsal and recording, all under one roof with the very best acoustics and technology and in a location easily accessible by public transport.
Edinburgh city centre has constantly evolved over the years. Where we once had financial institutions, we now have restaurants and bars and a financial centre in new, purpose-built premises. The hotel sector is growing daily, and the current challenges faced by retailers will contribute to the refocusing of our city centre.
Edinburgh has been my home for 50 years and I have seen it grow into this amazing, vibrant city. However, with these rapid changes it is important to get the balance right between the interests of commercial success and the cultural heritage for which Edinburgh is renowned and which makes it a special to live.
Creating a new cultural destination in the heart of the city is an opportunity to make a positive contribution to what our growing region needs in its vision for 2050.
Sir Ewan Brown is the chairman of IMPACT Scotland