Disastrous planning lets us all down

Dr James Simpson’s ­eloquent plea on behalf of the former Royal High School (Letters, 27 February) – and its current plight (your report, 28 February) – calls into question the failure of the planning system not only in ­Edinburgh, but in Scotland as a whole.

The problem to some ­extent is an alarming paucity of vision among the elected politicians of our major political parties.

It was Labour’s Jack McConnell who sabotaged the proposal to convert the school into a National Photography Centre – a project which had support and pledges of funding from around the world.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

It is the Conservative councillor for the Southside – a conservation area, no less – who states on his website that his area has “around 25 per cent too many listed buildings”. Meanwhile, the SNP’s culture spokesman at Westminster is actively campaigning for the utterly pointless demolition of Perth City Hall.

The designation of Edinburgh as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995 can now be seen to be, in retrospect, a comfort blanket which has simply concealed a litany of disastrous “developer-led” planning decisions over 20 years.

We only need the evidence of our eyes to see what is ­happening.

Bland mediocrity is becoming all pervasive as commercial architecture of the worst kind spreads across the city like an oil stain on a ­precious carpet. Property investment companies concerned only for opportunistic profit show no concern at all for the city’s historic fabric – indeed, they are manifestly hostile to it.

The city is itself involved in this process through its development arm, EDI, and is currently seeking to grant itself consent for an ­aesthetically inept hotel ­development alongside the City Arts Centre.

Everywhere we look, the fabric of a great European city is being degraded, whether it’s the allegedly unlawful demolition of listed buildings in St Andrew Square, the threat to smash down the listed Georgian tenement next to the Café Royal, or the lamentable Costa Canongate proposal which will wreck a vista which Michael Fry, in this newspaper, once rated alongside the view from Fiesole ­towards Florence.

The underlying problem would seem to be a combination of crass commercialisation and the blinkered inanity of “in-our-timeism” which leads to such outrages as the addition of a bolt-on glass ­extension to the Usher Hall and similar horrors.

The chaotic mismanagement of the tram project is now to be the subject of an inquiry by Lord Hardie, who will, one hopes, be considering matters of fact and law with a view to getting to the bottom of the scandal.

We should adopt a similar approach to successive ­planning disasters in Edinburgh, including a competent and objective investigation into such matters as any breaches of European Union law in the case of the St Andrew Square demolitions, and what discussions there may or not have been between the proposed ­developers of the former Royal High School and council officials.

In the meantime, the United Nations Board of Auditors should exercise its supervisory function with regard to the abject failure of Unesco to speak out against the ­destruction of historic buildings in its designated world heritage site. 

David J Black

St Giles Street