Delays in National Gallery revamp to close part of Princes Street Gardens till August

Preview for National Galleries development
Preview for National Galleries development
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A huge swathe of Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens is to remain a building site over the summer after the National Galleries of Scotland admitted a multi-million pound overhaul of its flagship attraction had run into fresh problems.

Bosses have been forced to apologise as they revealed that a new main entrance to the Scottish National Gallery and a major landscaping project in the gardens is running several months behind schedule.

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A large part of East Princes Street Gardens, as well as the gallery cafe and restaurant, will have to remain out of bounds as the original 12-week programme, which began in January, is not expected to be completed until the main Edinburgh Festival season in August.

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Completion of the full revamp is already running three years later than originally envisaged. The total cost has risen from £15.3 million to £22m since full details of the project were first announced in 2015.

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries, said it had only become clear that there was a problem in getting the gardens reopen by the spring, as promised in January, “in the last month or so.”

However he insisted the project was not running further over budget and was still due to be completed by early 2021, the revised date announced last autumn ahead of work getting under way.

A new-look for the gardens, which will include sloping terraces and a new zig-zagging path will be revealed in August, when public access will reopen on the Mound precinct.

The National Galleries has also confirmed it will be paying to replace all 52 trees thath were controversially removed in the autumn when work on the project got underway. These will be divided between the east and west gardens, as well as Lauriston Castle and Saughton Walled Garden.

The complexity of the engineering work to create the new pathways and re-landscape the park at the same time as an overhaul of the main entrance of the attraction has been blamed for the delays.

Sir John apologised for any inconvenience caused by the delays, but insisted the “transformative” changes would benefit all visitors to both the attraction and the gardens once they were completed by August.

He added: “We have programmed the project so that the most complicated and difficult work has come at the beginning, including the work in the gardens.

“Once that’s completed we will have hopefully broken the back of the project and from here on in things should get a bit easier.

“When you look at what is being done, and what’s been achieved, the team have actually done really well.

“It’s taken a little longer than planned, but in the overall scheme of things we’re talking a matter of weeks.”

The schedule of work due to happen in and around the gallery has been programmed to accommodate crowds and attractions during the summer and winter festivals. Although the start of the project was annnounced in October, work in the gardens could not get underway until mid-January until the Christmas festival markets and other infrastructure had been removed.

The Mound precinct is one of the most popular areas for watching street theatre in the summer and is also home to a pop-up Fringe box office.

Sir John added: “We understand there is disruption and inconvenience, but this a complex project in a World Heritage Site, above the main railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, below an A-listed building, in the middle of the city centre, where people expected things to function and there all sorts of events on that we are working around.

“We are also trying to put 21st century facilities into 19th and 20th century buildings.

“Our overall approach has been to try to keep the gallery as open as normal. We could’ve done things differently. But closing it for three years wouldn’t have been good for us or the city.”

A spokeswoman for the National Galleries said: “The creation of the path and the landscaping has been a complex engineering feat which has taken slightly longer than programmed. Our team and contractors have been working very hard to complete the works as close to that as possible.

“After the summer the construction works are largely focused on the interior and grounds of the gallery. The public will have access into East Princes Street Gardens and the Mound precinct as normal.”