Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens could be 'split in two' under £25m open-air events arena plan

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The scale of a new open-air events arena in Edinburgh city centre would see the historic West Princes Street Gardens effectively “split into two” if it is allowed to go ahead, a heritage watchdog has warned.

The Cockburn Association is warning the £25 million Quaich Project to replace the existing Ross Bandstand will lead to the “overdevelopment” of the central section of the park.

The Cockburn Association is warning that the Quaich Project will lead to the 'overdevelopment' of the park.

The Cockburn Association is warning that the Quaich Project will lead to the 'overdevelopment' of the park.

READ MORE: Open-air cinema screenings beneath Edinburgh Castle and farmers' markets suggested in £25m revamped Princes Street Gardens plans

It has raised concerns about the gardens being turned into a “building site” due to the level of work needed on a new performance complex, a grass-covered amphitheatre, and a two-storey visitor and hospitality centre.

The Cockburn Association dates back to 1875, the year before West Princes Street Gardens were transferred into public ownership. The first bandstand was created in 1877 as part of a redesign by architect James Skene.

The Ross Development Trust, which was set up by Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford to pursue an overhaul of the gardens, launched a consultation last month ahead of final plans being submitted in February.

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But in a blog post on its website, the Cockburn Association claims the gardens must be treated as “a public park where events are tolerated, not a performance area surrounded by gardens”.

A new blog post on its website states: “We remain concerned that no detailed business plan outlining how the facility will be used and how often is available.

“This is key as any intensification of use or further commercialisation of the gardens is unwelcome.”

Cockburn Association director Terry Levinthal said: “The scale of the centrepiece – the pavilion, amphitheatre and Welcome Centre – will be read as a single entity as one approaches if from west or east. Whilst it will be permeable in one sense – you can walk though it – visually it will read as a unified development spanning the gardens from the railway to Princes Street.

“In effect, it will divide the gardens into two. Whilst the current bandstand undeniably presents a barrier, it is not on the same scale so has a lesser impact.”

David Ellis, managing director of the Ross Development Trust, said: “Over the next two months we are working to incorporate feedback from the public consultation and will present the next stage of plans in late February.”

Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson said: “It is essential that any intervention within the Waverley Valley respects its integrity and preserve its role as what Sir Walter Scott called the ‘great arena’ between the Old and New Towns.”