£150m campus roads revamp

A MULTI-MILLION pound blueprint to transform a large part of the city centre surrounding Edinburgh University's campus was unveiled today.

The 150m masterplan would turn the "dead zone" around the Potterrow flyover into an area of walkways and a new public square bustling with pavement cafes.

The busy dual carriageway itself would be replaced by a single lane road, and the street plan overhauled to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. The developments envisaged for the Bristo Square and Potterrow area over the next ten years include linking the historic Old College and Bristo Square with a string of new buildings.

The two are currently connected by an underpass.

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The student union at Potterrow would be bulldozed and replaced by a new facility that could be used for events at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The ten-year masterplan will be the subject of a major consultation exercise over the next few months.

City planning leader Jim Lowrie said: "There is no doubt that the building of the dual carriageway back in the early 1970s was a real mistake. It has completely isolated part of the university and that whole area is a bit of a dead zone.

"Removing it and taking the area back to its origins will allow us to create proper streets and a mini-square that will link in well with the new-look entrance at the back of the university. These are excellent plans."

Other plans include a new building at the back of the Festival Theatre, and a new rear entrance is already being created at the museum as part of its 46m refurbishment.

The university also plans to refurbish major buildings in the area and improve George Square Gardens.

The plans are to be developed in the wake of the university completing the massive new informatics centre, which is currently taking shape on the old Crichton Street car park.

Hundreds of academics and researchers from the world-renowned school were left devastated when the Old Town fire of 2002 ripped through their labs and offices on South Bridge, but the new complex is set for completion next April.

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And by the time work begins on the revamped Potterrow area, the university should boast a newly refurbished Old College quadrangle.

The Evening News revealed last year how parking would be outlawed and the gravel-covered square transformed, with new paving and a grassed area to make it more attractive for Fringe performances, graduation parties and VIP receptions.

The university has spent more than five years drawing up the blueprint with Scottish Parliament building architects RMJM, environmental consultants Ironside Farrar, the city council and the National Museums of Scotland.

The university and the museums body have been charged with joining forces to ensure that the work on the new campus buildings at Potterrow can be linked with the refurbished visitor attraction.

Angus Currie, director of buildings and estates at the university, said: "We started planning the developments that are happening at the moment at the turn of the century, when we started preparing for the medical school and research institute moving out to Little France next to the new hospital.

"Some 400m worth of projects are already happening around the main campus, including the informatics centre, but the changes we envisage in the area around Bristo Square and Potterrow will be more long-term and any investment will be over and above that.

"Old College is completely isolated from the rest of the campus by the dual carriageway at the moment and the underpass does not create a great impression of the university.

"We've already had extensive discussions with the council and other interested parties, like the museum, to work up our plans with our masterplanners RMJM and Ironside Farrar, who are working up improvements to the public realm across the site."

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He added: "In the Potterrow area, it is going to be tricky balancing the reduction in road space and the desire to make the area more pedestrian-friendly with the need to ensure traffic keeps flowing and that access to the main buildings in the area is retained.

"However, there will be a huge difference with our own buildings, the new entrance to the museum and the project to extend the Festival Theatre."

A spokeswoman for the National Museums of Scotland told the Evening News: "In developing the Royal Museum project we have taken great care to ensure that it aligns with plans for the surrounding area.

"We have been working closely with the University of Edinburgh to ensure that developments for both organisations complement each other."

The plans in detail

The dual carriageway at Potterrow will be scaled down to two lanes, while both Lothian Street and Teviot Place would be re-aligned and made more pedestrian-friendly.

• Bristo Square will be overhauled to create a new central plaza, and new trees, lighting, benches and walkways will be installed to link in better with the McEwan Hall.

• New links will be formed between Bristo Square and Nicolson Square.

• A major development is envisaged by the city council for the rear of the Festival Theatre, including rehearsal space, a restaurant and student housing.

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• Refurbishments are planned for the main university library building and an overhaul and extension of the Adam Ferguson building.

• The layout and surroundings of George Square Gardens will be improved to include a new area for pavement cafes on its southern side, next to the library, the main lecture theatre and the Adam Ferguson building.

• Two major new pedestrian routes are also being created, from Bristo Square to Nicolson Square and from Middle Meadow Walk to the university's medical school buildings.

• The university has also been working with Gladedale Capital, the development firm currently transforming the site of the former ERI, to draw up plans to improvement Middle Meadow Walk, and surrounding routes.