St James revamp squares could be Festival venues

THREE new public squares set to be created as part of the £850 million St James Quarter could play host to Edinburgh Festival events and winter shows.

The latest artist's impression of the St James development. Picture: Redwood Consulting

Developers say the massive revamp – one of the UK’s largest and most significant regeneration projects – will create a plethora of “high quality, substantial” public areas that will “regenerate” the east end of the city centre.

A trio of new spaces – 
provisionally dubbed St James Square, Register Square and Cathedral Square, or Little King Street Square – could be used for “shows and displays” during the summer festivals and “carolling and other festive events” in the winter.

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And a sweeping, glass-covered galleria will act as an “internal street space” between Multrees Walk and the current St James Centre’s Princes Street/Leith Street entrance – packed with restaurants, cafes and terraces over several levels.

What can you expect from the revamp?

Fresh images unveiled show the extent of the plans in close detail, with shops, restaurants and luxury rooftop apartments all carefully integrated into the wider development.

TH Real Estate, the developer behind the ambitious scheme, said that the crescent-shaped galleria would “open up the area”, offering “an unrivalled environment in which to meet, socialise, shop and eat”.

Bosses said the street – which will be partially open to the elements at the top – will create a “grand crescent and a family of intimate, linked spaces”.

The new St James Quarter 
was given the go-ahead in July, with the controversial “ribbon” hotel at its centre granted permission the following month.

Swirling up and over the surrounding rooftops, the 12-storey luxury hotel will boast publicly-accessible viewing platforms offering panoramic views of the city – with a hotel operator expected to be announced by the end of the year.

An updated timeline drawn up by the developer shows demolition of the existing 
St James Centre set to begin in early 2016 and lasting for 18 months.

Meanwhile, construction of the new quarter will begin in 2017, with a structural frame in place by the end of the year before the buildings are then cladded and fitted out. The entire complex will be up and running by 2020.

Bosses behind the huge project argue it will boost tourism spending by £20m and create up to 4000 permanent and part-time retail positions, as well as 7000 construction jobs.

And work on some aspects of the site is already under way, with New St Andrew’s House – the former Scottish Government building – currently in the process of being stripped 

The central barrier separating traffic lanes on Leith Street will be removed early next year.

Elsewhere, St Andrew’s Hall will be “sensitively converted” with a three-storey extension put in place, while the exterior of James Craig Walk will be restored.

Controversy has dogged the St James Quarter from the start. Critics have compared the coiled bronze hotel at its centre with a Mr Whippy ice cream, while others prefer a ruder 

The decision by developers to use limestone cladding for the exterior of the wider development rather than sandstone – which was historically used throughout the New Town – has also been blasted as “detrimental” to the character of the conservation area.

Marion Williams, director of city conservation group the Cockburn Association, said she was “nonplussed” by the plans.

She also warned there was a risk the developer could be “crowding” the scheme with too many different uses.”