New Edinburgh concert arena in Princes Street Gardens on verge of being scrapped due to lack of support

A controversial bid to create a new open-air concert arena in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh is on the verge of being scrapped due to opposition from the heritage sector, a lack of funding and the impact of the pandemic.

The Quaich Project has been stalled since the spring of last year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The charitable trust behind the £25 million Quaich Project, which would have seen the existing Ross Bandstand and a concrete bowl replaced with a new stage and amphitheatre below Edinburgh Castle, has signalled it is ready to walk away due to a lack of support for its vision.

It has emerged that government heritage agency Historic Environment Scotland warned it would object to the scale and impact of the revamp had the trust lodged a planning application.

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John Campbell, the QC appointed chair of the project following the resignation of hotelier Norman Springford in the wake of mounting criticism of its impact on the gardens, said it was now in “hibernation mode”.

West Princes Street Gardens would have been transformed had the Quaich Project gone ahead as envisaged.

Mr Springford, who had spent more than six years on the project, walked out weeks after it emerged there were plans for a secret “debenture scheme” to help raise nearly £20 million for the project.

Mr Springford said he believed that stepping from the Quaich Project board would “give it the best chance of being realised.”

However Mr Campbell admitted that the project had effectively run out of money to take it forward any further and suggested it had also stalled due to opposition within the council and HES.

In an interview in the Architects’ Journal, Mr Campbell said the project was “weeks away” from seeking planning permission when it was effectively told by the council and HES to “go away and rework it.”

Controversy has flared over the proposed redevelopment of West Princes Street Gardens, which would have seen the existing Ross Bandstand replaced.

He suggested that another vehicle be found to look at the gardens instead of “a small and sparsely resourced private trust, born of philanthropy and a desire to further the common good.”

He added: “I don't have a queue of donors at my door saying “please take my money”. There's nothing for them to donate to. There is no planning permission. There is no real finished product. There is just an idea. And now, particularly with Covid, fundraising is a nightmare.

“It is a great pity that it has come to nought. If you look for attributing responsibility for that, Covid has been a prime mover.

"But it is the city’s park and ultimately the responsibility has to lie with the council.

"It is the officials in the city who must generate the ideas. They should be stepping up to the plate and saying: ‘We have got this important public space. We have neglected it. And now is the time to do something about it, because it is very important for the city's image.”

A spokeswoman for HES confirmed it had warned that the proposed designs had “raised concerns of national interest.”

She added: “Although we are supportive of the garden’s facilities being improved, with the current proposals we noted we would object if an application came in.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We understand that the ongoing pandemic has meant that the Ross Development Trust have no funding to carry on activity, which is a great pity.

“We’re grateful for all of their work to date and we’re ready to resume the partnership if and when the trust gets back up and running again.”

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