New setback for Scottish National Gallery revamp as project hits five-year delay

A troubled overhaul of Scotland’s flagship art gallery has been hit by more setbacks, which will now see it unveiled around five years later than planned.

The final cost of completing the revamp of the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is still unknown after plans to unveil its new look by the end of this year were thwarted.

The National Galleries of Scotland has revealed the launch of the project, which has involved excavating beneath the historic building on The Mound, has been held up by the discovery of “unexpected remnants” of previous developments, including “deeply buried layers of concrete”.

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The revamp has already suffered a series of delays due to the discovery of damp penetration, asbestos and an “inadequate” drainage system within a 1970s extension to the original 1859 building, the scrapping of a planned extension into East Princes Street Gardens and the impact of the pandemic.

Announced in 2014, the project had an initial price tag of £15.3 million and was due for completion within four years.

However, work did not get underway until 2018 after the plans were brought back to the drawing board and the project scaled back due to its soaring budget.

A new reopening date of early 2021 had to be put back until the end of this year after lockdown restrictions halted construction work for months.

The unveiling of a new look for the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh has been put back till the summer of 2023.

At the time that delay was announced, in November 2020, the National Galleries was unable to put a new cost on the project, which was priced at £22m when work began.

The final bill is not expected to be disclosed until nearer the reopening, now been pencilled in for “the summer of 2023”.

An official announcement from the National Galleries on the new delay said: “The teams working on the Scottish National Gallery project have been dealing with an incredibly challenging location, situated within a World Heritage Site, which comprises an iconic A-listed 19th-century building with several major modern additions from the late 1960s onwards.

Visitors to the new-look Scottish National Gallery will be able to see into East Princes Gardens from its new exhibition spaces.

“The creation of new gallery spaces has entailed extensive excavation underneath the existing building and its setting on The Mound.

“Unexpected remnants from previous developments added significant complexity to the building work.

"These include deeply buried layers of dense concrete and other undocumented obstructions, which had to be extracted before major waterproofing works could be completed to protect the new development for the future.

"In addition, the location of a key area of the site directly above the three Mound rail tunnels posed distinct logistical challenges.

Some of Scotland's most important works of art will be going in display at the new-look Scottish National Gallery.

"These challenges have all now been successfully overcome and the construction work is entering its final phase.”

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries, said: “Reaching this stage has been no mean feat, given the unique set of construction challenges faced by the project, all within the very difficult context of the global pandemic.

“With these now largely overcome, our attention can now focus on preparing for a joyous and celebratory unveiling next year.

“We’re excited to be looking forward to a summer 2023 opening for the magnificent new spaces that will be delivered by the Scottish National Gallery Project.

“They will enable our visitors to discover and enjoy Scotland’s greatest art in a fully accessible suite of world-class facilities right in the centre of Edinburgh.”

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