Following the very disappointing outcome of the Judicial Review which, in spite of the so called ‘independence’ of the judiciary, found in favour of the hotel development due to the limitations of the process, deferring repeatedly to the fundamentally flawed planning judgement of the Council, as a final action supporters are encouraged to lobby all representatives to pursue Section 65 of the Town & Country Planning Act (1997) Scotland, which though seldom used has the power to revoke planning permission if deemed ‘expedient’.
To contact representatives at the Council and the Parliament click here:
The proposal to built yet another large hotel in Edinburgh alongside the Central Library is more than a local tragedy. It is an international disgrace.
Andrew Carnegie, son of an unemployed radical weaver, was a philanthropic American for much longer than he was a proud Scot. His family was so poor they spent their first night in the USA sleeping in the open because they couldn’t afford a lodging house. Andrew was eleven years old, and throughout his life was always keenly aware that education had been the key to his success.
Carnegie’s rags to riches story was the classic fulfilment of the American dream. What’s more, he helped countless others from underprivileged backgrounds on that same journey by endowing thousands of libraries across the world as ‘universities of the people’ – some were free public libraries, others academic, and there were a few specialist ones, like the one in a Tennessee Veterans’ Hospital.
His Edinburgh building, designed by architect George Washington Browne in French Renaissance style, was one of his proudest achievements. He laid the foundation stone on Friday July 8 1887 in the presence of 1000 people, many of them workers he’d delivered a lecture to on the rights of labour and the need for world peace. After the ceremony the band struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
As well as purchasing ground for the building itself the committee responsible bought – with Carnegie endowment money – an area of land so that the rear facade ‘could be guaranteed plenty of light and air without the threat of interference from other buildings.’ This was vital, since the entrance, with its famous ‘let there be light’ motto over the door, was alongside the 1837 viaduct built over the Cowgate valley and most floors on that side were subterranean. The west facade was essentially a secondary principal elevation with a high ratio of glazed windows to solid to allow natural light to flood into the reading rooms, as well as to retain the view of Edinburgh’s ancient castle on its rock.
Thanks to the philistinism of Edinburgh Council all of this could now be lost.
The additional land was earmarked for future expansion by the library. A 2002 conservation plan drawn up in anticipation of UNESCO’s 2004 designation of Edinburgh as the world’s first ‘city of literature’ was developed in 2008 into a proposed refurbishment, with appropriate extensions on the site. The Childrens’ and Music Annexes were culled, their collections crammed into the main building on a short term basis. It was claimed there would be much improved facilities in the new development.
Having now sold the land which, since the beginning, has always been a library asset – and having previously disposed of the premises which housed the Childrens’ and Music libraries, our politicians have decided to betray the original intentions of Andrew Carnegie and his trustees.
Even by the standards of our inept city council this is a scandal of the worst order. Statistically, Edinburgh has less central library provision than any of Scotland’s major cities, calling into question its ‘City of Literature’ status. Glasgow, for example, offers almost fifteen times as much space per head of population.
‘There is nothing so terrible’ said Johann Goethe ‘as ignorance in action.’ How very true.
With the political process having failed, and the Save Edinburgh Central Library campaign now left with no other option than to undertake legal proceedings against Edinburgh Council’s decision to award planning permission for this highly controversial proposed hotel, it would seem reasonable to assume, with the authority of the planning consent being challenged, that development could NOT proceed until this matter was settled in court; particularly so since the sale of associated public assets was on condition of planning consent.
However, the developer, Dreamvale Properties Limited (Jansons Property), disregarding the overwhelming opinion of local residents and political representatives, as well as the thousands who support the campaign through the on line 38 Degree petition ‘Let here Be Light in Edinburgh’s Old Town‘, has effectively ignored the legal challenge, commencing work on the contested gap site, adjoining the Central Library, formerly public property.
After a tip off, in which it was revealed that the Sycamore fronting the Cowgate on the gap site was in imminent threat of felling, direct action was taken to safeguard this precious tree; the only tree in the Cowgate, in one of Edinburgh’s most polluted streets, in breach of regulations.
This self seeded Sycamore, which miraculously had established itself right next to the pavement, growing around the railings and in defiance of all the pollution generated by the passing hustle and bustle, has dutifully kept watch for 40+ years, since the land was cleared as a gap site, thereby maximising natural light into the Library in accord with the Library’s intentional design, awaiting patiently for the Council to honour the legacy and aspirations of Carnegie regarding the future development of this, his finest gift to the nation, the Edinburgh Central Library.
Given this witness, it is as if the spirit of Carnegie himself resided in the limbs of this remarkable tree, which as it turned out were perfectly poised to house a platform in order to willingly support a tree occupation!
After an initial threat of eviction from the developer, the Sycamore seemed to offer a solution by allowing the opportunity to relocate the platform to another position higher up the tree, overlooking the public pavement and road, thereby naturally challenging the claim by the developer of being on so called ‘private property’.
In response to this spirited action, in spite of all the previous efforts in attempting to raise awareness of the campaign, the media at last took up the story, shining some light on the matter, yet drawing little attention to the insult to the Central Library and the legacy and aspirations of its founder.
Seven days into the tree occupation, following a court summons and the threat of criminal prosecution, within moments of Sheriff Kenneth McGowan’s decision concluding the hearing in favour of the developer, the tree was tragically torn down in spite of an emotional appeal to the Sheriff to spare the tree until such time as the matter of the legal case challenging the Council’s decision to award planning permission was settled.
More tragically still, the wood from the tree had originally been offered to the Grassmarket Community Project to be used for craft purposes. However, the tree was so crudely hacked down its use was diminished.
In an email to the local Grassmarket Residents’ Association one notable onlooker wrote:
“I know that this is a minor point, but the level of vandalism meted out on the tree was outrageous, disproportionate and showed a level of violence and vindictiveness that I have rarely witnessed before. It was a crime against Nature, notwithstanding everything else. With the Police colluding it all felt deeply unsettling”.
When the last tree is cut… and the last stream poisoned, you will realise, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.
– Native American saying
For the sake of the miraculous tree, the remarkable legacy of Carnegie, and the community of this ancient neighbourhood at the heart of the nation, the campaign continues…
Here’s to a 2nd Age of Enlightenment in which the four guiding words of the Enlightenment inscribed on the Scottish Parliament mace are at last honoured by all: The People, politicians, and most particularly of all, corporations, developers and financial speculators.
Future generations may then be spared of the ultimate shame of felling the last tree to satiate the madness of a morally bankrupt system in which endless economic growth on a finite planet plots a course towards ecological Armageddon…
For those with time and inclination, the Old Town Community Council has produced a detailed assessment of the hotel application and the corresponding planning process (see link below), revealing that the Council’s planning report in favour of the hotel was ”significantly flawed’, presenting insufficient, misleading, contradictory information, representing a clear conflict of interests due to the proposed disposal of valuable public assets implicated with the application.
Moreover, key documents obtained since the hearing, through Freedom of Information requests, were withheld from Councillors, which would have almost certainly resulted in the hotel being REFUSED, given that planning consent was only narrowly granted by 8 votes to 6.
For anyone intrigued enough, who actually found time to read the above assessment, you may like to follow this up by viewing the Council’s web cam of the proceedings, which further exposes the sorry debacle which resulted in the controversial proposed hotel being awarded planning permission:
As with most major planning applications, developers typically prevail through a process of attrition; initially overwhelming the public with hundreds of pages of documentation, then submitting revised plans in response to initial objections, and then finally invoking a right of appeal (which communities are DENIED), if planning consent is refused.
With ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable economic development’, to those with experience, it seems as if the planning process is a ‘done deal’, in spite of so called ‘democracy’, and that society has only taken baby steps from feudal times, such is the favour still shown to those who have land and wealth.
In the case of the proposed India Buildings hotel, for ease of understanding, a one page critique is available to download here:
The text reads:
Let There Be Light In Edinburgh’s Old Town!
In recognition of the support of all ward Councillors, MSP’s, the localMP,the Old Town Community Council&surrounding Community Council’s,and themany thousandsofCitizens who have signed the 38Degreespetitions:
This campaign opposes the decision of Edinburgh Council to approve a massive 11 storey, 225 bed hotel in the heart of the Old Town at India Buildings on Victoria St, extending down to the Cowgate. Application: 15/04445/FUL
The local community considers this proposed development will have very serious long term implications for the Old Town and the reputation of the City, and regard the Council’s planning report in favour of the hotel to have been significantly flawed; presenting insufficient, misleading, contradictory information, revealing a serious conflict of interest (see below). In awarding planning permission, key evidence, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, was withheld from Councillors, which would otherwise have almost certainly resulted in REFUSAL.