The 5 April 2017 Public Meeting
The 5 April 2017 Public Meeting held at Grassmarket Community Project saw the official launch of the online fundraising appeal for the money needed to pay for a judicial review to overturn the consented Planning Application Reference Number 15/04445/FUL http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-edinburgh-central-library
This planning application packages up India Buildings (1-6 Victoria Street), 11-15 Victoria Street, Cowgatehead Church, and, the Cowgate gap site into one major hotel development that was orginally submitted on 25 September 2015.
90% of its 225 to 250 bedrooms will be in a new hotel block positioned a few metres from Central Library’s west-facing windows, designed for the library’s daylighting, which will be blocked if this 11-storey hotel monstrosity isn’t stopped.
Eminent conservation architect, Dr James Simpson OBE, very kindly honoured proceedings by chairing this event that drew in people from all around Edinburgh and beyond.
His encyclopædic knowledge of Edinburgh’s planning history in so far as it has impacted on the city’s cultural heritage since from the 1960s was freely and entertainingly shared with the audience.
Jokingly, what we may have seen headlined as ‘The Golden Turd’, he considers more of an ‘Excremental Hotel’! Whatever these new developments are nicknamed however, it brought wry smiles to many faces as well as sympathetic ripples of laughter at the accusation that these hotels were pretty shitty and that we could do better.
Key to understanding our cultural heritage, is to appreciate the unique and irreplaceable nature of our amazing city, recognising the importance of vibrant communities in making places live and breathe and acknowledging the relevance of Patrick Geddes’ concept of the city as a “living organism”.
Added to this, there is the planning regime that we live under where there is a lack of third party appeal, which is one that allows developers to appeal decisions not in their favour, but doesn’t allow local communities to do the same, just serving to show how unfair it is.
The Scottish planning system gives more rights to developers than it does local communities. Highlighting the dysfunctional impacts of Councils seeking short-term economic gains at the cost of “killing the goose”, which has come to illustrate the global problems of unmanaged tourism in cities designated as World Heritage Sites.
Slideshow: Photo credit John Reiach
“Like the living being it is, a City also reacts upon its environment, and in ever-widening circles.“
The notion of a city as a “living being” suggested by Patrick Geddes in 1913 was one of the many forward thinking ideas radical in its day that is quite familiar to us now.
One of the many shocks revealed during the process of this planning application was uncovered by Neil Simpson, who asked Councillor Richard Lewis:
“Can you please tell us if the Culture & Sport Committee has ever discussed the impact of the disposal by the Council of the abbutting Cowgate site to the west of the Central Library on the future options for provision of HIGH QUALITY services befitting the imnportant cultural and community function of this building including the possibility of building expansion”?
To which, Councillor Richard Lewis replied:
“I would like to confirm that the Culture & Sport Committee has not discussed the disposal of the Cowgate site land as that would be out with the Committee’s remit. The Committee has considered longer term development plans for the service and the Central Library building, and will receive further reports on the subject as per the minutes Culture & Sport Committee 8 March 2016″
This response from Cllr Richard Lewis really does beg the question of who is looking after the future of the libaries’ estate long term and who is responsible for its strategic management, especially in terms of Central Library’s 21st century future bearing in mind that this library was gifted to the people of Edinburgh by Andrew Carnegie?
Ironic really, as former Director of Culture & Leisure, Herbert Coutts’ remit was to consider the “Future Focus” of the library as well as “what the role of a Library in the 21st century should be”, as documented in minutes, which also stated that maintaining the status quo wasn’t “really an option”:
“Doing nothing is not really an option. As a minimum, additional space will be required to house growing collections, building services which are nearing the end of their life will require to be replaced, and the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act will need to be dealt with.”
Of course, way back in 2004, the Council’s Executive were presented with “Option 3 – Expand the accommodation available to suit projected needs”:
“There is a vacant site immediately to the west of Central Library, owned by the City Council. The site, (the Library car park, in the Cowgate) was the subject of the Feasibility study into the future expansion of Central Library several years ago…the concept of expansion on the site addresses virtually all problems relating to the building. Specialist collections could be re-housed, the Browne building properly conserved and user friendly and accessible facilities provided.
It would be a hugely wasted opportunity if the site was developed for other uses without seriously considering how it could, not just solve the existing problems of the central library but re-invent it in a form relevant to 21st century aspirations.”
Two latest feasibility studies by architects Bennetts Associates in 2014 and 2015 looked into developing the space under George IV Bridge. However, both concluded that this option was impractical, and so in effect wholly unsuitable for a library extension, be it either Central Library, Edinburgh’s, or National Library of Scotland’s.
Therefore, people of Edinburgh are scatching their heads wondering why on earth, the Cowgate gap site at the back of the library was not red-flagged as of the highest strategic significance vital to Central Library’s long-term future in terms of its conservation as well as ability to comply with statutory regulations.
Daisy Carnegie, 19 May 2017.