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Conservations say wrong stone chosen

St James goes ahead after warnings over risks to heritage

St James 4The £850 million redevelopment of the St James’s Shopping Centre in Edinburgh moved a step closer after Edinburgh councillors granted planning permission to a “once in a generation” project.

TH Real Estate now hopes to take possession of the unloved 1970s centre in January with a view to beginning demolition in March next year with completion due in 2020.

Councillors voted 9-5 in favour of the scheme after accepting the need to use limestone as the dominant building material as opposed to the sandstone used in historic buildings such as Holyrood Palace and the City Chambers in the Royal Mile where they were meeting.

It was decided to accept a compromise on building materials at risk of delaying the scheme and in spite of objections from several conservation bodies who expressed concern at the impact it would have on the city’s world heritage status.

Councillors heard that sandstone could not be sourced in the volumes required for such a massive development. Limestone, which will be sourced from Bavaria in Germany, also had certain advantages over sandstone.

However, Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, argued that the council should “not be held to ransom” by the developers and told councillors that she had found a quarry in Huddersfield which was able to supply the sandstone required.

Eric Milligan, for Labour, said conservation and heritage was important but he asked if her organisation was prepared to jeopardise the development by imposing a condition that it was built in sandstone.

Ms Williams said that if the developers were willing to pull out over such a condition “we are dealing with the wrong people”.

Alex Fairweather, a director for Allan Murray Architects, said the area was already a mix of materials from the pink buff of Multrees Walk,  the grey of Leith Street and York Place, and the “orangey” facade of West Register House which had been ruined through cleaning.

St James hotel view 1Limestone, he said, was “functionally and geologically superior to sandstone. It is stronger, less porous, more resilient and more easily cleanable.

“In terms of the quantity, availability and supply we must recognise the sheer scale of the development. Supplying 12,220 sq metres out of 20,000 of masonry is an enormous undertaking which ruled out key UK quarries who could not guarantee the quality and consistency [to avoid] jeopardising the five year construction period.”

Martin Perry, development director for THRE, said the scheme was deliberately made of masonry rather than glass, which is commonly used elsewhere, in order to meet the sensitivities of the site and the city.

Councillor Frank Ross (SNP), arguing for the project to go ahead, claimed that further delay would “send out the wrong message to the development community.”

He added: “There is a hint from other developers that Edinburgh is seen as a very difficult place to do business and invest in. Further delay to this iconic project is only going to enhance and reinforce that message that Edinburgh doesn’t want investment. I do not want that message to be sent out from this committee.”

St James HotelConvener Ian Perry (Lab) warned that the committee had to listen to the heritage bodies and take cognisance of their concerns that Edinburgh was putting its world heritage status at risk.

A number of members, including Joanna Mowat (Con) and Maureen Child (Lab) felt the use of limestone would not be a major distraction to the world heritage status of the city and there was a consensus among committee members that the existing building was alien to the city.

Permission to build the most controversial feature – a copper-clad circular hotel (left) – will be subject to a meeting on 29 July and could face a trickier passage.

THRE says the hotel will create a new landmark for the city and is already attracting the attention of major international hotel brands. The hotel will include up to 210 beds, restaurants, bars and a rooftop terrace.

The new centre, built around a crescent echoing the New Town, will have 750,000 sq ft of retail space, up to 250 new homes, 30 restaurants and a multi-screen cinema, despite the existence of the multi-screen Vue cinema in the Omni Centre directly opposite the proposed development.

 

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