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Hotel approved despite warnings

Controversial ‘ribbon’ hotel gets Edinburgh council backing

Ribbon hotel St JamesEdinburgh councillors today approved a controversial “ribbon hotel”  as a focus of the £850 million St James development despite warnings that it will destroy the city’s world-renowned skyline.

The landmark decision will see the bronze-clad cylindrical building form a centrepiece of the reshaped shopping centre.

Councillors rejected pleas from planning officials to refuse the plan because of its height and bulk. Heritage bodies say it will transform views from Calton Hill and Corstorphine Hill that have been loved for generations.

The architect behind the project claimed it will enhance rather than ruin the skyline by adding a 21st century element to the view.

Jestico and Whiles designed the building to look like a bundle of coiled ribbons which are meant to reference the printing industry that once operated on the site.

A spokesman told councillors at the City Chambers: “It will not detract [from the skyline], it will enhance it. It places something on the skyline from the 21st century and will make the city more world class than it already is.”

However, concern has been expressed that the height – and the need for three restaurants – was a sop to international hotel groups who want to maximise the size of the development to justify its 5-star billing.

It will have a rooftop restaurant, as opposed to a couple of top floor bedrooms that would be the limit of the building if were scaled down, said the architect.

Adam Wilkinson from Edinburgh World Heritage said: “Edinburgh will lose a sense of place for the sake of a restaurant.” He warned that the city was “on a journey to losing its world heritage status”.

He was attending a meeting at the City Chambers for the first time in seven years, a reflection of his concern about the development.

Joseph Taylor of the Cockburn Association, describing the hotel as a “Mr Whippy” – a reference to its ice cream cone shape – said the design would be appropriate “to jazz up something like an airport” but not in the Georgian new town. He said it lacked the gravitas of buildings that visitors to the city expected.

However, the project was supported by SNP member Sandy Howat who said he had visited Bilbao in Spain and seen the Guggenheim museum. “I fell in love with it,” he said.

The St James development itself will include up to 30 restaurants as well as a cinema, despite the Omni multi-screen complex being nearby.

Daily Business Comment: By taking this decision, councillors have once again disregarded the recommendation of their own officials. There are merits in introducing 21st century buildings into Edinburgh, but only where they do not detract from its most precious asset – its skyline. Sadly, this building is in danger of doing just that.

The architect persuaded the council that revising the plan – making it smaller – would effectively make it unviable. This is nonsense. There is no case for it having three restaurants let alone a rooftop eating area to enjoy views of the city. What good is that if the building itself contributes to ruining that very skyline? The council should have insisted on it being smaller and not pandered to pressure from the developer. This is a mistake that the council may come to regret.

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