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January 29, 2014

Crunch time for Caltongate

One of Edinburgh’s longest running, and at times bitterly contested, planning disputes has centred around the future of the city’s historic Old Town. The community along with a host of conservation bodies have raised numerous objections to a string of ‘Caltongate’ proposals for hotels/leisure/office developments that have been presented over the years. Relations between the local development trust and the City’s planning officials have appear to have plummeted to an all-time low. The Council’s Planning Committee meets this morning to consider the planning dept’s recommendations. A test of local democracy?


Described as the most considerable development in the area “since the 12th century”, the ‘Caltongate’ development of the Waverley Valley represents one of the finest inner city real estate opportunities in the country. Having suffered as a blighted gap site for almost 10 years development is well overdue, yet the proposed plans have been marred with widespread opposition and controversy, falling well short of a fitting exemplar vision.

Those individuals and local interest groups that have thus far objected to this masterplan have been ignored and subjected to a process of attrition, in spite of the Council’s stated commitments to “listen… and work together with local communities” and “conserve the City’s built heritage”. 

Hundreds of documents have had to be considered without clemency shown by the Council for extending public consultation. This has put great strain on those members of the public engaged with the process which significantly contributed to the recent collapse of the Old Town Community Council.

The extensive grounds for objection are as follows:

The proposed development represents a grave threat to the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Old Town due to inappropriate and insensitive design that is contrary to local planning guidelines.

Inexcusable neglect of listed buildings within the World Heritage designation, including council housing fronting on to the Royal Mile and the Canongate Venture building.

Threatened demolition of previously well used and valued public listed buildings.

Significant loss of revenue from public buildings which have lain empty for over 5 years in favour of private speculative interests.

Failure to achieve ‘Best Value’ in the transfer and sale of public assets. E.g. The Jeffrey Street arches which are to be “sold by way of a 125 year internal repairing and insuring leasehold basis on a peppercorn rent”.

Due diligence has not been satisfactorily demonstrated. 

The proposed development will lead to fundamental ‘leakage’ in the local economy, compromising existing local businesses, in particular the City’s many small, independent guest houses.

An over provision of hotels, offices, pubs/clubs and retail outlets.

Controversial planning decisions, granted in the face of overwhelming public opposition, lapsed but subsequently extended in favour of private economic interests, in contravention of policy.  

Sale to previous developer deemed “illegal” by European Commission. 

Failure of developer to honour bond that would have mitigated against the adverse affect of blight from this proposed development.