Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Timidity of Caltongate

The disappointing Caltongate proposal  - with some very badly dressed people
The disappointing Caltongate proposal
- with some very badly dressed people
You know, when @IsobelGlenelg threw down a challenge to me on Twitter this week, demanding my view on the Caltongate decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to grant permission for a £150m redevelopment of the slums at the heart of the historic Old Town, I could hardly resist.

This development has a long history of course and I have avoided saying much about it in the past as I genuinely feared for my personal safety given the wrath of the Edinburgh conservation lobby. Now I don't care - their day is over - and if Scotland becomes independent I'm sure they will be shipped out to Rockall in their khaki shorts to consort with seagulls over EU fishing quotas or some other pointless itch that they need to scratch till it bleeds.

So let's be clear about some points from my expert planner viewpoint. This is a derelict site, a dreadful eyesore and a disgrace to the Capital City. I understand that the operators of trains from the south have considered asking passangers to pull down their window blinds as they pass the site. In contrast to Aberdeen, Edinburgh is a poor city, full of ne'er-do-wells and drunks with all sorts of unspeakable habits and undesirable diseases. It has always been that way. But there is a core of snobs and middle class do-gooders who live in elite enclaves far away from Caltongate. There, they make homemade bread and gossip in fu-fu cafes, talking about nothing that matters! My point is that this development is nothing whatsoever to do with them and their pathetic bourgeois lives yet they think they should be involved or think they can somehow contribute! They are the Enemies of Enterprise! They should be prevented from commenting or interfering in any way in the progress of this development - and all other major developments in the Capital!

But now that the deveopment has been approved I must admit to being very disappointed with the outcome. I would describe it as timid. There is far too much reference to historical forms and street patterns, too many pitched roofs and tumbledown-the-hill pseudo-organic street frontages that try to emulate the dreary appearance of the Old Town. A capitulation in my view!
Just look at the trees growing out of the roofs - it's derelict already
Just look at the trees growing out of the roofs
- it's derelict already!

Just look at all these buildings with trees growing out of their roofs! This is a clever architectural reference to many of the surrounding derelict properties with bushes growing in chimney stacks and in gutters but it makes me long for something contemporary and unmistakably modern. The architect for this development is someone called Allan Murray who I have never heard of - and I can see why! Wouldn't it have been much better if Keppies or Halliday Fraser Munro had been involved in this? I'm sure John Halliday could have brought out his big pencil and come out with something better. It's a disgrace to rail travellers as well as an insult to the poor workmen on the railway passing the site.

On the positive side though it looks as if something will happen here at last that will make the developer a bit of cash and the trickle down effect from that will mean that odd-jobbers and tradesmen in the areas will be employed on building it while others will get low paid jobs serving in the cafes and leisure uses that will inevitably fill the development. I'm sure the RTPI Scotland will claim that planners have played an important role in "enabling" this - that is recommending that permission be granted. Such is their reduced role in the 21st century. So apart from some disappointment over details, my hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this development.

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