Conservationist calls for end to Edinburgh World Heritage status

Leading urban conservationist, David Black, is calling on UNESCO to take away Scotland’s renowned heritage status it has held since 1955.

Black has been heavily critical of Edinburgh’s city authorities, condemning a series of architectural decisions conducted within the city’s historic cityscape.

Black is the first chairman of the city’s Southside Association, a group that was established in the 1970s to combat the expansion of Edinburgh University.

He has been assembling a report on various incidences of what he claims to be illegal planning and development taking place in and around the city, particularly those involving listed buildings.

Next month, he plans to submit the report to the international heritage body headquarters in New York.

During an interview with Edinburgh Evening News, Black said: “At the time [1995], Edinburgh was seen as a prime example of an old town and new town co-existing well.

“But since then we have seen one poor planning decision after another, from St Andrew Square to the Parliament building and Princes Street.”

Over the past few years, the city has undergone various architectural reconstructions – most notably, the Primark Store, which became the first concrete building located on Princes Street when it opened during the Christmas of 2011.

This was further accompanied by a series of demolitions of B-listed buildings in St. Andrews Square which Black has labelled ‘urbicide’.

The most recent development involves the plan to transform the 190-year-old Royal High School on Calton Hill into a five-star hotel, with hopes of boosting the city’s economy.

“This is not just some old fogey talking who doesn’t like anything modern. I like the Festival Theatre, for example. But I think there is a balance to be struck between preserving the best of what we have and welcoming the best of the new – and what we’re getting, generally, is not the best,” said Black.

However, University of Edinburgh first year Architecture student, Anna McEwan, disagrees with Black.

“The Royal High School may be a valuable building, but it’s pointless to have it sit there empty and deteriorate. It would simply not help Edinburgh and if it weren’t used productively, it would just as easily be lost as an architectural treasure.

“Edinburgh is such a great city to grow up in. When I’m working in the studio I have this unobstructed view of the castle to work under every day, and not many cities in the world are lucky enough to have that.

“It’s great to have such a variety of the old town and new town, along with the new developments such as the Parliament.”

Despite the controversy, Edinburgh Council has expressed a strong desire to retain its historical status with the aim of maintaining its steady stream of international tourism, preserve its current historical sites and to provide funding to attractions under most threat.

Ian Pretty, the city council’s planning convener, said: “Being a capital city encompassing a living and working World Heritage site, it is inevitable that new developments will be attracted to the centre, and this is important for the city to evolve.

“However, we are committed to managing this process carefully and ensuring that the greatest consideration is given to its historic environment.”

Furthermore, he has also assured members of the public that the Council will continue to work closely with Historic Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage in the hopes of the city keeping its prestigious title.

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