A hotel firm has bought the Cowgate Community Clinic premises, a place for the homeless population of Edinburgh to access free healthcare, and plans to convert it into a 225-room luxury hotel.
The planned construction in Old Town is drawing protests from a campaign group known as the ‘Let There Be Light’ campaign, whose petition to halt the development has garnered thousands of signatures.
The planned hotel would take over several protected buildings, such as the India Buildings and the former Cowgatehead Free Church, where the Cowgate Community Clinic operated until recently.
‘Let There be Light’ claims to be fighting the development in order to protect the rights of Edinburgh’s homeless population, as the Cowgatehead Community Clinic was abandoned at the end of January and moved to a location on Spittal Street, which campaigner Luke Green claims is “completely inadequate”.
“We are concerned that these developments will completely transform Edinburgh’s landscape in a totally inappropriate way but, more fundamentally […], it risks marginalising vulnerable residents and stripping the community of vital public assets,” Green told The Student.
The construction plan also proposes to build a new nine-storey building in a free space between buildings. However, this free space was once left to the city for the further development of the Edinburgh Central Library.
Campaigners claim the hotel would overshadow the library, causing a light reduction of up to 80 per cent; however, the developers of the hotel insist it will be much less. Jansons claims that “any development of the area to the rear of the library – including if the proposals were an extension – would have to address the same lighting issues.”
There is an epigraph above the door of the Central Library which reads ‘let there be light’ – hence the campaign’s name – which was placed there by Andrew Carnegie, to inspire Enlightenment values.
Green told The Student: “The City of Edinburgh Council – who are £1.7bn in debt – are pursuing a reckless and undemocratic policy of gentrification throughout the city, as part of an initiative they have called ‘Edinburgh 12’, which involves selling off public land to the private sector at very cheap rates to stimulate private investment in the city.”
According to developers, the hotel is projected to bring more than five million pounds to the city economy each year and create several hundred jobs. Andy Jansons, managing director of Jansons Property, the developers on this project, told The Edinburgh Evening News: “There is no doubt that an additional £5.3m of annual visitor spend into the Victoria Street and Cowgate area would make a huge difference to some of Scotland’s most iconic shopping areas, and another high-end hotel operator will help to further secure the city’s place as a world-class tourism destination.”
However, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which grants Edinburgh its World Heritage status, has also expressed strong concerns over this hotel and several others in the city, putting its place on the list of world heritage sites at risk.
City Councillor Ian Perry told The Guardian: “We are committed to managing this process carefully and ensuring that the greatest consideration is given to its historic environment.”
Yet local residents feel their concerns are not being seriously considered. As Green told The Student: “Edinburgh is gradually being redesigned to meet the needs of tourists and of private companies, but with total disregard for its residents and their right to the city.”