edinburgh central library

The Old Town Development Trust, the Grassmarket Residents’ Association and coordinators of the ‘Let There Be Light in Edinburgh’s Old Town’ online petition are leafleting readers at the front doors to the Central Library on George IV Bridge this Saturday morning 21 May from 10 am in a final surge to stave off the India Buildings planning application.

The development is an act of desperation, based on short-term economic gain, spear-headed by the Council who have offered up publicly-owned land next to the Library to the hotel developers Jansons. The shackles will be permanently clamped onto Edinburgh Central Library if the proposed 225 bedroom hotel is given the go ahead at next weeks meeting on 25 May of the Development Management Sub-Committee. Stretching from Victoria Street right back to the Cowgate the massive 9-storey building will steal daylight and views currently enjoyed by users of Scotland’s best Andrew Carnegie-endowed library, casting a deep shadow on the well-used main lending room and internationally important Edinburgh and Scottish Collection.

In 1887, the famous architect, George Washington Browne, won a competition to design this Andrew Carnegie-endowed library (an ongoing review by Historic Environment Scotland should see the building upgraded to A-listed). The site had been selected because ‘it could be guaranteed plenty of light and air without the threat of interference from other buildings’. The principal aim of Washington Browne’s design was to maximise light (source: Historic Scotland) which is achieved with the large windows up the full height of the west wall. For 125 years his building has served the people of Edinburgh, who enter beneath a stone banner engraved 'Let There Be Light'. Remarkably the 9-storey hotel building will be separated from the library building by a narrow lane just 3 metres wide. There have been over 200 letters of objection to this massive hotel including from the Old Town Community Council, Grassmarket Resident’s Association, Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust, Old Town Association, Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the Cockburn Association and over 1000 signatures on the 38 Degrees online petition “Let There Be Light in Edinburgh's Old Town”.

The decision to sell the publicly-owned land, once ear-marked for the Library extension, without public consultation or consideration by the Sport & Leisure Committee, seriously compromises the long term vision for the Central Library as a significant cultural destination for the city according to Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust director, Neil Simpson. 

‘Our efforts to understand how the City is safe-guarding the magnificent George Washington Browne–designed building has been frustrated. Thanks to Freedom of Information requests we know that as early as 2002 the City were given professional advice which concluded “It would be a hugely wasted opportunity if the site was developed for other uses without seriously considering how it could, not just solve the existing problems of the Central Library, but re-invent the Central Library in a form relevant to 21st century needs and aspirations”. We await a response to another FOI request for studies exploring options for the building carried out in 2008.’

In the meantime the City with the National Library of Scotland has been exploring joint funding options to support ‘transformational change across these iconic buildings'. However following a review of costs for the project that would have used the arches below George IV Bridge to connect the buildings the National Library concluded in February this year that the impact on their listed building, on balance, was negative and the design which required descending 5 floors below the main entrance to reach the new shared spaces, was effectively unworkable.

The land behind the library is publicly owned and belongs to the people of Edinburgh but the Council is short of cash and has decided to sell it off, along with many others in and around the city centre. This is part of the City’s Edinburgh 12 initiative, projects which the City hope can be completed within 5 years, which includes the Royal High School. Also included is the King’s Stables Road development which is currently in for planning and has seen similar objection from local residents. Sean Bradley chair of the Old Town Development Trust, says ‘the City as custodians of these sites on behalf of its residents are missing a unique opportunity to enhance the permanent residential population of the Old Town. Part of Edinburgh's appeal to visitors is its living city centre; new development that ignores this is not only eroding its appeal but damaging a unique residential community. A strengthened resident population in the Old Town, with affordable and family housing, is a key part of the future success of the city centre. We are extremely worried that decisions being taken by the Council are jeopardising the future of the city for its citizens.’

The old Social Work department building in Victoria Street is included in the City’s sell-off for the India Buildings Hotel. This could have been converted into much-needed houses for the Old Town, where affordable houses are being lost to holiday lets and private landlords. The Cowgate Clinic, which is also in the deal, has been given notice to quit. For many years, this has provided health services to homeless and other vulnerable people. This will be a huge loss to them. So far, the plans for relocating the clinic are unclear.

Wendy Hebard from Grassmarket Residents’ Association is frustrated that ‘Council officials have negotiated the sale with the owner of India Buildings behind closed doors and the councillors have given their approval behind closed doors. We cannot find out what has been agreed because of 'commercial confidentiality'. We do not know the terms of the deal, including the price they are paying for this valuable asset. It is definitely not that residents are against development but we want to see proposals that bring a substantial benefit to the local community. Nobody has asked us what we want.’  

 

Please Download and Distribute our Save Our Public Library Leaflet here.

 

Please sign the online petition at:
 
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/let-there-be-light-in-edinburgh-s-old-town