Monday, 9 June 2008

What does listing a building really mean?

BHS building above due to be listed by Historic Scotland
The Listed Victorian Canongate Venture building which would be demolished for Caltongate

Princes Street needs to move out of the 60s if it's to survive

Listing the best of a bad bunch will just delay revamp, says Shirley-Anne Somerville.

PRINCES Street is unique. Other European cities might have castles, parks and shops but nowhere are the three brought together in such a dramatic setting. It has attracted visitors to our capital for years and rightly makes Edinburgh residents proud.

But I don't think anyone can deny that our premier street has seen better days. It's been something that has happened slowly, with longstanding businesses moving out and being replaced by amusement arcades and shops blaring out tinny pipe music. Fortunately the council is now getting to grips with the issue. The "String of Pearls" plan will see the street revived. It will take major investment and many years but there is no denying that it is long overdue.So it's disappointing to see a public agency putting this vision under threat.

Historic Scotland has floated the idea that the Princes Street Bhs store be considered for listed building status. If successful it would join the likes of Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument and swathes of the Old and New Town.Such a decision has significant implications. It will make it more difficult for a developer to demolish or refurbish the building. It will push up the costs of any redevelopment. It will put investors off getting involved in that section of the street and for what? So we can keep an example of a failed 1960s vision.The council and Scottish Government are already forking out more money to refurbish the Commonwealth Pool than it would have cost to demolish it and start again. Why? Because it's a listed building. Coincidentally, the pool was designed by the architects behind the Bhs building, RMJM – the same people that worked on the Scottish Parliament.

At the same time, Historic Scotland has backed the demolition of other listed buildings as part of the controversial Caltongate development. It's reasoning – Edinburgh has similar buildings designed by the same Victorian architects. Thank goodness we only have one castle if that's their defence of our built heritage.But this is not an argument about traditional architecture good, modern architecture bad.

Although tourists flock to our city to admire the history they also want to experience a vibrant and modern Edinburgh. I just don't think that folk are flocking here to see the Bhs building. My stance will be unpopular with those who view Bhs as one of the best examples of a 1960s building on Princes Street. That may be so, but that's not a reason to hold up the redevelopment of our premier shopping street.

There were many architectural mistakes made in the 60s, from tearing down tenements to demolishing large sections of Princes Street. Let's not compound those errors by hanging on to unwanted buildings just because they are the best of a bad bunch.

Shirley-Anne Somerville is a Lothians MSP This article appeared in todays Evening News
see what else would be lost at