Published Date: 07 July 2008 By BRIAN FERGUSON The Scotsman
AN INVESTIGATION has been ordered into Edinburgh's World Heritage Status, The Scotsman has learned.
An official inquiry, which may lead to the capital being stripped of the title by Unesco, was launched yesterday at a summit of the world heritage committee in the Canadian city of Quebec.
Delegates said they were particularly concerned about the potential impact and handling by the Scottish Government of Caltongate, a massive new development in Edinburgh's Old Town, which was approved despite around 1,800 objections being received.
The Scottish Government, which approved the scheme last month after dismissing demands for a public inquiry, has been condemned for failing to consult Unesco before coming to a final decision on the scheme, which will see two listed buildings demolished to make way for a five-star hotel.
The inquiry will also examine the proposed redevelopment of Leith's docklands over the next 20 years and the planned revamp of the St James Centre.
A team of Unesco inspectors will visit Edinburgh later this year to assess its "state of conservation".
The Scottish Government has been ordered to submit its own dossier by February of next year. The 2009 Unesco summit in Seville will then decide if there is enough evidence for Edinburgh to be placed on the "at risk" register.
A spokesman for Unesco's world heritage committee said: "The committee voiced concern at the potential impact of the Caltongate development and were also deeply concerned that it was approved by the state government in June without complying with the operational guidelines for world heritage sites.
According to its guidelines, Unesco should be consulted before any such development is ruled on.
The opening of the inquiry into Edinburgh's world heritage status, which Unesco awarded to the Old and New Towns in 1995, will be a major concern for the city council and the Scottish Government.
Councillors have come under mounting pressure from their own officials and business leaders in the capital not to turn down major developments amid claims Edinburgh is losing out on investment to Manchester and Glasgow. However, heritage and conservation groups have repeatedly warned that Edinburgh's heritage status is being put at risk by over-development of sensitive sites.
About 2,000 jobs have been promised by Mountgrange, the developer of the £300 million Caltongate scheme, which involves the creation of a hotel and conference centre, 200 homes, a public square, office blocks and a new arts quarter.
Councillors approved the vast majority of the Caltongate scheme at the first time of asking. The same happened last month when a 17-storey hotel at Haymarket was approved despite claims it would ruin views from as far afield as the Dean Gallery and Inverleith Park.
Liverpool is already being investigated by Unesco amid concern over the scale of development at its waterfront, while a separate inquiry is under way into the impact of new skyscrapers near the Tower of London.
Historic Scotland endorsed the Caltongate development, but has been fiercely critical of the proposals for Leith Docks and the St James Centre.
Historic Scotland declined to comment yesterday, but culture minister Linda Fabiani, who is responsible for the agency, said: "I'm confident that when the Unesco mission visits our capital, it will see a vibrant, growing city which embraces its cultural and architectural heritage as well as managing an improvement in development that benefits Edinburgh as a whole.
"Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh's deputy council leader, said: "I don't think we'd be too perturbed over this. It's fairly commonplace for Unesco to re-evaluate World Heritage Sites and that kind of scrutiny goes along with the title. I don't think Edinburgh has done anything to devalue its status."The St Kilda archipelago, New Lanark and Orkney's "Neolithic Heart" are among Scotland's other world heritage sites.
Manish Chande of London Developers Mountgrange who are behind Caltongate. Will this image of him pulling a "Braveheart" bull come back to chase him out of the city as fast as he dragged it in.
See what will be lost here www.eh8.org.uk