Scots literati lead battle against £150m Caltongate building project in Edinburgh's historic Old Town

Irvine Welsh, William Boyd, William Dalrymple and AL Kennedy among those opposed to plans for a 'massive stale, sterile modernist confection of concrete'

It is the Athens of the North, a city so beautiful that the architectural critic Jonathan Meades once suggested it must have been designed by “enlightened angels”.

But, according to Scottish cultural giants including Irvine Welsh, William Boyd, William Dalrymple and AL Kennedy, the historic heart of Edinburgh is under threat from plans to build a “massive stale, sterile modernist confection of concrete”.

The vast £150m Caltongate project, near Holyrood Palace in the historic Old Town, was approved by the city’s planning committee earlier this year, but it appears not to have particularly impressed its supporters. One councillor deemed it “not hideous enough to reject”.

Now leading figures in the Scottish literary establishment, backed by architects including Dr James Simpson, vice-president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites UK, have attacked the development.

In an open letter, they have asked for the Scottish Parliament to block the scheme and for a new plan to be drawn up. They also urge members of the public to sign a petition to save “a unique part of the world’s heritage from irreversible damage”.

“The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh are a cityscape of international importance,” the letter says. “Not only are they one of the jewels of Scotland and Europe but the tourism they generate produces millions of pounds and sustains thousands of jobs. It seems unthinkable that this legacy should be under threat.”

The signatories accuse the council and developer of “conspiring to tear apart the fabric of this great city”. “This massive stale, sterile modernist confection of concrete by a South African speculative developer… is completely at odds with its surroundings,” the letter says.

The 7.5-acre development by Artisan Real Estate Investors, whose chief executive is South African Lukas Nakos, is planned to be built on the site of a former gas works and bus garage near Edinburgh’s main Waverley Station. It will contain shops, offices, hotels and some 185 homes.

A spokesman for Artisan said there had been “more than 18 months of consultation with local communities and stakeholders”. He said elements of the site had be retained as a result and that they felt the finished plan showed “a genuine understanding of the area’s celebrated community and civic context”.

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