The capital's St James Centre is set for a large-scale overhaul as council officials confirm the demolition of the city centre shopping mall. The building will undergo a multi million pound redevelopment proposal in a bid to improve city investment and create a modern site of housing and amenities.
The existing St James Centre was developed in the 1970's, and since then has been repeatedly described as an “eyesore”, with president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) George Ferguson, placing the centre on his list of ugly buildings in 2004. This latest scheme is likely to become the city centre's largest development proposal in decades.
Site owners Henderson Global Investors claim the development will attract business investment, and re-establish Edinburgh's reputation as a world class shopping destination. The demolition of a nearby office complex has also been approved, and the site will be transformed with up to 250 new homes, 15,000 sq ft of office space, a hotel and 1,800 car parking spaces. A galleria style shopping street, with up to 90 shops, cafés, bars and restaurants, will curve around the 5 star hotel creating, developers say, a modern and attractive space for Edinburgh locals and tourists alike.
Council leader Jenny Dawe has welcomed the £850 million plans for the so-called "St James Quarter": “Todays decision sends out an important message to the world that Edinburgh is an excellent place to invest and to conduct business. It shows we can work positively with investors to create cutting-edge retail and housing projects, which fit well with our historic and beautiful city centre. We have ambitious plans for Edinburgh, and the new St James Quarter due for completion in 2016, will play an important part in these."
She continued: “Our award-winning capital city is exceptionally well placed to welcome and nurture future developments such as the St James Quarter. We have a well-educated and highly skilled population; we are well connected thanks to the ongoing investment in our transport infrastructure; and we are well used to hosting visitors, welcoming over four million people to our beautiful city each year.”
Building is due to start in 2011, with a completion date of 2016. Visit Scotland, the official site of Scotland's national tourism, has also approved the project, and Ron Hewitt, chief executive of the Edinburgh chamber of commerce said: “This will improve Edinburgh's retail offering, increase tourism spending and deliver much-needed jobs in a number of industries.”
Despite largely positive feedback, concerns were raised by environmental campaigners over the impact of the proposed underground car park, as well as from local residents in regard to the affect the development will have on nearby B-listed properties such as the James Craig tenement. In order to address these concerns, the redevelopment approval was subject to an eight-week consultation programme, including an exhibition and the distribution of 2,000 questionnaires. More than 20 conditions were added to the outline planning application, with detailed plans of development upon both buildings and an assessment upon the impact on surrounding properties.
Robin Harper, local MSP for the Scottish Green Party told The Journal: “I generally welcome the development. The existing St James Centre is such an ugly carbuncle, sticking out on the Edinburgh skyline. It's absence will be welcomed. On the down side, the reinstatement of a car park for 1800 vehicles in an area that is failing air quality standards is concerning. I'd have liked to see fewer car parking spaces and more reliance on public transport, especially as the new tram will run right past the door.”