Critics help to decide design for 'gateway' hotel complex

HERITAGE groups and the Catholic Church will help judge the first major design competition of a new building in the Scottish capital for almost ten years.

Developers behind a hotel to be built in front of one of Scotland's best-known cathedrals have agreed to allow the city council set up a panel to choose the winner of an international design contest being launched next month.

Edinburgh's iconic Sherlock Holmes statue will make way for the hotel, in a planned 850 million commercial "quarter" which will replace the existing St James Centre and the Thistle Hotel.

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Under plans for the area, which a leading developer has already spent more than three years working on, the existing hotel will be relocated to a new public square at Picardy Place, close to the birthplace of Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

The square will be jointly created by the developer and the council to coincide with an overhaul of traffic systems in the area and accommodate the city's tram scheme. Council leaders hope the hotel will become a central feature of a new "gateway" to the city centre.

Church officials had previously opposed the hotel plan amid fears it would ruin views of St Mary's Cathedral, which sits behind the Picardy Place roundabout.

However, representatives from the cathedral – which dates from 1814 and is the base of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh – will now join the panel of experts which will also include some of the fiercest critics of recent developments in the capital.

Edinburgh World Heritage, Architecture and Design Scotland, and the Cockburn Association are expected to help choose the winning design, along with council planners and the developer of the scheme, Henderson Global Investors.

The last major design competition resulted in the creation of the Scottish Parliament complex at Holyrood.

The council launched a separate competition earlier this year to try to find a use for the former Royal High School, on Calton Hill, which had previously been touted as a home for the parliament. The winner has still to be announced.

Councillor Jim Lowrie, the city's planning convenor, said: "This process will invite innovative thinking from the most talented design teams, ensuring the very best design for what will become a gateway to the new St James Quarter and, indeed, the city centre."

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Monsignor Michael Regan, administrator at the cathedral, said: "We have been invited to take part in the design protest and have decided to take up that invitation.

"Our negotiations over the exact site of the hotel are ongoing and there are still two issues to be resolved – the impact on views of the cathedral and the need to create a high-quality public space."

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: "I'm not at all sure they're going about this the right way. Design competitions are not always successful in coming up with good buildings and there needs to be a very good brief for this particular site if this is going to work."

Henderson Global Investors declined to comment in advance of the official launch of the competition early next year.

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