Planning row judge lashes 'professional tastelessness' of architects

A FORMER law lord who spearheaded a campaign against a towering hotel development in Edinburgh's Haymarket area has claimed the entire planning system was stacked against objectors.

Lord McCluskey, a former judge and Solicitor General for Scotland, said the city council's handling of the five-star hotel and subsequent public inquiry had been totally biased in favour of the local authority and Irish developer Tiger.

Lord McCluskey has also launched an attack on the "professional tastelessness" of Edinburgh's leading architects and accused Richard Murphy, the architect behind the hotel scheme, of arrogance and mocking the concerns of protesters by "laughing at them".

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Tiger – which spent more than three years pursuing plans for a 250 million project on a long-running gap site next to Haymarket railway station – had its plans rejected by the Scottish Government last week on the grounds that they would dominate the area and ruin classic views.

But the decision triggered an angry tirade from Mr Murphy, who told The Scotsman that it was against the wishes of the city and a triumph for "timidity and terror of our heritage".

However, writing in The Scotsman today, Lord McCluskey said the hotel development was more suited to the Gorbals district of Glasgow than the outskirts of Edinburgh's world heritage site – and branded Mr Murphy's showpiece development an "insensitive pile".

Referring to Mr Murphy, he said: "Such people should remember with some humility that it was architects who destroyed George Square and St James's Square, building in their place the Appleton Tower and the egregious St James Centre. Edinburgh abounds with other examples of the professional tastelessness of so many of our professional architects.

"He accuses the Scottish Government – and presumably the inquiry reporter – of 'timidity'. So, who were Alex Salmond and his colleagues frightened of? The residents of the Dalry Road colonies? The denizens of Morrison Street? The parishioners of St Mary's Anglican Cathedral? Chuck it, Murphy: try laughing less and listening more.

"The planning system was biased in favour of the developers. Their case, presented by expensive lawyers, was substantially financed by the taxpayer. Those who opposed the proposals had to raise money from their own pockets to enable the Cockburn Association to engage counsel."

Lord McCluskey was one of the key objectors to speak at the public inquiry into the doomed development, which was also opposed by a string of leading heritage organisations.

He added: "When we attended the public inquiry, the developers were given pride of place: we, the private objectors, were not even given tables to keep our papers on, until I protested. Even then, our rights to take part by cross-examination remained expressly limited. Despite the absence of a level playing-field, we demonstrated serious flaws in what was proposed."

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Mr Murphy said last night: "I don't want to say anything at all. I'm not going to lower myself."

Jim Lowrie, planning leader at Edinburgh City Council, said: "Lord McCluskey obviously has his owns views, but I do think the council handled this development the same as any other and there was no question of any bias."