Campaigners unite to finally expunge Caltongate

By Sarah Mackinnon

The Caltongate vision
The Caltongate vision

A robust band of campaigners are fighting to have their own vision for the huge gap site left by the the now defunct Caltongate development realised.

The  £300 million Caltongate project involved the regeneration of a large Old Town site, with a five-star hotel, office blocks, 200 homes, bars, restaurants and cafés planned. It collapsed last month after its developers, Mountgrange, went into administration.

The scheme angered Edinburgh residents because it planned to demolish listed buildings and homes on the Royal Mile, it even put Edinburgh’s World Heritage status at risk. Conservation architect James Simpson said,

“Very few who care for the history, the architecture, the image and the long-term health of Edinburgh could fail to welcome the collapse of Mountgrange.”

The demise of the developer’s plans was a happy twist of fate for the main protagonists in the protest against Caltongate. ‘Save our Old Town‘ or ‘SOOT’ are a group of local residents, conservationists and champions of the city’s famous Old Town character, they believe the Caltongate development would certainly have  ‘destroyed our Old Town’.

Gap site in the Old Town
Gap site in the Old Town

‘SOOT’ joined with other groups to form the ‘Cannongate Community Development Trust’, intent on opening discussions with the City Council in order to put forward their own plans for the site. In proposals to the council the campaigners have stated,

“The area is in need of sustainable regeneration. We think this regeneration should reinforce and strengthen the historic urban structure and buildings as well as providing much needed local facilities for the existing community.”

The trust’s ideas for the site include more emphasis on public space, such as the restoration of the former fruit and veg market, planned performance and exhibition spaces and a public/civic square. They also propose that one of the vacant listed buildings, the Cannongate Venture School be restored to its original state.

The Community Trust believe that the recession and the resulting collapse of the Caltongate scheme might make way for a new era of ‘people over profit’ whereby developments may take on more of a civic than a commercial purpose which would strengthen communities.

This is obviously a tall order as although the trust group are certainly a thorn in the side of any developer with plans for the site, they face a substantial battle. Edinburgh City Council are currently leading efforts to attract a new developer to take on the Caltongate scheme as it stands. A source from the council said,

“There is no doubt we’re encouraging the full development of the scheme. If Mountgrange’s directors cannot buy the assets back it’s open to another company to take the project forward.”

The assembly of campaigners do not intend to bow down. An excerpt from the ‘Canongate Community Development Trust’ research project proclaims,

“Money talks; everyone knows that; so we need to shout louder.”

Residents of the Old Town voice their concerns:

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