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What's next for a truly neglected Edinburgh landmark; and hope for parents in childcare campaign
Plus CodeClan students get reprieve as CodeBase steps in, Green homes plan, TSB launches fintech initiative, and the latest news from the Festival
The collapse of £45m plans to convert the old Royal High School into a national music school has reignited the debate over the future not just of the landmark building but the city’s built heritage in general. The National Centre for Music vision was effectively a gift to the city from American philanthropist and longtime supporter of the arts in Edinburgh Carol Grigor. Soaring post-Brexit construction costs, however, have contributed to the budget reportedly more than doubling to a prohibitive £110m. The Trust behind the plans intends to come back with a significantly scaled back proposal, but details of what that might look like are yet to be confirmed.
55 YEARS OF HURT: The latest setback means that the A-listed building on Regent Road has lain largely empty and without a clear future since the school itself moved to its current campus in Barnton in 1968. A series of plans - including becoming a home for the Scottish Parliament, a national photography museum and a luxury hotel - have come and gone. The 5-star hotel planned for the site was scheduled to have opened in 2018, but the city council got cold feet in the face of protests about handing the building to a private operator.
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PHILANTHROPY VERSUS TOURISM: The faltering music centre vision follows the failure of £25m plans to replace the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, bankrolled by Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford. That is prompting questions about the viability of philanthropic arts projects as a model for rescuing Edinburgh’s historic buildings. The contrast with the successful regeneration of St Andrew Square and the ongoing transformation of Princes Street - including the Edinburgh Grand, Gleneagles Townhouse, Johnny Walker Experience, Jenners redevelopment and £100m Ruby Hotel - is hard to ignore.
WHAT NEXT? The Royal High School Preservation Trust intends to press ahead with the creation of a National Centre for Music in the building. Trust chair William Gray Muir says their “new vision is genuinely exciting with greater public access and even more significant public benefit”, adding the priority remains “the preservation of this building and putting it back into the public life of Edinburgh.” St Mary’s, meantime, has confirmed that their search for an alternative home continues, and council leader Cammy Day, says it “remains supportive of a project which will preserve a key historical building in the city.” The neo-classical 19th century building is regarded as a masterpiece designed by architect Thomas Hamilton.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
BURSTING BACK: The Fringe is on course for one of its biggest years ever after selling more than a million tickets in its first week. The city centre has been abuzz with activity as returning tourists have helped swell visitor numbers. Sales are up significantly on last summer, putting the Fringe on course to record one of the five busiest seasons in its 76-year history. An average ticket price of just £12 is thought to have helped increase sales in the face of the cost of living crisis. (See Festivals Extra below for more news and recommendations)
CINEMA FIGHT: A community campaign group is objecting to a bid by Buckley Builders to have the former The George cinema at Bath Street, Portobello, stripped of its C-listed status. Friends of The George (FoTG), established in 2016 following community support to retain and rejuvenate the building as a local asset, said it was disappointed by the move. Mikey Davidson, chair of FoTG, said: "Their application appears to be supported by information previously submitted in the context of a number of failed attempts to gain consent from the Local Authority to substantially demolish the building to further their commercial interest in developing the site with 20 private flats. We continue to try and secure access to conduct a professional valuation with a view to making an offer to purchase so that we can progress our ambitious plan to restore and adapt the original Art Deco building and operate it as a community-driven, multi-purpose venue, focused on the art of the moving image.”
CHILDCARE HOPE: The city council has pledged to reach out to parents of disabled children in Edinburgh upset at plans which impact the ability of their youngsters to attend after-school clubs. As reported in the Edinburgh Inquirer last week, the parents launched an online petition after it appeared that the council was cutting funding for the Edinburgh Childcare 4 All scheme just weeks before the new school year starts. The issue is also gaining significant traction on the popular Facebook site Edinburgh EGG. The online petition warns that “childcare providers may not have enough staff to support (children) if they need an extra person to help them with additional needs such as mobility, learning, or toileting.”
Councillor Joan Griffiths, Education, Children and Families Convener, said: “Following a review of a contract with an external provider, the council is looking at alternative ways to work with families to ensure children are supported to attend private out of school care provision. We will be getting in touch with families affected to discuss what in-house support can be offered to them.”
AIRPORT BAGGAGE HELP: Our Inquirer story about Edinburgh Airport boss Gordon Dewar and the airport’s success sparked a flurry of readers’ responses. Now specialist couriers have been drafted in to help ease ongoing baggage handling issues. Travellers have complained of waiting up to two weeks to be reunited with their luggage as handling companies continue to struggle to recruit staff. The airport has been supporting airlines, who are responsible for hiring the baggage handling firms, to find support to clear the backlog.
GREEN HOMES: Two-thirds of the Deutsche Bank House site, at 525 Ferry Road, near the Crewe Toll roundabout, will be turned into green space as part of plans for a sustainable housing development. The former office and data-processing centre will make way for 256 homes, with a large communal garden and a ‘wetland’ area to improve local ecology and drainage. Each home will have individual air source heat pumps, meaning no fossil fuels will be used. Regeneration specialist Artisan Real Estate, together with fund manager REInvest Asset Management , has lodged a planning application with the city council, following a 14-month consultation programme, involving Edinburgh-based 7N Architects. The seven-storey buildings, reduced from a proposed nine storeys, will include 25% ‘affordable’ housing and commercial space facing on to Ferry Road for potential cafes, shops and shared workspaces.
POP-UP POPS OFF: The Festival Village pop-up bar on the rooftop of Waverley Market is to be closed down after more than five years. The beer gardens and food stalls had benefited from the Scottish Government’s relaxation of rules for hospitality venues during the Covid crisis. Operators the Moogarth Group said that it supported hundreds of jobs and added to the ‘vibrancy’ of the area, but they asked for permission to continue operating until the end of September and have been refused. Councillor Neil Gardiner, a former city planning convener, said it was “not good enough for the World Heritage Site”.
TRAMS BOOST: Traders on Leith Walk have welcomed an uplift in business from the city’s extended tramline. Aytac Gul, who owns Middle Eastern street food restaurant Sharawama in the newly opened The Red Sandstone building, part of Drum Property Group’s £50 million Stead’s Place development, said: “The new tramline is now bringing more visitors and footfall to the area, especially when there are more shops, cafes, businesses and homes being created here, attracting more people from the city centre to venture further down Leith Walk.” All 10 street-level retail units in the Red Standstone have been let, with more than two-thirds of the first-floor office suites occupied. Tenants include Hobz Bakery, Cornelius Wines, vintage clothing store Rhinestone Cowboys, Chorrito Sauce Company, pizzeria San Ciro’s and Zoomo, the E-bike sales and hire service, alongside the Leith Depot bar, restaurant and music venue
SCRAPYARD FLATS: A major development is set to see student accommodation and flats for rent built on Dalton’s scrapyard in Leith. Dalton Metal Recycling has notified the city council of its intention to submit detailed plans for the large site at 52-66 Salamander Street.
ACCESSIBLE EDINBURGH: A new study has revealed Edinburgh is the best place to stay for an 'accessible' UK holiday. The research was carried out for stairlift installation company Senior Stairlifts and was ranked on contributing factors such as overall accessibility - including access to various things to do, places to eat, and stay. The researchers pulled figures from ten of the busiest cities and holiday destinations, in an effort to highlight the importance of prioritising accessibility in these spaces across the UK.
NETWORK WINNERS: Edinburgh based telecoms company Commsworld – who employ over 140 people in Edinburgh and are now one of the UK’s leading network providers - has been named as a supplier on Crown Commercial Service’s Network Services 3 (NS3) framework. This means the company, set up in 1994 by Hibs fanatic Ricky Nicol, can now offer WAN data access services, LAN services, digital communications, and contact centre services to public sector organisations in the UK.
The agreement builds on the success of its predecessor, Network Services 2, offering core network services such as cloud, satellite and 5G connectivity, as well as local area wireless network access. NS3 supports the UK government’s “cloud first” initiatives aimed at enabling better public internet connectivity.
Steve Wood, Commsworld sales director, said: “Being named a supplier on the NS3 framework is a huge endorsement of the services we provide. It shows that all public sector bodies can trust that the services and solutions we offer meet the rigorous high standards which the Crown Commercial Service expects from the companies it lists.”
BANKING ON BETTER SERVICE: TSB and Fintech Scotland have launched an initiative to improve fintech services for customers. It is not without irony, that TSB, owned by the Spanish bank Sabadell, were fined over £48.6 million last December by the PRA and Financial Conduct Authority for their botched IT migration which impacted millions of customers in 2018. The bank’s former chief information officer, Carlos Abarca was also fined for failing to adequately manage the migration. The bank is talking applications for a third round of funding to boost the UK’s fintech sector. It wants to help build (or perhaps rebuild) money confidence. Aruna Bhalla, head of partnerships and open banking at TSB, said: “Scotland is home to more than 200 fintechs and, with access to world class talent from Scottish universities, this is an excellent opportunity for TSB to bolster its position in the fintech landscape.” This collaboration has been welcomed by Nicola Anderson, chief executive of Fintech Scotland.
CODECLAN HELP: CodeBase, the Edinburgh-based teach start-up incubator, has stepped into the CodeClan liquidation to ensure the 80 students at digital skills academy are able to complete their courses. CodeBase is acquiring the training materials and other assets of CodeClan to allow the academy to fulfil its obligations. Whilst the sector has rallied round, with many students being offered informal help, the package is the first official rescue plan.
The future of CodeClan remains uncertain, although the Scottish Government’s chief entrepreneur, Mark Logan, is hopeful some sort of relaunch and that a sustainable delivery model can be found. "
In the days which followed the liquidation more than a week ago, student Stuart Ure launched a crowdfunding drive which raised £22,000 to help students complete their studies. CodeClan was established in 2015 to help fill the digital skills gap in Scotland by offering full-time training courses in coding and data analysis, and operated from buildings in the Capital and Glasgow.
SUNFLOWER POWER: Pick your own sunflowers and take photos that will stun your friends in the fields of the Balgonie Estate. A special trail laid out in the shape of a tractor leads you through the golden flower fields. Entry is £6 per car/group and the £1 cost of sunflowers includes a donation to the Samaritans. (The Sunflower Trail, until 27 August (check website for available slots), Balgonie Barns, North Berwick, EH39 5NY).
LAUGH LINES: In a first-of-its-kind gastronomic experience running until Thursday, laughter is being used to power the kaiten belt at Japanese restaurant YO!. The restaurant features special microphones that respond to laughter, and subsequently alter the speed of the 87-metre-long belt – the second longest of YO!’s belts in the UK. The louder the laughter that is detected, the faster the belt moves for diners. Local comedians and would-be stand-ups can pick up the mic and help power the belt with their best jokes, which can be submitted by tweeting @yosushi and using the hashtag #YOMakiMeLaugh. Comedy and sushi-lovers alike can walk into the Princes Street venue throughout the week, so there’s no need to book.
IMAGINATION TIME: Out of the Blueprint’s Print Expo takes place at Edinburgh’s Out of the Blue Drill Hall at 36 Dalmeny Street from today until August 25th, showcasing the work of some exciting young Scottish artists. On Friday, a one-off special evening will take place where visitors can browse stalls and meet the artists and craftspeople involved, with free entry, from 6pm - 9pm.
FILM KICKS OFF: The Edinburgh International Film Festival gets underway this Friday, and the six-day run - while a smaller affair than usual - promises plenty of excitement for film fans. Running until 23 August largely at the EIFF cinema venue partners Vue Edinburgh Omni and Everyman Edinburgh at the St James Quarter, the programme celebrates the work of exceptional local and global filmmakers. And don’t forget the Old College Quad at the University of Edinburgh is the magnificent backdrop for a weekend of outdoor screenings, Cinema Under the Stars.
BOOK BOYCOTT: Author and climate activist Mikaela Loach, who led a walk-out on the opening night as the Book Festival, continues to stir the waves of the Greta Thunberg ‘greenwashing’ row. In a display of its commitment to free speech and offering a platform to conflicting ideas, festival staff helped the protesters find working microphones to air their views. More than 100 authors, including Zadie Smith, are supporting a threat to boycott the event next year unless sponsor Baillie Gifford divests up to £5bn of investments in fossil fuels or the festival drops its sponsorship. Baillie Gifford says less than 2% of its clients money is invested in the sector.
CHOOSE LEITH: One highlight is sure to be the world premiere of CHOOSE IRVINE WELSH. The documentary follows the populist author from his early days in Leith to his time in London, and the United States. Welsh will help present the evening as he plays a lead role in his own story, no doubt with the characteristic down-to-earth wit which has earned him a global following of fans and famous admirers, some of whom will share their passion for his work. (Wednesday 23 August at Everyman Cinema, tickets £10.)
FIVE PICKS FOR THE FESTIVAL.
The Threepenny Opera. The Berliner Ensemble/ Barrie Kosky. Bertolt Brecht’s classic novel with Kurt Weill’s music in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann. This is a UK premiere of the outstanding tale of criminal Mack the Knife, with his famed pearly teeth, who has married Polly Peachum. Polly’s father is determined to see Mack brought to justice. A satire of our modern capitalist system, based on Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. This is certain to be one of the highlights of the whole Edinburgh International Festival programme. (18-19 August, Festival Theatre.)
Eigg the Musical, April Alsup. The Hebridean story of the Eigg community and hopes of creating a Gaelic utopia are brilliantly told and wonderfully performed. Well worth the ticket. (14-29 August. Greenside @ Riddles Court (Willow Studio)).
Land Under Wave, Young Edinburgh Storytellers. Three performers must ‘sell’ their stories to earn their freedom. The audience decides on this Scottish dimension. It can be tense. (14,17,18,20 23,25,26,28 August. Netherbow Theatre, Scottish Storytelling Centre, High Street).
Concerned Others. Tortoise in a Nutshell. The stories of Scotland’s drug and alcohol related deaths are chillingly recounted in miniature. Co-founder Alex Bird is the sole human presence and hidden for most of the show. A sombre reminder of a national disgrace that still needs fixing. (15-27 August, no Mondays, Summerhall (Demonstration Room)).
The Curious Case of Osgood Mackenzie. Arkle Theatre Company. Many will know the beautiful Inverewe Gardens in Wester Ross, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. This story tells of Osgood’s personal life and marriage and a famed divorce case won by his long-suffering wife. (15-19 August. The Royal Scots Club (The Hepburn Suite)).
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
Music takes centrestage as the Connect Festival brings Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, boygenius, Fred again… and hometown heroes Young Fathers. (25-27 August, Royal Highland Showground).
For lovers of the outdoors, the East Lothian Festival of Walking steps out with purpose with a packed programme of events for walkers and wheelers of all levels of experience. (27 August -3 September)
Relive the glory days of 1990s pop at Greatest Days, The Official Take That Musical at Edinburgh Playhouse. (28 August - 2 September).
The intimate Lammermuir Festival stretches out across post-harvest East Lothian from the 7-18 September. It is 12 fruitful days of classical music from Musselburgh to Dunbar, with Dirleton, Haddington and Stenton in between. Come on people, how often will you be able to experience Spunicunifait, a strange and mysterious word, playing all of Mozart’s string quintets? (Friday 8 September, Prestongrange Church, Prestonpans, and Saturday, 9 September, Gladsmuir Church, Gladsmuir), while violinist Alina Ibragimova and festival patron, Steven Osborne, are performing Debussy and Prokofiev violin sonatas, at Dunbar Parish Church. (Monday, 11 September). www.lamermuirfestival.co.uk
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