Henderson Global Investors (HGI) aired outline proposals for Picardy Place on Friday at a well-attended 5.5-hour drop-in session held at Café Camino.
This was a pre-application consultation exercise (Ref. 13/03853/PAN; Issue 223, p. 2) designed to sound public opinion in advance of more detailed plans which will be shown at another event in February 2014.
At this very early stage, locals will naturally be cautious about investing too much effort in a response. Now is perhaps the time to focus on general principles rather than the nitty-gritty.
Spurtle reports and comments here from an interested lay perspective, and does not claim any special architectural or urban planning expertise. We have tried, however, to be accurate.
In 2009, City of Edinburgh Council approved Development Principles for Picardy Place with the aim of improving this gateway 'from a city-centre roundabout prioritising traffic movement to a high quality public place/development area'.
HGI's outline proposals here are in general accordance with these principles, which undertake to:
- Recreate the principal street edge to the north side of the site
- Provide a high quality public open space
- Signal an important gateway to the city centre
- Define the Leith Street/Leith Walk urban corridor
- Maximise pedestrian and cycle movement and use.
As we understand it, Picardy Place forms part of the wider St James Quarter Development Brief. As part of this, up to 27,000 sq m were assigned for hotel/hotel apartment floorspace, in 1 hotel and 1 apartment hotel.
The site is also identified under the Edinburgh City Local Plan (adopted in January 2010) as an area where development will be encouraged which 'maintains and enhances the character, attractiveness, vitality and accessibility of the city centre'.
2. Outline outlines
HGI presented two outline plans. Both envisage:
- integrating a hotel ‘with active ground-floor uses’ (i.e. shops/services) into the wider St James Quarter proposals
- aligning with the protected (possible) future tram route
- enhancing the area as a setting for buildings, in terms of pedestrian links, and as a route between Leith and the City Centre
- the area becoming a transport hub if/when the temporary tram stop on York Place is moved to Picardy Place.
Concept 1 is for a triangular ‘perimeter block’ hotel (see below). This would provide public space around all three ‘active frontages’. The hotel, with one prominent corner facing Leith, would block views of St Mary’s Cathedral from the Walk (and vice versa), but create a ‘substantial space’ in front of the cathedral. This ‘space’ would seem to comprise a comparatively narrow pavement area on Broughton Street where today’s mostly pedestrianised section of road includes the Paolozzi statues and St Mary’s Market.
Concept 2 is for a Napoleon-Bonaparte hat-shaped ‘feature building’ (see below) with a ‘potential open space’ on the northern side. This would also block the view of St Mary’s Cathderal from Leith Walk, but provide an open aspect towards it from the possible future tram stop (roughly outside Hertz car rental). As with Concept 1, long vistas towards the magnificent John Lewis building should remain uninterrupted.
The Concept 2 hotel design holds out the possibility of two prominent corners. Again, pedestrian space seems to be lost from the section of Broughton Street immediately outside the Cathedral.
3. First reactions
Spurtle is not averse to restoring something like the original triangular street pattern here (demolished in the 1960s for a motorway which was – thankfully – never built). The current unplanned Picardy Place crater is not a success.
However, Spurtle shares some of the misgivings of several readers who wrote in over the weekend (see foot of page). We see no merit in shifting the current quality public space from Broughton Street outside the Cathedral – where it is distanced from traffic and shielded by foliage – to any outer edge of a glorified traffic refuge.
Far from maintaining or enhancing the ‘character, attractiveness, vitality and accessibility’ of this part of the city centre, the proposal appears to quantitatively and qualitatively diminish it.
It also continues to prioritise traffic movement, and – perversely in some people's opinion – seeks to reposition pedestrian uses at the traffic's centre. Those on foot would require to cross busy roads to reach the proposed, fume-choked open spaces and ground-floor attractions opposite.
There is nothing in the outline proposals to suggest how cycle movements will be maximised.
It is unclear to us who would want to stay in a hotel so surrounded on all sides.
Having your say
Members of the public are invited to respond by 30 December 2013. Send your remarks to: GVA James Barr, Quayside House, 127 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh EH3 9QJ. No email address has been provided.
At Friday’s consultation, a ‘Feedback Questionnaire’ was provided which we reproduce at the foot of this page in two files.
On a related matter, it seems utterly daft that those organising the PAC event did not manage to post the proposals online and widely publicise a link to find them there in advance.
Similarly, it beggars belief that no email address has been provided to which comments can be sent.
These omissions may cause sceptical citizens to question just how interested HGI, their agents and advisers are in hearing from members of the public at this stage.
We're interested in what you have to say on this. Are we being too negative? Should we embrace the plans even at this stage as potentially a major improvement? Tell us by email firstname.lastname@example.org on Facebook Broughton Spurtle or Twitter @theSpurtle
@theSpurtle Picardy Place proposal - an upturned kidney bowl in some traffic soup.
@theSpurtle I'm concerned that creating 'public space' in the middle of a gyratory will create a barren area worse than Castle St
@theSpurtle Could build on all three sides like Forrest/Teviot and then create a network of arcades along the marked desire lines.
@theSpurtle anything to make it feel like you're not in the middle of a roundabout
MANY THANKS TO DAVID STERRATT FOR RESEARCHING THESE SUPPLEMENTARY POINTS/PHOTOS OF INTEREST. GIVEN A CHOICE, HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD OPT FOR AN EXTENSION OF THE CITY CENTRE FOREST IN THE LAST PHOTO?For a bit of historical context, here's an aerial view of Picardy Place in the old days:
Here's a picture of the "strong corner" in Option 1:
Here are some more photos pre-demolition:
Here are some reminiscences of the kinetic sculpture days (recommended
And here are some photos: