New Vision for Fire-Hit Cowgate Site in Edinburgh

A £40 million vision to breathe new life into a prominent Old Town site in Edinburgh, which was devastated by fire in 2002, was unveiled today (22 May 2006).

Following conclusion of a complex negotiation to purchase the site from the eight former owners in December last year, the major regeneration project will now be driven by Edinburgh-based, family-owned development company Whiteburn, which also constructed the award-winning Tun building beside the new Scottish Parliament.

The vacant site, which is bounded by South Bridge to the east and the Cowgate to the north, together with the remaining corner tenement on Chambers Street, will be transformed into a vibrant new city district. The developers believe that the new hub, aptly named SoCo, will act as a catalyst to attract new interest and investment in the area, which lies at the heart of the Old Town and forms part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage site.

The company has launched a worldwide search for potential occupiers or co-investors for the prime 12,500 sq m city centre site, which could eventually feature a variety of uses such as a hotel, serviced apartments, retail, offices, art gallery and a nightclub, in a new building. Alternative plans also include a significant amount of new housing to strengthen the city centre and inner city communities.

Award-winning Edinburgh architect Allan Murray, who also designed The Tun for Whiteburn, has been enlisted to draw up proposals for the site. Central to the design are open squares and walkways linking South Bridge and Chambers Street to the Cowgate.

Construction of SoCo is expected to create around 100 jobs and more than 200 once the building has been completed.

John Shepherd, chief executive of Whiteburn, said: “At SoCo, thrilling 21st century architecture will bring together all the levels and layers of this intricate and energetic part of town. It will pitch you right into the heart of everything Edinburgh has to offer and kick-start the regeneration of this well-known but disconnected quarter.”

Jonathan Sutton of Storeys:ssp, agent for the developer, said: “SoCo will be a fabulous location for a hotel, luxury apartments or new HQ. As an exciting cultural centre, it would be perfect for a gallery, filmhouse, concert hall or fringe venue. We’re already fielding enquiries from a variety of potential end users.”

Mr Murray said the proposed new building will act as a catalyst in the regeneration of the South Bridge and Cowgate areas of Edinburgh.

“Good urban design is not simply about buildings or facades. It is about finding the right dynamic mix of uses, forging useful pedestrian links, making new urban spaces and creating a sense of place and character.

“Our vision seeks to assist in the regeneration not only of the South Bridge, but also of the Cowgate and Chambers Street, linking them together perhaps for the first time since the 19th century.”

He added: “Bringing together vibrant new uses that address both the South Bridge and the Cowgate, SoCo will redress some of the concerns that many of us have over the quality of environment.

“We look forward to creating a new piece of high quality architecture in this much neglected part of the Old Town.”

A planning application for SoCo is expected to be submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council later this year. The re-development is expected to take around three years to complete.