Edinburgh Central Library
This article is about the land bequeathed to Edinburgh Central Library.
Andy Jansons, of Jansons Property Investors and Developers, is the luckiest property developer in the country. Peter Burnett explains why.
Born in Dunfermline in 1835, Andrew Carnegie was the model philanthropist. During the last 18 years of his life, Carnegie gave away about £265 million — in 2016 share of GDP, this would perhaps equate to something like £59 billion – around 90 percent of his fortune. His 1889 book which declared ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society, and stimulated a wave of philanthropy.
Born into poverty, Carnegie devoted his later years to improving public life with special emphasis on local libraries, and he founded nearly 3,000 of these starting in his home town of Dunfermline. Of these many public libraries, Edinburgh Central Library was his fifth, and when it was opened in 1890 (at a cost of £35,000), it was said it could hold 187,000 volumes — compared to 74,000 in Leeds, 58,000 in Newcastle, 54,000 in Dundee. Shortly after, the site was enlarged by the purchase of a portion of the site behind India Buildings, land which has since that time been reserved for the use of the library.
The land in question — now known as the Cowgate gap site — is currently used as a car park and a store for council equipment, as well as being an occasional dumping ground. However, this land was specifically left so the library could be self-contained and provided with daylight.
That is after all consistent with the building’s motto — LET THERE BE LIGHT — which visitors see inscribed in stone above the main entrance, over rising rays. (See: Grant Buttars in Bella Caledonia “Shine A Light” )
The Cowgate gap site, which includes the Cowgatehead church — now an NHS facility — is currently hosting the Cowgate Occupy Camp which seeks to highlight the mismanagement of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy by Edinburgh Council.
A City of Edinburgh Council commissioned report of 2002, undertaken by Law & Dunbar Nasmith architects (LDN) concluded, among other things:
“The Central Library is currently listed Category B as a building of architectural and historic importance by Historic Scotland but, on the evidence of this study, is of national importance and deserves to be upgraded to Category A.”
This upgrade to Category A listing was endorsed by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2005, while a further report by LDN in 2008 reiterated this position, remarking that “the lack of large scale investment at the Central Library is palpable.”
Again, this was agreed to be the case by an expert panel which included representatives from the Council and from Library Services, all of whom agreed Central Library deserved to be Category A listed as a building of national and not just local significance.
A Historic Environment Scotland (HES) Report, submitted on 31.8.15, argues that case exactly, recognising that the Carnegie endowed Central Library “is among the best examples of this building type in Scotland and therefore of national significance.”
It might therefore seem like a good thing that after a fourteen year process, the Central Library was upgraded to a Category A Listed building in July 2016 — but the sudden decision to effect the Category A listing after planning permission had already been granted to Andrew Jansons Property, has caused huge upset in the local community.
occupy_cowgate_campCrucially, despite the fact that the library has been awarded this Category A listing — a move which has been on Council desks since 2002 — the building was still awaiting the upgrade when planning permissions for India Buildings and the Cowgate gapsite were granted in May of this year.
This timing allowed the Scottish government to ignore the letters of objections and concern to residents in a letter dated 25th July 2016 that:
“Ministers have concluded that there are no issues of national significance that would justify using the power of call-in in this particular case.” (emphasis added)
This letter from the Scottish Government is dated three days before the category A listing was granted, which happened on the 28th July 2016.
After a fourteen year wait this timing is devastating for not just Old Town residents, but anybody concerned with Andrew Carnegie’s prodigious legacy— but it makes Andrew Jansons the luckiest developer in the country. This is because a Category A listing would have protected the space in question.
OH LUCKY MAN
This summer an Occupy Camp was established in the Cowgate in response to this development — not because the citizens of the Old Town don’t want another hotel (they don’t) — but because of the lack of consultation regarding the Cowgate gapsite, and because the upgrading of the Category listing of the Edinburgh Central Library occurred too late for their objections to be meaningful.
As the ink on the planning permission is drying, and with no serious consultation or any other options being put forward, Jansons Property now have permission not only to develop not only the India Buildings, but the Cowgate gap site which provides library with its light.
The proposed hotel, bar, retail and leisure complex would fundamentally compromise and overshadow the Central Library, with light levels projected to decline by up to 80%. The Cowgate Camp, along with many other residents of Edinburgh, believe correctly that this planning application would have been unacceptable if the Library had been afforded the protection of Category A listing and been awarded it in time.
Essentially, the area in question, which should serve as a public amenity — exactly as the philanthropist intended — has been manipulated out of public hands and into private commercial use.
The City of Edinburgh Council have had fourteen years to effect this change, and yet they seem to have waited until planning permission was granted before they changed the listing.
What makes Andy Janson such a fortunate property developer then, is that this long wait has been opportune for him, as the upgrade to A-listing finally occurred roughly a month after he was granted planning permission.
Having a look around the area this morning, it would seem the Council don’t mind keeping this area in as bad a state as possible.
india-buildings-rear-edinburgh(1)Incidentally, while a spokeswoman for The City of Edinburgh Council cited health and safety reasons for their plan to evict the Cowgate Occupy Camp that reminds passers-by of the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, the same council has allowed this area to fall into dereliction, even permitting licensees and other businesses to dump at will in the area, as this photograph shows:
Although it may be too late for them to have their voices heard, residents of the Old Town and even those from further afield who simply appreciate Andrew Carnegie’s legacy,have made it clear in hundreds of letters to the council (see below) that they have been robbed of another local amenity.
I’d add to that as well as the damage that will done to Carnegie’s library, the area remains of literary significance, not least because of the role the library has played in among other things, hosting the offices of the UNESCO City of Literature. The City of Literature’s Robert Louis Stevenson itinerary also takes visitors along the Cowgate, where there are links to among others Robert Ferguson. It is of course also the birthplace of James Connolly.
In recent years the Cowgate featured throughout the work of playwright and poet Donald Campbell and in the writings of one of Edinburgh’s most missed poets, Sandie Craigie.
And it is equally impossible to hear any tour guide in the area talk for five minutes without now mentioning JK Rowling because The Philosopher’s Stone was reportedly written in this area too. Tourists now even flock to nearby Greyfriar’s churchyard, where the grave of a 19th century gentleman Thomas Riddell may or may not have inspired the popular author to create Lord Voldemort.
This Tale of Two Andrews reminds us of many aspects of current planning strategy, which through mismanagement and a lack of a community right of appeal against controversial developments allows assets gifted to our communities to be stripped in order to pay council-incurred debt, believing the only future for Edinburgh’s Old Town lies in hotels and licensed premises.
Saddest is how it plays false with the marvellous legacy of Andrew Carnegie and how a convenient fourteen year delay allows a huge fortune to fall into certain laps — like those of Andrew Jansons.
At the present time this is a national issue, not the least because if it has happened here it will happen elsewhere. Given the lack of political power of Cowgate and Grassmarket residents (even combined with that of six people in tents) it would take a philanthropist like Carnegie to save this site from killing the library and selling such endowed land.
NOTE ON THE SITE PLAN:
The red line marks the extent of the area over which Jansons Property now has planning permission — the blue indicates the Carnegie endowed Edinburgh Central Library — while the X marks the Cowgate Occupy Camp.
- Edinburgh Central Library at Wikipedia
- Media related to Edinburgh Central Library at Wikimedia Commons
- Andrew Carnegie at Wikipedia
- Historic Environment Scotland Categories A & B Listed Designations
- Shine A Light at Bella Caledonia
- Carnegie Article at Bella Caledonia
- The Guardian: “Edinburgh’s age of endarkenment: development is ripping heart from city”