Adam Wilkinson, Appleton Tower, Basil Spence, City of Edinburgh Council, Cockburn Association, Councillor Ian Perry, Democracy, Development, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh World Heritage, Edinburgh’s Royal High School, Humor, Planning Laws, Professor Richard Williams, Satire, Scottish National Party, SNP, St James Centre, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Walnut Whip Hotel
And so the latest Edinburgh planning permission scandal rumbles on, with the city’s world heritage status now coming under increased scrutiny. The plan for the five-star hotel which will next year replace the St James Centre at the east end of the Georgian New Town has been widely criticized for being “as sensible as a dictionary” and “boring snoring!”
The new hotel will be modelled on one of Edinburgh’s most treasured neoclassical buildings, the Greek revival high school which was built on Calton Hill in 1829. The hotel has the distinction of being the only Edinburgh construction project to be ever endorsed by the city’s prestigious Cockburn Association [Please note, Cockburn is not pronounced “cock burn,” as in an irritating genital infection]. First founded in 1767, the Association opposed the building of Edinburgh’s New Town as “a stain upon the soul of humanity.” It identified the word “New” as the most ominous feature of the development. It went on to protest against semi-detached housing, worrying episodes of sunny weather which “marred the character of the city,” and the removal of the city’s gallows. The Association’s endorsement of the new hotel, along with euphoric support from Prince Charles, is seen as a major boost for the project.
Unfortunately, others remain lukewarm. Several meetings of Edinburgh’s planning committee had to be abandoned after councillors fell asleep whilst trying to study the proposals. Councillor Ian Perry reported that, “I took one look at the façade and then my eyes glazed over and I was nodding and blinking, trying to pretend that I was still awake. Around me, colleagues were sliding to the floor.” Even proponents of the project have conceded that the hotel’s guests and staff will have to constantly gobble caffeine tablets in order to be able to function whilst on its premises.To the same end, the hotel will deploy a sleep deprivation technique which was first used by the FBI during the Waco siege and bombard hotel guests with Metallica songs at an excruciating volume.
The hotel finally received planning permission in controversial circumstances this August, with Councillor Perry apologising for being elected. “It’s certainly regrettable that I have anything to do with this project,” Councillor Perry conceded. “I mean, look at the people who voted for me! Look at the houses they live in! Half of these people spend more time wandering around the St James Centre than basking in the glory of Edinburgh’s granite pillars. The last time I went to the New Town, the place was virtually empty! What a sorry reflection upon all of my voters!”
Yet the new hotel has also earned the ire of United Nations advisers and Edinburgh’s world heritage status is now under question. During last year’s elections for the position of Director-General of UNESCO, the North Korean candidate Irina Bam Bok secured majority support from delegates who were dissatisfied with the organisation’s “neocolonial bias” and its overly Western conception of architectural merit. With Miss Bam Bok’s recent visit to Edinburgh, many modern buildings received unexpected praise.
The St James Centre was described as “a dream in living masonry.” In an impromptu UNESCO ceremony, it was officially twinned with the ruins of an ISIS-controlled temple in Syria. The Edinburgh University Main Library, a sprawling leviathan of concrete Gothic which was built by Sir Basil Spence in 1964, was termed “the city’s masterpiece – even better than the St James Centre!” The Director-General had to don protective clothing to approach the University’s Appleton Tower, which is now so riddled with asbestos that it is surrounded by piles of dying birds. Although she was also hit by falling shards of wall panel, she was still fulsome in complimenting the building. Even a panicked scramble from the tower, once it began to lean to the south in the high winds, did not disturb Miss Bam Bok’s appreciation of its “Brutalist crispness.”
Yesterday Miss Bam Bok rounded on the hotel project, telling Councillor Perry that “the UN owns this city, not you! You should be grateful that you and your voters can still live here at all. Maybe we put you on buses and take you away and nobody sees you again. We are looking after this city for the people of the world, for the people of the future. And the people of the world don’t want your hotel!
“The people of the world want the exquisite public toilets on Princes Street, where you can sink down through the slime and the concrete to soak up the atmosphere. The people of the world want to shudder at their own mortality when the chill wind roars through the St James Centre. The people of the world want their eyes to roam across the endless façade of Argyle House, until they can never tear their eyes away again. The people of the world want to swarm over the Basil Spence library like termites, naked and spellbound with horror, writhing through its Politburo corridors and down into its disused basement cafeteria, chanting their fervour for Shub-Niggurath!”
The SNP are equally vociferous in their criticisms of the hotel. “We will oppose this hotel!” Steve Fiddler, the SNP MP for the Falkland Islands, very dramatically told the audience of Any Questions. “The Tory government wants to take billions of pounds from hard-working families, from schools and hospitals, and spend them on this hotel which does nothing to aid our nation’s defence. We will cut this hotel!” he added, posing for effect whilst the middle-class audience cheered mindlessly. “This is what we stand for. Cutting this hotel!” The Tory spokesman replied that the SNP’s position was puerile and populist, and that only the hotel could secure Britain’s place in the world. When it was put to the Tory that the hotel could never be realistically fired at Moscow, he sinisterly insinuated that nothing could be ruled out.
The hotel was subsequently debated on BBC Reporting Scotland, where Richard J Williams, Professor of Visual Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, went up against the mummified remains of Adam Wilkinson, the director of Edinburgh World Heritage. Under the heat of the studio lights, Mr Wilkinson appeared to assume an expression of redoubtable conservatism. A visibly nervous Professor Williams responded that, “I mean, can’t we build a hotel in this city without everybody acting like it’s the outbreak of World War Three? It’s just a hotel. If nobody likes it, we can just knock it down and build something else… can’t we?”