curiosity about the ways of the world

Scott free?

I see the Guardian is asking for memories connected with the Scott Monument. This probably isn’t what they are looking for but I can’t resist publishing a provocative piece which first appeared in The City Talks. Colin Cumberland  makes a pretty good case for getting rid of the monument which he describes as a “Gothic plook” and a “crumbling carbuncle”. 

Colin, then managing director of Applecross Properties, began by comparing the two sides of Princes Street to the anti-smoking campaign which uses two sides of a face to show the ill-effect of smoking: one side haggard and slack jawed the other bright eyed, clear complexioned and youthful. He continued…

“Visitors to Princes Street will recognise the imagery. On one side there’s beauty, elegance and vitality; on the other, neglect, self-indulgence and drabness. But the comparison can be overplayed: whilst the model in the advert has an unblemished good side, Princes Street’s better half has to contend with that Gothic plook, the Scott Monument.

“Just to remind you, the Scott Monument was a result of a competition. The winner, George Kemp, was initially placed a rather distant third but the judges could not make up their minds and, after requesting further designs, Kemp was declared the winner.

“Kemp, a joiner to trade, borrowed bits from Melrose Abbey, Glasgow Cathedral and Antwerp Cathedral. This Gothic confection sits in East Princes Street Gardens, a decaying and pointless homage to unrestrained vulgarity.

What does it do? What is its function? How do people use it? These are legitimate questions to ask of all the buildings along Princes Street but the Scott Monument delivers no satisfactory answers.

“I notice the theme in this City Talks is the importance of public spaces. Could I suggest that the City Fathers’ contribution could be demolition of the Scott Monument to release a chunk of the Gardens which citizens of Edinburgh could then really enjoy? The sculpture of Sir Walter himself is rather well done and I would be happy to see that remain. But for the rest, get rid of it.

Princes Street has too many buildings which are not fit for purpose. If Princes Street is to be a world-class street then we have to create new buildings with big floor plates for trading. The new buildings could be completely commercial but we have got to get away from shops trading out of ground and first floors leaving three or four upper floors stacked high with scabby cardboard boxes for all the world to see. As a residential developer I would, of course, prefer some flats over the shops to ensure the centre of our beautiful city is lived in and remains an exciting vibrant place after the shops have closed for the evening.

“I don’t think I have singled out the Scott Monument unfairly. The problem with redeveloping Princes Street is the multiplicity of ownerships and competing interests so it is difficult to know where to start. The Scott Monument is in single ownership with a single interest. Come on. Be brave. Be visionary. Demolish this crumbling carbuncle to demonstrate that we are happy to embrace the possibilities of the future, rather than being trapped in the complacency of the past.”

Footnote: great rousing stuff from Colin. Sadly, Applecross Properties went bust in May 2009 but the Scott Monument is still there. (By the way I produced The City Talks newsletter for the former Edinburgh City Centre Management Company in 2006).

1 Comment

  1. Administrator

    Four years on and many of Colin’s comments on Princes Street are still topical.

    If only the city council had not made such a mess of the trams, if only there was someone with vision and courage to force through the inspiring changes that have been on the drawing board for so many years!

    Imagine Princes Street with the elegance and excitement of the Southbank in London. There’s scope for keeping some shops of course but wouldn’t it be better to face the gardens with cafes and galleries and music venues?

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