It was a difficult time for the sector with the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse entering administration and the Scottish National Galleries facing a huge funding crisis. Against the backdrop of what has been described as a “perfect storm” of funding crises for our cultural industries, the news that the concert hall is on the right track is fantastic.
The International Festival and Fringe rebounded well this year. This is a remarkable achievement considering the challenges they faced. The loss of the Film Festival and Filmhouse is a blow as they promoted a fantastic new facility in Festival Square to replace the frankly tired Filmhouse building, which has now been put on the market. Hopefully something can be salvaged.
In the new concert hall, things look surprisingly bright. The search for a site was long and difficult. The location next to Dundas House is ideal, but challenging. However, no other downtown site came close to the solution. There were objections to Nuveen’s initial scheme to name the St James ward, which were based on the fact that the initial proposals did not conform to the council’s master plan for the area – and they did not. Fortunately, the proposals have been suitably revised.
Just as important as reducing the height of the room was that the proposals did not go as deep as originally planned. The rock beneath the site is volcanic and the original plan to descend almost 20 meters would have been extremely expensive. The new proposals are therefore much more deliverable.
The truly amazing feature of the new concert hall is the funding provided by the Dunard Fund. Not since the days of the Usher Hall and the establishment of the Ross Theater and the Ross Fountain (by different Rosses) has Edinburgh seen such corporate generosity. Carol Grigor of the Dunard Fund deserves praise for her contribution to the International Festival, the Impact Concert Hall and a host of other projects over many years. No one in modern times has contributed so much as a ‘matron’ (or patron) of the culture of Edinburgh and Scotland.
The Impact Concert Hall will, I am sure, be an exceptional venue and home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. If I have one complaint, it’s the fact that Dundas House is not fully integrated into the proposals. The opportunity to create one of the finest concert hall entrances in the world is missed as the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) plans to hang on to Dundas House.
I can’t help but think that RBS should give Dundas House to the city so that it is more fully integrated into the concert hall proposals. Recall that the bank benefited from a £46bn bailout from the taxpayer. That would obviously involve revisiting the plans, but that’s surely better done now than when the RBS loses its emotional attachment to Dundas House. A gift to the city would be a small acknowledgment for the overwhelming support given to RBS when it nearly crashed and burned.
So, congratulations for the Impact Concert Hall. A fantastic new addition to a fantastic town. Congratulations to all participants.