Thursday, July 21, 2011


It has just been announced (11.30 am this morning!) that the Scottish Government has approved the proposals from Edinburgh Business School (Heriot-Watt University) for the sympathetic renovation of ‘Panmure House’, just off old Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, where Adam Smith lived from 1778 up to his death in 1790.

The planning authorities have at last given the go ahead, despite objections from ‘Historic Scotland’, a statutory publicly-funded body (forcing a public inquiry), into the important features necessary in EBS plans both to comply with current legal requirements for public access (wheel-chair access, fire exits, and public toilets) and to allow the old building (1697) to be suitable for its educational and research purposes, and to preserve it historic character as Adam Smith's house.

This is an example of public legal regulations having expensive and frustrating consequences for a market-funded Business School's attempt to meet them in the most sympathetic way, being disputed by another publicly-funded body, forcing long delays until the Scottish Government made its final decision, all of which objection and inquiry work was funded by the taxpayer (excepting the work and cost of the delay and inquiry to the non-state financed Edinburgh Business School) .

EBS proposed to construct an imaginative glass atrium to the original rear of Panmure House, to allow compliance with the standard regulations requiring the provision for access for wheel-chairs, fire regulations, and to modernise the toilet provision inside the building. The problem was that providing for these desirable (and legal) facilities within the confined space of a 16th-century building, as insisted by Historic Scotland, was not possible without enabling safe access to the upper floor for people from outside the building. This was why EBS proposed a solution involving an attractive glass atrium to provide both for safe access and exit by all visitors, including a lift for those in wheel chairs, while leaving the original stone walls completely visible without damage to the original fabric, to leave adequate useable space inside Panmure House. Historic Scotland disagreed and forced a pubic inquiry.

With today's planning approvals, EBS can now commence to put its ambitious plans into action. The architects can detail their drawings, the funds can now be mobilised from generous donors around the world, and everything prepared for Panmure House to become, not just a (welcome) magnet for visitors to Edinburgh, but also for its serious academic and educational work to commence (at no cost to the public purse).

Gavin Kennedy (Emeritus Professor, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh)



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