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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 10:24 GMT

UK: Politics

Where will the Scottish parliament be?
image: [ Edinburgh: possible locations for the Scottish parliament ]
Edinburgh: possible locations for the Scottish parliament

The long-awaited decision on the site of the Scottish parliament is being announced on Friday morning by the Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar. It is believed that he will favour the Holyrood site, opposite the Queen's Scottish residence in Edinburgh.

But there will be strong opposition from supporters of the contending sites, especially the historic former Royal High School at Calton Hill and the waterfront site of Leith.

The debate began last July when Mr Dewar opposed the idea of using Calton Hill because it was too small.

The last Labour government converted the school into a debating chamber for a Scottish assembly, but it remained empty when the referendum of 1979 was defeated.

Guidelines were put out for the new site, specifying that it should be central, accessible, representative of Scotland, and fall within a £40m spending limit.

But the estimated cost has now gone up to between £50-65m.


[ image: The Queen's official Scottish residence]
The Queen's official Scottish residence
The new leading contender is located opposite the Queen's official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyrood House.

Although it had originally been in the running, it was not announced publicly until last December because of uncertainty as to when the site would be vacated.

The four-acre site is currently the home of Scottish and Newcastle breweries, and is being offered to the Government as a commercial transaction. The current building will have to be dismantled, and a new parliament erected.

[ image: The Holyrood site would boost tourism in Edinburgh's old town]
The Holyrood site would boost tourism in Edinburgh's old town
It is not yet known how much the project will cost, and if it will fall within the spending limit, but the site is favoured because of its historic links and its city-centre location.

However, there will be strong opposition to the choice of Holyrood from the Scottish National Party, which favours Calton Hill.

Glasgow architect Alan Park has also warned that the Holyrood site presents major difficulties.

"It's a very restricted site and that limits what you can do. The other problem is most major buildings take 10-15 years from start to finish and the Government don't have anything like that time," he said.


The plan to build a waterfront parliament at Leith, just outside Edinburgh, was originally thought to be Mr Dewar's favourite option.

The Forth Ports Authority is offering the site for free. If there had not been a delay in announcing the site, the authority says it could have completed the new parliamentary building by Christmas, 1999, in time for the millennium.

Scottish civil servants are reported to be keen on the quay-side site, as it is near their new headquarters.

But opponents say it is too far from the city centre, and does not have adequate transport links, a key requirement for an accessible parliament. They also say it would place an enormous burden on the road network.

Calton Hill

[ image: The debating chamber in the old school]
The debating chamber in the old school
This option is thought to be the most popular with the Scots, and is also supported by the Scottish National Party. The SNP says it best matches the criteria of being accessible and at the centre of Scotland's national life.

"There is a lot of talk about how the parliament is going to reinvigorate this or that area, or will be handy for civil servants," said architect Malcolm Fraser.

"But we're talking about something far more important than that... Edinburgh was built around hills, not a waterfront. Up on Calton Hill there is a connection to the land and Scotland which reaches out beyond Edinburgh and is not buried in it."

After the former Royal School building was judged to be too small, it was suggested that the adjacent building, St Andrew's House, be used as well. Until recently this was home to the Scottish Office.

Opponents say the plans for Calton Hill are too expensive. Converting St Andrew's House is estimated at costing £65m.

A new suggestion this week proposes to convert a half-finished monument known as "Edinburgh's disgrace" into a brand new parliament building. The old stone acropolis was begun in 1822 as a national monument to celebrate Britain's victory in the Napoleonic Wars. But it was abandoned after money ran out to complete it.

Under the new plans the monument would contain a glass debating chamber, with media and administrative areas extending behind. The building would have its own helipad, and a cable-car lift would provide transport down the hill to further administrative units in the Royal School.

However, this idea is not being considered by the Scottish Office.


This site is centrally located in Edinburgh's west end. It has the advantage of excellent transport and communication links.

It is not as expensive as the Calton Hill option, and does not have the accessibility problem of Leith.

But it has been criticised as being too small, although supporters point out that the new Holyrood site is no bigger.

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