2007 - 2022

A Tale of Two Andrews

rear-of-edinburgh-central-library-september-2016Andy Jansons, of Jansons Property Investors and Developers, is the luckiest property developer in the country. Peter Burnett explains why.

Born in Dunfermline in 1835, Andrew Carnegie was the model philanthropist.  During the last 18 years of his life, Carnegie gave away about £265 million — in 2016 share of GDP, this would perhaps equate to something like £59 billion – around 90 percent of his fortune. His 1889 book which declared ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society, and stimulated a wave of philanthropy.

Born into poverty, Carnegie devoted his later years to improving public life with special emphasis on local libraries, and he founded nearly 3,000 of these starting in his home town of Dunfermline. Of these many public libraries, Edinburgh Central Library was his fifth, and when it was opened in 1890 (at a cost of £35,000), it was said it could hold 187,000 volumes — compared to 74,000 in Leeds, 58,000 in Newcastle, 54,000 in Dundee. Shortly after, the site was enlarged by the purchase of a portion of the site behind India Buildings, land which has since that time been reserved for the use of the library.

The land in question — now known as the Cowgate gap site — is currently used as a car park and a store for council equipment, as well as being an occasional dumping ground. However, this land was specifically left so the library could be self-contained and provided with daylight.

That is after all consistent with the building’s motto — LET THERE BE LIGHT — which visitors see inscribed in stone above the main entrance, over rising rays. (See: Grant Buttars in Bella Caledonia “Shine A Light” )

The Cowgate gap site, which includes the Cowgatehead church — now an NHS facility — is currently hosting the Cowgate Occupy Camp which seeks to highlight the mismanagement of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy by Edinburgh Council.


A City of Edinburgh Council commissioned report of 2002, undertaken by Law & Dunbar Nasmith architects (LDN) concluded, among other things:

The Central Library is currently listed Category B as a building of architectural and historic importance by Historic Scotland but, on the evidence of this study, is of national importance and deserves to be upgraded to Category A.”

This upgrade to Category A listing was endorsed by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2005, while a further report by LDN in 2008 reiterated this position, remarking that “the lack of large scale investment at the Central Library is palpable.

Again, this was agreed to be the case by an expert panel which included representatives from the Council and from Library Services, all of whom agreed Central Library deserved to be Category A listed as a building of national and not just local significance.

A Historic Environment Scotland (HES) Report, submitted on 31.8.15, argues that case exactly, recognising that the Carnegie endowed Central Library “is among the best examples of this building type in Scotland and therefore of national significance.

It might therefore seem like a good thing that after a fourteen year process, the Central Library was upgraded to a Category A Listed building in July 2016 — but the sudden decision to effect the Category A listing after planning permission had already been granted to Andrew Jansons Property, has caused huge upset in the local community.

occupy_cowgate_campCrucially, despite the fact that the library has been awarded this Category A listing — a move which has been on Council desks since 2002 — the building was still awaiting the upgrade when planning permissions for India Buildings and the Cowgate gapsite were granted in May of this year.

This timing allowed the Scottish government to ignore the letters of objections and concern to residents in a letter dated 25th July 2016 that:

“Ministers have concluded that there are no issues of national significance that would justify using the power of call-in in this particular case.” (emphasis added)

This letter from the Scottish Government is dated three days before the category A listing was granted, which happened on the 28th July 2016.

After a fourteen year wait this timing is devastating for not just Old Town residents, but anybody concerned with Andrew Carnegie’s prodigious legacy— but it makes Andrew Jansons the luckiest developer in the country. This is because a Category A listing would have protected the space in question.


This summer an Occupy Camp was established in the Cowgate in response to this development — not because the citizens of the Old Town don’t want another hotel (they don’t) — but because of the lack of consultation regarding the Cowgate gapsite, and because the upgrading of the Category listing of the Edinburgh Central Library occurred too late for their objections to be meaningful.

As the ink on the planning permission is drying, and with no serious consultation or any other options being put forward, Jansons Property now have permission not only to develop not only the India Buildings, but the Cowgate gap site which provides library with its light.

The proposed hotel, bar, retail and leisure complex would fundamentally compromise and overshadow the Central Library, with light levels projected to decline by up to 80%. The Cowgate Camp, along with many other residents of Edinburgh, believe correctly that this planning application would have been unacceptable if the Library had been afforded the protection of Category A listing and been awarded it in time.

Essentially, the area in question, which should serve as a public amenity — exactly as the philanthropist intended — has been manipulated out of public hands and into private commercial use.

The City of Edinburgh Council have had fourteen years to effect this change, and yet they seem to have waited until planning permission was granted before they changed the listing.

What makes Andy Janson such a fortunate property developer then, is that this long wait has been opportune for him, as the upgrade to A-listing finally occurred roughly a month after he was granted planning permission.


Having a look around the area this morning, it would seem the Council don’t mind keeping this area in as bad a state as possible.

india-buildings-rear-edinburgh(1)Incidentally, while a spokeswoman for The City of Edinburgh Council cited health and safety reasons for their plan to evict the Cowgate Occupy Camp that reminds passers-by of the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, the same council has allowed this area to fall into dereliction, even permitting licensees and other businesses to dump at will in the area, as this photograph shows:

(Photo: India Buildings Rear Edinburgh)

Although it may be too late for them to have their voices heard, residents of the Old Town and even those from further afield who simply appreciate Andrew Carnegie’s legacy,have made it clear in hundreds of letters to the council (see below) that they have been robbed of another local amenity.

I’d add to that as well as the damage that will done to Carnegie’s library, the area remains of literary significance, not least because of the role the library has played in among other things, hosting the offices of the UNESCO City of Literature. The City of Literature’s Robert Louis Stevenson itinerary also takes visitors along the Cowgate, where there are links to among others Robert Ferguson. It is of course also the birthplace of James Connolly.

In recent years the Cowgate featured throughout the work of playwright and poet Donald Campbell and in the writings of one of Edinburgh’s most missed poets, Sandie Craigie.

And it is equally impossible to hear any tour guide in the area talk for five minutes without now mentioning JK Rowling because The Philosopher’s Stone was reportedly written in this area too. Tourists now even flock to nearby Greyfriar’s churchyard, where the grave of a 19th century gentleman Thomas Riddell may or may not have inspired the popular author to create Lord Voldemort.

This Tale of Two Andrews reminds us of many aspects of current planning strategy, which through mismanagement and a lack of a community right of appeal against controversial developments allows assets gifted to our communities to be stripped in order to pay council-incurred debt, believing the only future for Edinburgh’s Old Town lies in hotels and licensed premises.

Saddest is how it plays false with the marvellous legacy of Andrew Carnegie and how a convenient fourteen year delay allows a huge fortune to fall into certain laps — like those of Andrew Jansons.

At the present time this is a national issue, not the least because if it has happened here it will happen elsewhere. Given the lack of political power of Cowgate and Grassmarket residents (even combined with that of six people in tents) it would take a philanthropist like Carnegie to save this site from killing the library and selling such endowed land.

india_buildings_development(1)NOTE ON THE SITE PLAN:

The red line marks the extent of the area over which Jansons Property now has planning permission — the blue indicates the Carnegie endowed Edinburgh Central Library — while the X marks the Cowgate Occupy Camp.


There is still the possibility that pressure may be out on the Scottish Government to call in the application, and there is also the possibility that this case could be the first urban community buyout, utilising the recently passed Community Empowerment legislation.

The SNP Government, in stating that it aspires to speak up for Scotland, has a duty to intervene over such an important matter when faith has otherwise been lost in local government.

It is important also that the Scottish Parliament intervene and act in the public good given the previous exceptional intervention in showing favour to the private interests of Donald Trump and his ‘Great Dunes of Scotland’ golfing folly.

There is an online petition:


The Cowgate Camp have a Facebook Page:




Cowgatehead Designations at British Listed Buildings: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/sc-47859-14-20-even-nos-cowgate-former-cowgatehead

Central Library Edinburgh Designations at Historical Environment.scot: http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB27587

Bella Caledonia: “Shine A Light” by Grant Buttars: https://dev.bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/06/01/shine-a-light/

Herald Scotland: “Architect warns of dark future for library amid protests over hotel plan” by Stephen Naysmith: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14508146.Architect_warns_of_dark_future_for_library_amid_protests_over_hotel_plan/

Edinburgh Evening News: “Hotel plan damages future of Central Library” by Neil Simpson: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/neil-simpson-hotel-plan-damages-future-of-central-library-1-4136426

Andrew Carnegie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Carnegie



On 31st August, TRIBE OF MOLES reported in Bella Caledonia on “Who Really Owns The City”

This article reminded us that what we now call the Cowgate gap site was to be used for an extension of the Central Library in a way that would respect the architecture of this building, and re-visit its importance as a vital cultural hub — a space open to everyone.

Karin Goodwin in The Guardian: “Edinburgh’s age of endarkenment: development is ‘ripping heart from city’”: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/sep/08/edinburgh-endarkenment-public-land-luxury-hotel-india-buildings?CMP=share_btn_tw



Speaking to residents, it seems that while most are utterly fatigued and have lost faith in the planning process, others have become so disillusioned as to have left the area. This is now putting the future of the Old Town community, the ancient neighbourhood at the heart of the nation, in serious jeopardy.

The relevant planning summary and the hundreds of Objections can be found under the ‘Documents’ tab at this link. The vast majority of these objections remind the Council of the light required by the library — not to mention pollution issues, the over-abundance of licensed premises already in the area, and other concerns.

The relevant City of Edinburgh Council Planning Application Summary: https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk/idoxpa-web/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NV8SY2EWH1J00

Link to the Council’s web cam of the India Buildings planning decision: http://edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/183122

Jansons Property Developers and Investors: http://www.jansonsproperty.com/






Comments (9)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. David Robinson says:

    a hell of a lot

    1. Diane says:

      A fuck more than a hell of a lot.

  2. David Robinson says:

    so good I said it twice ..Noo York,,,,,etc

  3. Finlay Macleoid says:

    How odd it is he gave away all this wealth but died a Highland Landlord in Sutherland.

  4. Broadbield says:

    I believe Councils throughout the country have been derelict in in protecting “common” (or endowed) land intended for public benefit and handing it over to private interests. Andy Wightman, now an MSP, knows a thing or two about this sort of abuse.

  5. Graeme McCormick says:

    I’m fed up looking at buildings and gap sites in our towns and cities waiting for something to happen to them over decades.

    Provided what is proposed has architectural merit what’s the point of preventing something which will bring life and buildings which are cared for back into use?

    1. SimonB says:

      This public land was disposed of by Edinburgh Council WITHOUT ANY PUBLIC CONSULTATION as to alternative options.

      This is a dereliction of duty & care and a terrible insult to the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, never mind an affront to a so called democratic country where sovereignty is supposed to reside with The People.

      Thanks to the dire financial predicament of Edinburgh Council, precipitated by scandal, maladministration and the disingenuous imposition of so called ‘austerity’, prime public real estate is being asset stripped and transferred to wealthy private individuals and banks typically with little if any connection to the area, motivated by a buck rather than any duty of care and consideration for the local community… and while we’re supposedly ‘all in this together’ the rich continue to get richer by way of their parasitical relationship with reality.

      In response to Graeme’s comment, “I’m fed up looking at buildings and gap sites in our towns and cities waiting for something to happen to them over decades”:

      gap sites are often land banked and sat on for years waiting for the opportunity to make the greatest speculative buck, all the while blighting an area. Blight then leads to community exasperation, making the case for anything rather than nothing ‘development’, thereby encouraging mediocrity.

      Getting away with mediocre ‘development’ then works in the land owner’s interest since, rather than construct a magnificent building of the highest standards which could stand for hundreds of years, mediocre ‘development’ encourages future land speculation when demolition consent is readily obtained to tear down unloved buildings.

      Wrecking balls can then make way for the next wave of speculative mediocre ‘development’…

      The current debacle of St James Centre is a text book example of this malfeasance, and those who pay the greatest price are the local community contending with mediocrity and disruption.

      A golden turd is capable of bringing life back to an area as is the case with St James Centre:


      Yet Edinburgh, regarded as the 4th most beautiful city on Planet Earth, (with the recognition of the twin World Heritage Status still standing, but whose future is now in doubt due to the cumulative effects of mediocrity), can do MUCH MUCH better than this.

      The sooner Citizens and political representatives have a sound understanding of the political and economic chicanery behind speculative ‘development’ the more honourable we will be in safeguarding the inheritance of the City for succeeding generations.

      And for those who are yet to be convinced that this proposed hotel, in spite of the sophistry of PR spin and promises of low paid and transitory employment, is insensitive, incongruous and HIDEOUS see:


  6. MBC says:

    Yes Graeme, these gap sites are indeed ‘land banked’ and the product of maladministration by local authorities. Developers are not rescuers but exploiters.

    In the case of Edinburgh (where I live) the Council planning department seems to pitch themselves at very low quality designs. They have a fabulous city but sell it cheap.

  7. MBC says:

    The centre of Edinburgh is a very congested site with tight urban fabric. Making any development tricky and potentially expensive.

    But, despite this, isn’t it funny that in recent years the Sheriff Court has managed a multi-million pound extension and redevelopment of its premises in Chambers Street, which extend into the Cowgate; the university has managed to rebuild its artificial intelligence building, part of which was destroyed in the Cowgate fire; the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street has managed a major development of its basement area, yet the Central Library has made no plans to acquire and develop this site.

    Because the Central Library is of course owned and managed the the City of Edinburgh Council, part of its library service.

    The other sites are owned by different public organisations which with far fewer resources (but with a far narrower dedicated remit than that of the Council) have made far better use of their sites’ potential.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.