Friday, 14 March 2008

Farrell urges critics to shape city's future

The Times, Friday, March 14

Sir Terry Farrell has hit back at critics of his role as Edinburgh’s design champion, and challenged his doubters to get involved in planning the future of the city rather than bellyaching on the sidelines.

Farrell was speaking after it was revealed that he had been re-appointed for a fifth year to his unpaid post by Edinburgh City Council. That move prompted complaints from some unnamed local architects who questioned his contribution to the city, including one who suggested that Farrell and his company had “gained much more from this relationship than the city of Edinburgh has.”

Farrell vehemently rejected those allegations, pointing out that since he took on his public role in 2003, he had “not sought” nor accepted any commissions for work in the city.

Last night he went a step further, announcing that Edinburgh would host an international conference on “urban design and city making”, which will focus on Edinburgh itself.

“I have been acutely aware of the need to engage local architects more in public affairs in Edinburgh as they have often self-marginalised themselves … Unfortunately there has been a minority (who have invariably expressed themselves anonymously) and who have it seems been somewhat negative about the benefits and imagined conflicts of my role," said Farrell.

“There is a long tradition in most other major cities of local architects being involved in public life. There are procedures set out and well monitored, for avoiding conflicts of interest. It is universally recognised that it is essential to engage active, well-informed people with knowledge of their city in voluntary work to help make it a better place."

His comments come at time of continuing public unease over a number of controversial development within Edinburgh’s historic city centre. These include the installation of a £400 million tram system and Caltongate, a £300 million mixed development in the Old Town that is bitterly opposed by conservationists and residents.

Some critics have suggested that Edinburgh could follow the unfortunate lead of Dresden, whose world heritage status is under review by UNESCO after the city revealed plans for a new and intrusive bridge.

This public dissatisfaction was reflected by Farrell himself last November when he told The Times that “Edinburgh is a town which has dire need of regeneration.” He complained of “the forces of lethargy” hampering his work and added: “There’s no-one beginning to think that they even need a vision. Not just at [council] officer level – it’s very apparent there – but also in the elected leaders. There is no belief that they need do anything other than sit back.”

Changes in council personnel have led to a significant thawing in relations. Mr Farrell said he had been “delighted” with an increased recognition for urban design.

This had culminated he said in a meeting with Jenny Dawe, the council leader, Tom Aitchison, the chief executive and senior elected colleagues. They invited the architect to remain in post for another year “and they did so in terms of enthusiasm and commitment that were at a new level for the city,” he said.

Mr Farrell added that new senior officers on the council, including Dave Anderson, the incoming director of city development, would put “pro-active city making high on their agenda”. The international conference – which will focus on the future of Edinburgh itself - he said reflected “this accelerated commitment.”

He added: “How well [the] changes to the City are planned and designed is critical to Edinburgh’s future. Will they match and build on the achievements of the past, or could they diminish these achievements? It is time to prepare and to plan ahead. This conference will be an exciting step forward.”

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