Banana drama puts Edinburgh flats Grade A listing under spotlight

Timing is everything and the announcement of the Grade A listed status of Edinburgh's Banana Flats at the peak of the Trainspotting 2 media frenzy was a bold move. Taking these decisions is not easy and the listing will have a long term impact on the people of Leith, the residents of the flats, their neighbours and the tax payer. The announcement certainly attracted more than its fair share of publicity, and a very mixed reaction.

There are those on the architecture side who see this as recognition of the "brutalist" form of their art, creating a living, breathing example of how buildings have evolved and help to create places. In contrast, some local residents don't see what all the fuss is about', and simply see it as home. Others raise the common problem of property maintenance and the condition of the building, these are not modern energy efficient homes after all. Some have even argued that it is a patronising put down from the ivory towers. 

Would we build them again today? Probably not, so why do we want to ensure that they are around forever? I know only too well the challenges such status creates when trying to manage listed properties. I am sure that if you weighed up all the arguments the scales would be finely balanced.

Let's look at just one example of the impact of this decision. We are committed to reducing our dependance on fossil fuels and a future where our heating and hot water needs are met through renewable sources is not that far away. Right now there are solutions in the market that enable us to move away from gas. Thanks to new technology we can now bridge the gap between when the sun shines and the wind blows and when we want to take a shower or heat our home. 

Upgrading the heating infrastructure in a Grade A listed building to improve energy efficiency and cut fuel bills is not a simple matter. Any solution will now be more expensive because of restrictions imposed by its Grade A status. How would the planners react if the most effective way of eradicating fuel poverty for tenants was to clad the exterior in solar thermal panels, can you get more brutalist than that?

The big question has to be how we ensure that this decision has a positive impact on the lives of current and future tenants. Derek Anderson, an Edinburgh photographer, captured the life and soul of the local residents in 2014 and it showed the rich diversity of people who make this community. This decision has to become one that benefits them. 

Having now listed the building I would hope that Historic Environment Scotland track the impact it has on the people of Leith and if necessary adapt the listing to ensure it is positive. Now, that would be a brave move. Without ongoing accountability the words of Mark "Rent Boy" Renton will ring true, "We're ruled by effete arseholes".

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