SoCo Development Edinburgh, Whiteburn, Developer, News, Old Town, Design

SoCo Development, Edinburgh

Cowgate Redevelopment, Edinburgh, by Allan Murray Architects

SoCo Edinburgh Development

New Vision for Fire-Hit Cowgate Site in Edinburgh

A £40 million vision to breathe new life into a prominent Old Town site in Edinburgh, which was devastated by fire in 2002, was unveiled today (22 May 2006).

Following conclusion of a complex negotiation to purchase the site from the eight former owners in December last year, the major regeneration project will now be driven by Edinburgh-based, family-owned development company Whiteburn, which also constructed the award-winning Tun building beside the new Scottish Parliament.

SoCo Edinburgh
SoCo buildings image from Weber Shandwick 2006

The vacant site, which is bounded by South Bridge to the east and the Cowgate to the north, together with the remaining corner tenement on Chambers Street, will be transformed into a vibrant new city district. The developers believe that the new hub, aptly named SoCo, will act as a catalyst to attract new interest and investment in the area, which lies at the heart of the Old Town and forms part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage site.

The company has launched a worldwide search for potential occupiers or co-investors for the prime 12,500 sq m city centre site, which could eventually feature a variety of uses such as a hotel, serviced apartments, retail, offices, art gallery and a nightclub, in a new building. Alternative plans also include a significant amount of new housing to strengthen the city centre and inner city communities.

Award-winning Edinburgh architect Allan Murray, who also designed The Tun for Whiteburn, has been enlisted to draw up proposals for the site. Central to the design are open squares and walkways linking South Bridge and Chambers Street to the Cowgate.

Construction of SoCo is expected to create around 100 jobs and more than 200 once the building has been completed. John Shepherd, chief executive of Whiteburn, said: “At SoCo, thrilling 21st century architecture will bring together all the levels and layers of this intricate and energetic part of town. It will pitch you right into the heart of everything Edinburgh has to offer and kick-start the regeneration of this well-known but disconnected quarter.”

Jonathan Sutton of Storeys:ssp, agent for the developer, said: “SoCo will be a fabulous location for a hotel, luxury apartments or new HQ. As an exciting cultural centre, it would be perfect for a gallery, filmhouse, concert hall or fringe venue. We’re already fielding enquiries from a variety of potential end users.”

Mr Murray said the proposed new building will act as a catalyst in the regeneration of the South Bridge and Cowgate areas of Edinburgh. “Good urban design is not simply about buildings or facades. It is about finding the right dynamic mix of uses, forging useful pedestrian links, making new urban spaces and creating a sense of place and character. Our vision seeks to assist in the regeneration not only of the South Bridge, but also of the Cowgate and Chambers Street, linking them together perhaps for the first time since the 19th century.”

He added: “Bringing together vibrant new uses that address both the South Bridge and the Cowgate, SoCo will redress some of the concerns that many of us have over the quality of environment. We look forward to creating a new piece of high quality architecture in this much neglected part of the Old Town.”

A planning application for SoCo is expected to be submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council later this year. The re-development is expected to take around three years to complete.

SoCo Edinburgh – Buildings Information 26 May 2006

Old Town Fire Competition: Edinburgh Fire

SoCo – Background Information

Formerly a multi-owned group of tenements, once housing a variety of pubs, clubs, studios and venues on Cowgate, such as the Gilded Balloon, The Living Room and La Belle Angele. The University of Edinburgh’s Informatics department was based on the upper levels above shops and an amusement arcade on South Bridge. Prior to 1976, it was home to the J&R Allan department store.

The buildings were ravaged by fire in December 2002. Two thirds of the tenement was subsequently demolished, leaving a gaping hole between South Bridge and the Cowgate. A City of Edinburgh Council planning brief calls for high quality redevelopment, with an opportunity for the best of contemporary design in the World Heritage Site.

Agreements reached to consolidate ownerships in December 2005 under Whiteburn Projects, developer of The Tun (an award-winning, multi occupied office building on Holyrood Road), following almost a year of complex negotiations, with completion of site purchase expected shortly

Site includes upper floors of remaining 19th Century South Bridge/Chambers Street corner building. Redevelopment opportunity for approximately 12,500 sq m for a range of uses. Whiteburn is seeking hotel, aparthotel or serviced apartment operators to anchor a new bespoke development. There may also be space for public use such as a gallery, possible festival venue and for retail and licensed premises. The former La Belle Angele nightspot will also be reinstated.

A key aim is to make the site more permeable, with open squares and walkways linking South Bridge and Chambers Street to the Cowgate. The SoCo redevelopment will also act as a catalyst in the regeneration of the area.

SoCo Design Team

Developer: Whiteburn Projects
Architect: Allan Murray Architects
Agent: Storeys:ssp
Structural Engineers: Will Rudd Davidson
Services Engineers: Whitby Bird
Cost Consultants: CBA
Lawyers: Brodies LLP

Whiteburn – a Profile

Whiteburn is a Scottish family-owned property investment and development company created in 1985, but whose roots stretch back three generations.

In the last 10 years, Whiteburn has focused on breathing new life into townhouses, warehouses and breweries, mainly in Edinburgh.


– Led Edinburgh’s pavement café revolution by re-configuring a vacant Georgian tenement in the New Town commercial and shopping area. Now home to Café Rouge, Po Na Na and offices, the building was sold to Festival Inns in 2003.
– Created Scotland’s first genuine loft apartments, Leith Lofts, in two former bonded warehouses in Maritime Street, Edinburgh.
– Developed The Tun in Holyrood Road, judged the UK’s best commercial office building in 2003. The building is home to, among others, the BBC, British Council Scotland and the European Parliament.
– Transformed the neighbouring Clock Tower brewery building for the successful Pizza Express restaurant group.

The early years

David Shepherd, chairman of Whiteburn, then senior partner of J&E Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, created the Keiller Shopping Centre (now Forum Centre) on the historic Keiller’s jam factory site in the heart of Dundee.

David was instrumental in consolidating and expanding the investment portfolio, acquiring a number of tenement, shop and office properties in Dundee, which have been maintained and improved over the years.

The jewel in Whiteburn’s crown in Dundee is the Royal Exchange office building. Formerly housing the Guardian Royal Insurance Company and a number of government departments, this is now home to one of Dundee’s business success stories, Henderson Loggie Chartered Accountants, along with several other local businesses and training centres. John and Sam Shepherd took over the day-to-day running of the business with the establishment of Whiteburn Projects Ltd as the development arm in 1992.

With John as chief executive and brother Sam as finance director, Whiteburn employs a small but experienced team to manage the diverse portfolio and create exciting new investments in Edinburgh, Dundee and elsewhere.


The Tun, Holyrood won two British Council for Offices Awards in 2003 in the best commercial office category Scotland and UK. The Tun also received a Civic Trust Mention in 2004.

Leith Lofts was the subject of an ITV Home Show in 1999, where a number of owners told the story of how they were able to fit out their own apartments in the development. John Shepherd is also chief executive of Northern Housing Company Ltd, a charitable housing company, providing affordable homes for rent in Dundee and Perth.

SoCo Edinburgh : main page

SoCo : further information

Old Town Fire Ideas Competition, Edinburgh

South Bridge Edinburgh

Cowgate Housing

A1 Building by Allan Murray Architects

Cowgate Buildings

Buildings / photos for the SoCo Edinburgh Architecture pages welcome