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Scotland's parliament to start life in General Assembly Hall

20/03/1998

The first meeting of the Scottish Parliament will take place in the General Assembly Hall in the heart of Edinburghs historic Old Town, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Rt Hon Donald Dewar MP, announced today.

Mr Dewar said that a wide range of factors had been considered very thoroughly before he had made a difficult final choice among the three shortlisted sites. He was confident that the combination of the Assembly hall and the office, committee and ancillary space available nearby would provide the Parliament with fitting and appropriate accommodation in its formative years until its permanent home at the other end of the Royal Mile was ready in 2001.

Mr Dewar said:

Today's decision has not been easy. But it has been reached after very careful consideration of what would be best for Scotland's Parliament in its formative years.

When I first indicated that the Government was reviewing the siting of the Parliament I made it clear that Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, was the natural choice. Since the new Parliament would not be completed until 2001 we had to find a temporary home. Once again Edinburgh was the first choice. In the beginning no site in Edinburgh offering a suitable debating chamber, sufficient space for Committees and adequate office accommodation for MSPs their staff and the staff of the Parliament itself could be found.

The problem initially with the General Assembly Hall option was the lack of nearby office accommodation to support the workings of the Parliament. It would have meant renting commercial office space around St Andrew Square which would have involved an unacceptable walk.

The Old Royal High School option had problems with both the debating chamber and office accommodation.

On that basis the search widened. The Glasgow option of using the buildings in Charing Cross formerly used by Strathclyde Regional Council was very attractive. It offered a suitable debating chamber and ample office accommodation nearby. I am very grateful to the Glasgow council. When approached they responded and made an offer which was a real contender.

The City of Edinburgh Council's last minute offer of their headquarters office accommodation at the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street, some 200 yards from the General Assembly Hall, put a completely different complexion on matters. It meant that a parliamentary campus could be created around the debating chamber between the Castle and St Giles.

I have reviewed the options now before me very carefully . I have concluded for a number of reasons that the Parliament should meet in the Assembly Hall from May 1999.

A decisive factor - and a point made by a number of Members of the Consultative Steering Group - was the need for the Parliament to put down roots in the vitally important early years. It would have been difficult for the Parliament and its staff established in Glasgow for the first 2 years to face a move to Edinburgh.That would be hard on businesses and other organisations seeking to establish a presence near to the Parliament.

This was not a tendering process pitting one City against another. Cost was not a decisive factor in arriving at this decision. We were looking for a site which will allow the Scottish Parliament to operate effectively and serve the people of Scotland. It was the decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to make available their main office accommodation adjacent to the Assembly Hall, that allowed them to meet the necessary criteria.

The General Assembly Hall will create an exciting and appropriate backdrop for the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament. And it provides all the historic links and associations with the Royal Mile which attracted me to Holyrood as the permanent home for the Parliament. I have come to the same conclusion that it provides the right setting for Scotland's parliament in its first two years.

BACKGROUND

1. The accommodation costs of the temporary site in Edinburgh will be around £6 million over two years.

News Release: 0564/98
March 20, 1998