National Galleries of Scotland Bill: Preliminary Stage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd December 2015.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-14956, in the name of Anne McTaggart, on the National Galleries of Scotland Bill. I invite all members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible, and I call Anne McTaggart to speak to and move the motion on behalf on the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee.

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

I am pleased to open the preliminary stage debate on the National Galleries of Scotland Bill and to provide the Parliament with some background to the committee’s scrutiny of the bill.

Before I do that, I thank those who gave evidence to the committee and the National Galleries of Scotland staff who accommodated a visit and gave us such an interesting tour of the Scottish art collection. I also thank the committee members, Fiona McLeod and Jean Urquhart, who will speak later in the debate

Private bills propose laws that allow individuals, groups of individuals or corporate bodies to acquire powers or benefits that are in excess of, or in conflict with, the general law. This bill is the fifth private bill to be introduced during the current parliamentary session, and the second one that I have worked on.

The committee’s role was to consider and report on the general principles of the bill and to decide whether it should proceed as a private bill. The bill’s purpose is to facilitate the building of an extension to the Scottish national gallery building into a small area of land that currently forms part of Princes Street gardens.

The bill has two aims. The first is to change the status of the land, which is common good land, to enable the City of Edinburgh Council to dispose of it to the National Galleries of Scotland without the need for court approval. The second aim is to remove the land from the gardens, thus removing the statutory restriction on the construction of permanent buildings on the land.

The extension is required by the bill promoter, the board of trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, which wishes to expand and improve the design of the gallery in order to house the Scottish art collection in a more appropriate and accessible location. The project, which is called celebrating Scotland’s art, plans to expand the Scottish wing into Princes Street gardens to provide an additional 500m2 of space in which the Scottish art collection will be exhibited. The project includes a plan to include a new landscaped public pathway and terrace at the garden level that is aimed at improving access between the gallery, the gardens, Princes Street, the Playfair steps and the old town.

As Andy Warhol said:

“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”

The area of land in question is a small sloping embankment that is currently used as an area of landscaping, so the reduction of open space in the gardens will be minimal. The promoter put forward the case that the loss of land will be compensated by landscaping improvements to the gardens and the provision of easier access to an improved cultural facility.

The committee was pleased to hear about the strong working relationship between the gallery and the various council departments. Michael Clarke, the director of the Scottish national gallery, explained to the committee that the extension is essential because the space within the current Scottish national gallery building is being used for permanent collections or exhibitions, so options to rehouse the Scottish art collection are limited.

We also heard that, at present, fewer than 20 per cent of visitors to the gallery get down to where the Scottish collection is situated. That is a great pity, given that the collection houses pieces of art by celebrated Scottish artists such as Sir Henry Raeburn, Sir David Wilkie and Peter Graham. The project would create three times the amount of space that is currently devoted to the Scottish collection and would greatly improve the circulation throughout the building.

The committee supports the aims of the promoter to improve access to the Scottish art collection. It believes that the improvements to both the gallery space and the surrounding area will enable Scotland’s art collection to be enjoyed more widely. The committee therefore recommends to the Parliament that the general principles of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill be agreed to and that the bill should proceed as a private bill.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill and that it should proceed as a private bill.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I thank the convener of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee, Anne McTaggart, for her opening speech and for the work that she and the other members of the committee—Fiona McLeod and Jean Urquhart—have done in examining the private bill.

I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to speak in this debate to outline my support for the bill and to emphasise the impact of the National Galleries of Scotland as a national and international institution of which we should be extremely proud. Under the chairmanship of Ben Thomson and the leadership of the director general, Sir John Leighton, the National Galleries of Scotland has developed into an ambitious and forward-thinking organisation.

The gallery is one of the leading art galleries in the United Kingdom and Europe, and it looks after one of the world’s finest collections of western art, which ranges from art from the middle ages to art from the present day and includes, of course, the national collection of Scottish art.

In the past 10 years, visitor numbers to the national galleries have increased by an outstanding 30 per cent, and 2014 was a year of record attendance, in which there were almost 2 million visitors. That confirms the status of the national galleries as one of Scotland’s major visitor attractions and consolidates Scotland’s capital as one of the top international cities for visual culture.

In recent years, the National Galleries of Scotland has established a truly national presence, and the collection is shared widely all over this country. Artist rooms, which is the collection of modern art that is owned and operated by the National Galleries of Scotland in partnership with the Tate, has attracted 39 million visitors to 77 partners in the UK since 2009 and has brought world-class art to new audiences right across Scotland, from Dumfries to Shetland.

In 2014, in connection with the Commonwealth games, the National Galleries of Scotland was the initiator of and key partner with Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland in the generation project, which celebrated 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland. The 60 exhibitions of the work of more than 100 artists across Scotland attracted a total of 1.3 million visitors.

Objects from the national galleries are shown all over the world as ambassadors for our art and heritage. In America, a tour of masterpieces from the galleries attracted large crowds in New York, San Francisco and Fort Worth, and art from Scotland is currently being exhibited to great acclaim in Sydney, Australia.

The National Galleries of Scotland’s intention is to continue to use that ambitious programme of major exhibitions of Scottish and international art to attract audiences—and more diverse audiences—and to raise its national and international profile. It is estimated that, in 2015, there will have been some 21 exhibitions and displays across all the National Galleries of Scotland’s sites and 300 education events, lectures, tours, workshops and outreach initiatives in Scotland.

The National Galleries of Scotland’s plans to redevelop the Mound complex to enhance the exhibition of its Scottish collection continue that ambition and drive for success. As members will be aware from the committee convener’s remarks, the bill is a necessary step to allow the transfer of land to the National Galleries of Scotland and to allow the development at the Mound to take place.

In order to achieve that, the gallery needs to move its existing boundary wall to incorporate a 5m-wide strip of what is currently common good land. That is the subject of the private bill. The promoter makes the case that that modest intervention would enhance the space that is available for the Scottish collections and allow the introduction of daylight into the new galleries. The 5m-wide strip of land that would be lost by moving the boundary would be regained at the upper level, allowing for a widening of the footpath leading to the Playfair steps—a most welcome widening of a popular pedestrian thoroughfare that quickly becomes a bottleneck during busy periods. Under the plans, sympathetic landscaping will ensure that those interventions are effectively integrated with the world heritage setting of Princes Street gardens, while access to that part of the gardens will be significantly enhanced.

The refurbishment of the Scottish national gallery, which is the flagship of our national collections, will triple the gallery space available to show Scotland’s national school, presenting not just the great historical figures but 20th century art, including the Scottish colourists. Under the plans, full use will be made of digital technology to make our national collection available to the widest possible public. The project aims to show Scottish art in a much more prominent way, in architecturally distinguished spaces with spectacular views across the city. The newly refurbished galleries will attract an estimated additional 400,000 visitors and 770,000 digital audience interactions every year.

The National Galleries of Scotland has a track record of delivering outstanding development and refurbishment projects. Any member who can recall how the national portrait gallery looked prior to its refurbishment and who has visited it since it was reopened by the former First Minister on 1 December 2011 will be aware of the fabulous impact of that transformative project and the many benefits that it has delivered for visitors to the gallery. This project will have the same transformative effect by opening up the galleries’ Scottish collections for the public.

A forward-thinking National Galleries of Scotland, which continues to deliver an international-class visitor experience, is a real benefit to Scotland. When complete, the project will allow the NGS to show what might be described as the crown jewels of Scottish art in the high-quality setting that those collections deserve and to promote Scotland’s greatest art with pride to audiences from all over the world. For that reason, I am pleased to support the committee’s recommendation that the bill’s general principles should be agreed and that the bill should proceed.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am pleased to contribute to this short debate. I thank the committee members for their work, although it appears to have been remarkably straightforward for this Parliament. With no objections to the proposal, it is a matter of law and process and I have confidence that members of the Scottish Parliament are enabling the necessary progress for the realisation of the project. Of course, if the bill is passed, there is still planning permission to be sought.

As a first-year student at the University of Edinburgh, I studied art history. I lived in the Patrick Geddes student halls, which overlook the national gallery. I was fortunate to study in Edinburgh with the Scottish national gallery on my doorstep. I spent much time there at tutorials. The gallery holds our national collection, with an impressive collection of renaissance paintings and work up to 1900s. In the early days of this Parliament, there was the successful campaign to buy Botticelli’s “The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child” and the response to that campaign demonstrated the commitment that people have to the gallery’s success.

The national gallery is also a city gallery, situated in the heart of Edinburgh, and frequently used by the people who live, work and study here. It houses an impressive collection for a small country, not least its Turner collection, which will soon be on display. It is also home to “The Skating Minister”, which provided inspiration for the design of this building.

As the cabinet secretary said, visitor numbers at the gallery have been growing, with a 39 per cent increase taking the numbers up to 1.29 million visitors, according to the latest figures. Visitor numbers at all our museums and galleries have shown strong growth and those museums and galleries are an important part of our tourist economy, as well as a rich resource for our country.

The proposed development gives the gallery an opportunity to provide permanent access to more of its collection. The gallery hosts the world’s largest collection of Scottish art, including works by David Wilkie, Allan Ramsay, William McTaggart, James Guthrie, and Henry Raeburn. I am conscious that those are all men. I very much welcome the modern Scottish women exhibition that is on just now at the national gallery. It covers a period when an unprecedented number of Scottish women trained and practised as artists. That is a special exhibition that includes an entrance fee. I hope that the extension in gallery space will allow greater opportunity for the work of women artists to be displayed under the free entrance scheme.

The extension of gallery space will allow greater exposure of the collection of Scottish artists by tripling the available space. It will include more 20th century Scottish art, including the work of the colourists. It is right that the National Galleries of Scotland is exploring ways in which to give greater access to Scottish art. There is high-quality, significant work that could be enjoyed and studied by more people than is possible at present. It is also argued that the additional space will give more opportunities for conservation and research.

This will be the second time that the national gallery has extended its footprint. The Playfair project, which was completed in 2004, improved the entrance and environment of the gallery, which is one of Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s key attractions.

The land is common good land, as well as being subject to a statutory restriction that prohibits the development of permanent buildings within the gardens. There are good reasons for that and there must always be caution when the status of common good land is changed. Princes Street gardens are integral to Edinburgh and they must be protected.

There is a planning process, but the proposed developments appear to be sensitively designed. There is a case for improving the landscaping around the gallery and providing more connectivity between Princes Street with its new town and the Royal Mile with its old town. The current access is not ideal—the Playfair steps are not for everyone.

However, today is not about that debate but about enabling that debate to take place. I am pleased to recognise the progress of the committee and wish it well in its future work.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I thank the committee and put on record the Conservatives’ support for the principles of the bill.

Claire Baker mentioned that, 12 years ago, the Parliament passed the National Galleries of Scotland Act 2003, which sought to disapply the effect of section 22 of the schedule to the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991 to a piece of land within Edinburgh’s Princes Street gardens. That was for the Playfair project—a huge undertaking by the National Galleries of Scotland that transformed its presence on the Mound by integrating the magnificent national gallery and the renovated Royal Scottish Academy building. The success of that project is plain for all to see, in terms of the way in which it has enhanced the rich arts culture in the capital city for exactly the reasons that the cabinet secretary set out earlier.

Although I was not an MSP at that time, I remember those developments very well and it is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate. The debate arises from the fact that the National Galleries of Scotland has lodged another private bill that I believe shows its commitment to continuing art, culture and education. It demonstrates NGS’s ambitions to expand its collections to make a gallery fit for a modern capital city for many years to come.

The project has a number of impressive benefits, not least the fact that it will triple the size of the current gallery for Scottish art. It was interesting that, when Michael Clarke gave evidence to the committee, he mentioned similar projects that have been undertaken by galleries in other cities around the world, such as the £45 million refit of the Tate in London, the renovations to the American art galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the magnificent Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It is very fitting that another international city like Edinburgh should enjoy similar galleries for our national art.

If the expansion leads to a greater number of visitors—the cabinet secretary talked about the impressive progress that has been made on that—there will be huge financial benefit to the economy. That can bolster the ability to preserve and enhance not only the collections, but the galleries and all that they stand for, for future generations. Of course, the project has the additional benefits of ensuring that there is better access—including better disabled access—to the gardens and improving the landscape for that area.

Given the relatively tight timetable for the project—to start in 2017 and be completed by the autumn of 2018—and the fact that the consultation between the National Galleries of Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council has been on-going for a considerable length of time, it is right that the bill encompasses all the relevant legal changes that are required for the project to proceed as quickly as possible.

Seeking a court order to make the change in the common good status of the land is absolutely right. I again state the Conservatives’ support for that. Moreover, I understand why both the National Galleries of Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council have explained why they were hesitant to attempt to amend the 1991 act, given that that could have had the unintended consequence of allowing further building works in the gardens. It is very important to balance the relevant merits of this project with the desire to keep the gardens as a valuable green space in the city centre.

I congratulate the National Galleries of Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council on working together on a very significant project that will advance Scottish art in a way that was perhaps unimaginable some decades ago.

I thank the committee; I thank the cabinet secretary for her enthusiasm, too. I am sure that the project will be something that future generations will be very proud of in years to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the closing speeches, and I call—[Interruption.]

I beg your pardon. I call Jean Urquhart—forgive me, Ms Urquhart.

Photo of Jean Urquhart Jean Urquhart Independent

I forgive you, Presiding Officer.

I am pleased to be part of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee with Anne McTaggart and Fiona McLeod. My interest was aroused because of the words “common good land” and “National Galleries of Scotland”.

I hear all the things that have been said about the wonderful content of our national gallery, but there has been criticism for a long number of years from artists and others who have always felt that it has been a shame on us that people go in through the front door of a national gallery in the capital city of a country and the national art of that country is not immediately obvious to them. As others have highlighted, people have to go down two flights of stairs into a basement to see these wonderful works of art.

The development will make an enormous difference, and so it should. It will be a coming of age for our collection of Scottish art, which should—and, I hope, will—be seen. The same works will be there, although with the new entrance we might not see works displayed in the same rooms. I hope that the gallery will start to place far more emphasis on where people can find works by the Scottish painters. The fact that 20 per cent of visitors to the national gallery are not making their way to the gallery of Scottish works is not something to be proud of.

The proposals in the bill have many bonuses. As has been mentioned, a small part of Princes Street gardens will become part of the national gallery. That seems to me to be a move from common good to common good. Other benefits include improvements to the Playfair steps, which are in need of renovation for sure; improved disabled access; and a realignment of some of the grass. With those things, the area around that part of the gallery will look spectacular.

In the area that we are discussing, there is a memorial to the extraordinary role that Scots played in the Spanish civil war. Just as the Scottish art collection has been tucked away in the basement of our national gallery for too long, the memorial to the Spanish civil war and those who went from Scotland to fight in it, too, has been tucked away. It is not a huge memorial, but it will be given more prominence and shown to better effect in the new layout of the grounds.

I do not think that anyone has objected to this proposed move from common good to common good, with public land becoming part of the national gallery. I look forward to seeing the work when it is complete, and to seeing the gallery of work by Scotland’s artists, the memorial to those who went to the Spanish civil war and indeed the Playfair steps renovated and renewed. The bill is in Scotland’s interests.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move—at the second time of asking—to the closing speech from Fiona McLeod, on behalf of the committee.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I thank all the members who have taken part in the debate and highlighted the exciting opportunities that the bill presents for the Scottish national gallery. I also thank the cabinet secretary and others for highlighting the importance of the Scottish collection and explaining how the bill gives us the ability to present it to the public in a much more dramatic and pleasing fashion.

In closing the debate, I have to go into a lot of technicalities. As the convener mentioned in her opening speech, at the preliminary stage of a private bill, the committee has to look at whether there is a need for the bill and to satisfy itself on that point. I want to cover that so that it is on the record.

The committee explored three areas when it looked at the necessity for a private bill. We looked at the necessity to revoke the inalienable common good status of this small part of Princes Street gardens. We also looked at the prohibition on building permanent buildings in the gardens, outwith the types of building listed in the schedule to the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991. Finally, we looked at whether amending the 2003 act, the purpose of which was to facilitate the Playfair project, as Claire Baker mentioned, would have been a suitable vehicle to achieve what the promoter was looking for.

We took a lot of evidence on the revoking of inalienable common good status and we carefully examined and questioned the witnesses. The promoter chose the bill over going to court, which is the other way of changing the status of land from inalienable common good to alienable common good. It decided to do that for various reasons. The one that was compelling for us was to allow for a single authorisation process for this project.

That ties in with the second area that I wish to talk about: the 1991 act, which limits what can and cannot be built in Princes Street gardens. At the moment, the schedule to the 1991 act will not allow a museum or gallery extension to be built. The reason that the promoter and the council gave for not amending the 1991 act is that, as Liz Smith said, if they did, it would open the act up to a lot more amendment and could open up the gardens to more development. That is not what the promoter wanted to achieve with the bill.

We asked why the National Galleries of Scotland Act 2003, the purpose of which was to facilitate the Playfair project, could not be amended instead of another bill being introduced. The 2003 act could not deal with changing the status of the land in the gardens from inalienable common good to alienable common good, because disposal of land in the gardens was dealt with through the court process when the act was passed.

In my opening comments I said that we wanted to bring everything together in a single process that was open and transparent to the public. Our committee heard the evidence and is in agreement that the issue needs to be dealt with through a private bill, and therefore the bill should proceed.