How did we get here?

Edinburgh city rooftop view with historical architectures. United Kingdom.

Fake stone. It slipped quietly into our culture as part of the aesthetic atrocities committed in the sixties. It was found guilty, incarcerated, then, I understood, they threw away the key.

A decade later, stick-and-stoney-brick-things made a reappearance under the suspect cover of the big DIY. Like a burgeoning Disney theme park, pretend houses built from compound, twigs, and hay became the norm. The wolves laughed in our faces and no-one seemed to care. Not in my street.

Self-build took off. The unscrupulous developer could not be seen hiding from the trees.  The joke gained acceptance – we’re not laughing now. Somehow, the desire for building in stone appears to have diminished over time. The lasting beauty of natural stone has just … faded from our continuousness.

There are those in government, charged with looking after our best interests – the project clients, commissioners, designers and approvers, specifiers, builders, landscapers, the decision makers, the key influencers, those with vested interest, Shouldn’t they be making certain that those buildings have a chance of being around in more than 30 years? Shouldn’t buildings of stone be given precedence: extra points, so to speak?  If we huff and puff and shake these guys, will they wake up and smell the resin?  That’s their job. Or are these design and building principles only valid in Edinburgh’s New Town?

How many eyes are offended when fakes, poor pastiche or pale imitation stone is proposed, passed and specified? Why does no-one from these interest groups offer an equal share of voice for the real deal?  We may never know.

Here is the thing: it’s easy to blame someone else. I too stood by, paying attention only to that bloke with that fringe playing the violin.

Misdirected and misinformed, we are nonetheless jointly and severally responsible. As temporary custodians of our built heritage, we have to hope  that there is hope, for the richest legacy of traditional (pre-1919) buildings and other stone structures of any country in the world.

We’d love to specify Scottish stone, but …

Scottish Stone is in demand. Bizzarely, as a nation we export it at three times the price we import stone from abroad.

So the good stuff, sorry the great stuff, the high quality, deep, dense, beautiful stone is being used to build fabulous buildings – but not here. Not in Scotland.

For clarity: somewhere else.

Instead we use the cheap, imported stuff. But stone is stone right?

We are neither foolish nor inadequate, however, buying chunks of another country, shipping them 15,000 miles to put it on top of our own land is just silly.
Cheap, incongruous Chinese slabs are the welcome statement to the famous Scottish parliament building in our capital city.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Ironically, from that very vantage point you can actually see the mountain from which the stone could have been quarried. So near and yet so far.

European Union Procurement Directive ‘2014/24/EU on public contracts’, which is intended to open public procurement to fair competition within EU member states, requires that “technical specifications shall not refer to a specific make or source” of product (the relevant original wording is presented in Table 3 of Appendix 2). This implies that building stone from a particular quarry, district or country cannot be specified for any public project in an EU member state.

However, some exceptions are allowed, for example, to meet certain “performance or functional requirements”. This means that Scottish stone legally can be specified for repairs to (at least some) traditional buildings or historic environments.

What is less clear is the extent to which Scottish stone can be specified for new construction, for example, where a new building, extension or paved area needs to be ‘in keeping’ with a surrounding historic environment.

Uncertainties over the way the directive should be interpreted, and reluctance amongst specifiers to risk a legal challenge from other stone suppliers or from the European Parliament, has resulted in a situation where Scottish stone is virtually never specified for new construction in public projects.

As a result of the directive, Scottish stone producers (and all other stone producers in EU member states) must compete mainly on the grounds of cost in the procurement process, and in general this does not favour Scottish stone. The directive does not prevent projects from using stone sourced from outside the European Union, so many publicly funded new construction projects in Scotland use cheap stone imported from elsewhere in the world.