Government backs hotel scheme despite homeless hostel fear

The property is currently offices and a dentists
The property is currently offices and a dentists
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A BUSINESSMAN has won his battle to transform a listed Leith building into a hotel despite fears it will become a haven for the homeless.

Kamran Akbar had his bid to turn the former Leith Post Office building in Constitution Street into a guesthouse rejected by the city council, but successfully appealed to the Scottish Government.

Local residents were worried Mr Akbar secretly intended to transform the building, which is currently a dentists and office space, into a homeless hostel that would attract drug addicts and alcoholics to their area.

Despite winning permission to open the guesthouse, the group behind the bid said it may now scrap the plans and simply refurbish its office space.

Mr Akbar, who owns two properties in the Leith area predominantly used by homeless tenants, said that he had been “perplexed” by the refusal of the initial application.

He wanted to turn the B-listed building into a three-star, 11-bed guest house aimed at the business market and tourists.

He said: “This has wasted a lot of time and money and potentially stirred up unfounded feelings of mistrust.”

During the appeal, representatives of Mr Akbar said some residents had attempted to “assassinate his good character and name”.

Neil Ellis, area manager for the Cameron Guest House Group, which employs 70 people, said the council’s reasons for turning down the application – fears over provision of parking spaces and increased noise and disturbance – had not been justified.

Mr Ellis said: “People have been dragging up things that happened several years ago. We have tried to engage with the residents and communities.

“Now we’ve won the appeal we can say we were right and probably just stick with the offices, do them up and continue to operate in the community as the family have done for 50 years.”

Leith Links Residents’ Association and Leith Links Community Council members were among those who expressed concerns over the plan.

There were complaints of drug-taking, people having sex in the garden and tenants living in “appalling conditions” at a property run by the Akbars in London Street in 2003.

Since then there have been complaints of poor maintenance at another home in Leith, while plans to open a refuge for homeless women in Portobello attracted 234 objections.

However, the Akbars have been moving away from the hostel business, and last year took over the former home of the Evening News in Anchor Close, off Cockburn Street.

Mr Ellis added: “We are very much gearing towards providing Edinburgh with tourist accommodation.”

Leith councillor Gordon Munro said: “It’s a disappointment that the appeal has been allowed. It’s now a true test of the intent of the applicant.

“This is their chance to demonstrate that what they said they would do, they will do. If they don’t, the fears raised by local residents will come back to haunt whoever made this decision.”