COMMUNITY leaders have urged councillors to snub lucrative commercial deals and back their vision for a local food “hub” in the Capital’s former Engine Shed building.
The charity base is set to be turned into a complex with a cafe, bakery, events spaces and a “micro-producer incubator” designed to support Edinburgh’s growing army of market, police box and street traders.
Members of St Leonard’s Yard – an alliance of residents and social enterprises – have described their plan as an opportunity to bring a “much-loved” building back into community use. The proposals would see the Engine Shed – which trained young people with disabilities for catering jobs – return after council budget cuts forced its closure.
St Leonard’s Yard leaders have put together a package which they said would allow them to meet the building’s £100,000 estimated annual running costs, including lease payments and fixed expenses such as insurance.
But they admitted cash-strapped city leaders could decide to push for a higher value lease in an effort to maximise financial proceeds. Following the decision to sell the old Boroughmuir High School building to housebuilder Cala in a £14.5 million deal, concern is growing that the council will again opt for an agreement with a commercial operator.
Simon Turner, co-founder of the Crags Centre and one of those leading the bid, said: “We want to ensure that the community continues to benefit from the building being created as a hub for local food.
“We’re optimistic that we can create a sustainable social enterprise that can serve the community for a long time to come.
“We have confidence that councillors will stick to the cooperative council ethos and will understand the opportunity to continue the positive outcomes generated by the building.”
The Engine Shed’s three levels would be split between social enterprises, with plans to run events throughout the year, Mr Turner added.
Local Green councillor Steve Burgess urged the council not to lose sight of the project’s wider impact. He said: “Just as the Community Empowerment Bill is coming into force, the council really needs to give this proper consideration for its social and community benefits.
“It’s an opportunity for the council to show it values community proposals for buildings, not just because the law will say it has to, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
City leaders said all bids would receive a fair examination. A council spokeswoman said: “The closing date for offers to lease the building was 12 noon yesterday. These will now be assessed on their own merits and will be reported to the finance and resources committee in August.”