Leith Street bridge to be scrapped in revamp

The bridge was opened in 2003, but is not part of the plans for the new development. Picture: Gordon Fraser
The bridge was opened in 2003, but is not part of the plans for the new development. Picture: Gordon Fraser
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One of the Capital’s most prominent footbridges will be torn down to make way for the new £850 million St James Quarter development.

The wavy steel and glass crossing over Leith Street is most likely destined for the scrapyard but it is understood the door has been left open for a its relocation elsewhere.

Unveiled in 2003, the bridge – linking St James Centre to the carpark at Greenside Place – has divided opinion since opening as part of the Omni centre development and its probable demolition is expected to take place next year. The scrap metal value of the 20-tonne structure, owned by the council, has been calculated at just £3,000, experts have claimed.

Ian Mowat, chair of New Town and Broughton Community Council, said the bridge “wouldn’t be mourned”.

“What people are looking forward to is a completely new and much more attractive St James Centre, and if the price to pay is losing the bridge, people will be sanguine about that,” he said. I’m sure its quite useful to some people.”

And he added: “It isn’t much loved but it’s certainly better than the first bridge.” In the 1960s a concrete crossing – dubbed the “bridge to no-where” – extended from the St James Centre towards Greenside Place where designs for a housing development had been drawn up but never built.

Plans for the huge St James Quarter will see surrounding pavements widened and roadside barriers removed in a move to transform the busy thoroughfare into a more pedestrian-friendly district.

It is thought the streetscape overhaul will eliminate the need for an aerial footbridge.

Martin Perry, a director at Henderson Global Investors – the firm behind St James Quarter – said Leith Street would be returned to its former glory.

“The top of Leith Street used to be one of the busiest shopping areas in Edinburgh and Scotland,” he said

“Our ambition is to restore it as a high-quality shopping hub and as a vibrant link between the city centre, Picardy Place and Leith.

“The vision we share with the council is to see roads and pavements renewed and the restoration of shopping at ground floor level on the West side of Leith Street.

“By doing so we are confident we can create a safe and attractive place for residents and shoppers.

“In light of that, and as the street will be so much more attractive, the intention is the bridge will be removed and not be reused as part of the Edinburgh St James development.”

Stephen Coyle, who owns Leith Street cafe Deli Fresco, welcomed improvements to the streetscape, but said the bridge was a “useful” addition.

“I often see myself standing at the side of the road waiting to cross, so the bridge is always handy if you’re in a hurry.

He said: “The metal railings are pretty horrible, and it’s very hazardous as well. I would have said a replacement bridge would have been better.”

Grand designs on a new home

INSIDERS say the design of the bridge would allow it to be removed entirely and put to use elsewhere in the Capital – but where?

Could it form a vantage point as a bridge over the Water of Leith, or help link the platforms at Uphall Railway Station? Pedestrians have called for a better crossing over the Western Approach Road to replace the Telfer underpass.

Sadly for admirers of the bridge, the most likely destination is the scrapyard. Joe McCann, site manager at Dalton Demolitions iron and steelworks at Gogarbank, has seen the remains of many former Edinburgh buildings pass through his gates. He estimates that the bridge holds 20 tonnes of salvageable steel. The total value at about £150 per tonne? Just £3000.