Leithers face being ‘priced out’ of area

The Shore at Leith. Picture: Scott Louden
The Shore at Leith. Picture: Scott Louden
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It has been named one of the hippest neighbourhoods in Europe thanks to its fashionable cafes, bars, restaurants and events.

But a major report has revealed growing discontent in Leith about locals being “priced out” of living and work there.

View of 
Leith Walk taken from Kirkgate. Picture: Ian Georgeson

View of Leith Walk taken from Kirkgate. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Growing concern about “asset-stripping” of public land and facilities and “threats” to Leith’s character and identity have emerged from a Scottish Government-backed study.

The six-month research project, which involved more than 3000 Leithers, found mounting concern over the pace and scale of change taking place in the area, with 
“overloaded” services under pressure from a wave of 
housebuilding.

According to the report, many Leithers and adjoining neighbourhoods felt new developments were exclusive, had stagnated or were “ill-conceived and badly executed”. Other key concerns include poor public access to Leith’s seafront, the lack of investment in facilities like the old Leith Theatre building, the impact of growing numbers of student housing developments and short-term letting on existing 
neighbourhoods.

A feeling of “disempowerment” was also reported during the research for the study, which found that although Leithers had a strong and proud sense of identity and belonging, they felt there was a “lack of urgency and are concerned about the future.”

Work on the Leith Blueprint began shortly after the area was said to be the second coolest in Britain, after Ancoats in Manchester and ahead of Finnieston, in Glasgow, the latter of which has undergone a huge transformation in the wake of the opening of the Hydro area.

The Leith Creative network, which has produced the report, staged 18 different community sessions and also conducted online and face-to-face surveys for the £46,000 project, which was also funded by Edinburgh City Council and Creative 
Scotland.

Local councillors, MPs and MSPs all took part in the project, along with Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh.

The “Leith Blueprint” recommends the creation of a new community development trust to help safeguard historic buildings and community assets.

The report states: “We recognise this blueprint comes at a time not only of great opportunity for our community, but also of great difficulty.

“Traditional systems of power are changing, our public services are stretched, our civic resources are declining and for many individuals and neighbourhoods, development has been exclusive, has stagnated or has been ill-conceived and badly executed.

“The financial crash and subsequent economic downturn in 2007-8 changed the trajectory of Leith’s spacial development. The area increasingly became known as an attractive alternative space to live and work.

“Now that the local economy has stabilised and is experiencing growth, Leith residents old and new are noticing the rise of property prices and an intensification of development, rapidly pricing many out of the area.

“As land and property prices continue to rise, buildings are demolished and gap sites filled, local communities, creative businesses and grassroots culture are all impacted. It is the pace of development that is most palpable, generating uncertainty about the area.”

Duncan Bremner, co-founder of Leith Creative, said: “We had already identified from our previous work that Leith is an incredibly creative area.

“We also know that the area has some significant and long-term generational problems, that can’t simply be solved by a short-term project. However, given Leith’s significant creative capacity, and with increasing community empowerment legislation on the horizon, it looks like we may have the ability to change things for the better.

Morvern Cunningham, director of the Leith Late festival led the research project with Mr Bremner. She said: “We’d like to build on the work that we’ve done to date, to ensure that Leith continues to harness its creative potential for the collective good of everyone in the community.”

The Leith Blueprint found “overwhelming” praise for the community spirit of the area, its diversity, its historic environment and parks, and the cultural events that are staged there.

However the research found that the area is facing a number of major challenges over the next few years.

Affordability: “Overwhelmingly the research illustrated that affordability was an area of concern, both in terms of housing and business accommodation. House prices and rents in Leith have risen steeply in the last decade. This has the effect of pricing individuals and businesses out of the area, particularly those who rely on private rented accommodation or other insecure tenures.

“Community members expressed dismay at new developments of unaffordable, luxury or student flats and were concerned about the impact of short-term letting, particularly Airbnb, contributing to rising prices and the lack of 
availability.”

Public assets: “Affordability is coupled with perceived threats to character and identity, the loss of assets and the proliferation of homogenised development. Leith has experienced a continuous and substantive loss of public assets which have not been replaced. This includes buildings, environmental facilities, amenities and public art.”

Environment: “Leith’s seafront and the Water of Leith were identified as under-used assets with respondents commenting that the quality of space is poor, waterbodies polluted and the waterfront 
inaccessible.

Culture: “Community events like Leith Festival, LeithLate and the Mela and buildings like Leith Theatre were seen to be supporting local culture and encouraging community connectedness. However the lack of investment or support from the local authority and other funders was perceived to be a threat.”

Local democracy: “Across the board there is a feeling that the community are not in control of the choices that affect the area and there is often little transparency surrounding decision-making. This has led to disempowerment.”