Breathtaking aerial image of Edinburgh's East End in 1980s shows multi-billion pound transformation

The image was unearthed by a leading architect.

Monday, 25th November 2019, 11:45 am

AT FIRST glance it is immediately recognisable as a photo of the heart of Edinburgh city centre, looking south and east over to Arthur’s Seat.But it’s only at a closer inspection of the incredibly detailed aerial photograph that the multi-billion pound transformation of Edinburgh’s East End is laid bare to those with an eagle eye.

The image was unearthed by leading architect Frank Hinds while clearing out a filing cabinet in his Moray Place office.

Former council leader Donald Anderson said: “This is a before picture of the most successful city centre regeneration in the UK outside London.

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The image was unearthed by leading architect Frank Hinds while clearing out a filing cabinet in his Moray Place office.
The image was unearthed by leading architect Frank Hinds while clearing out a filing cabinet in his Moray Place office.

“From the 50s to the 70s there were huge concerns about the decline of the city centre, with one book published which actually described the ‘decay, depopulation and destruction of central Edinburgh’.

“Edinburgh in the 1980s was renowned as a place where nothing happened. This picture was taken at the point when all that was about to change.

“From the array of new housing in the Pleasance and Holyrood, the refurbishment of tenemental Edinburgh and to the major development projects, the heart of the city has been transformed.”

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These 24 then and now images show how Edinburgh has changed over the decades

A number coups have been credited with kickstarting the trend – starting with luxury department store Harvey Nichols arriving in the 90s and paving the way for the new St James redevelopment more than 20 years later.

Then came Holyrood that, while controversial, regenerated an old Scottish & Newcastle brewery before Edinburgh City Council also moved into the area at Waverley Court.

The latter saw staff move from rundown offices in City Chambers and Cockburn Street into the new purpose-built site.

And of course, the return of the trams which, while over time and over budget for the first phase, are expected to spur investment to Leith.

The photo shows far fewer cars than today, with car parks at the Pleasance and Holyrood now replaced with homes for families while on-street parking has been cleared to improve the city centre for walking and cycling.

A wave of tenement refurbishments followed the Scottish Government’s 90 per cent repairs grants scheme in the early 80s with over £350 million of grants flooding in over the next three decades.

“It’s a fantastic picture of a city centre on the cusp of huge improvement, and that improvement has been truly astonishing,” said Mr Anderson.

“The heart of the city beats much, much stronger than it did in those days, and the city is much stronger too. And the story’s not finished yet.”


1 St Andrew Square Gardens now opened to the public since 2008

2 Multrees Walk shopping parade opened by then council leader Donald Anderson in 2002

3 Harvey Nichols opened in 2012 sparking wider regeneration of wider area

4 Former Bank of Scotland turned into the Dome bar and restaurant

5 Dynamic Earth opened in 1999 as one of the first major projects supported by the Millennium Commission.

6 Barclay House, former offices of the Scotsman and Evening News, home to computer games giant Rockstar North

7 Former Scottish & Newcastle brewery – previously the Abbey Brewery named after Holyrood Abbey – now home to the Scottish Parliament

8 St James Centre – Designed in 1964 and now making way for a £1bn development with 85 shops, hotel and cinema expected to open in 2021.

9 Former RBS offices in St Andrew Square opened last year as the £85m Edinburgh Grand hotel with 50 individually designed, fully-equipped apartments as well as restaurants and bars 11 years after shutting as offices.

10 Grass on the roundabout at Picardy Place has long gone to be replaced by concrete for lots of concrete.

11 The historic RBS buildings is still there but major building work is planned behind it for the £45 million Impact music centre.

12 Ennismore, owner of the famous Perthshire golf resort, takes over two empty premises at St Andrew Square for their 33-bedroom Gleneagles Hotel on the site of a former Bank of Scotland which closed its doors in 2016

13 Fine dining restaurants along south of St Andrew Square include the Ivy, Gaucho and Dishoom.

14 The old central post office is now turned into the Waverley Gate office development

15 Waverley Court – administrative headquarters for Edinburgh City Council

16 Old New Street bus depot being transformed into £200m new Waverley mixed use development including offices, housing, a hotel and new public square.

17 Market Street Hotel opens its doors in August 2019 after a £20m revamp with 98 urban boutique style rooms and suites

18 Massive Edinburgh University expansion has transformed a series of buildings around the Pleasance and Holyrood Road.

19 National Galleries extension opening into east Princes St Gardens – a £22m scheme to create a new home for the unrivalled collection of Scottish art.

20 New hotels shops and cafes