ADVANCED plans to sell a popular leisure site in Portobello to housebuilders are set to be scrapped in favour of drawing up a community-led development brief for the land.
The city council had chosen Cala as preferred bidders for the Westbank Street site which is currently home to the Pitz five-a-side football pitches.
But locals wanted to retain at least some leisure element, rather than see it all turned over for housing.
A community consultation was held – attended by 300 people and partly financed by the Scottish Government – to look at options, with three design teams drawing up possible briefs.
And council officials have recommended that tomorrow’s meeting of the finance committee agrees to withdraw from sale of the land and work with the community on a fresh brief for the site before it is put up for sale again.
The council was expecting to get £3 million from the land sale – half the proceeds, with joint owners Powerleague taking the rest. The cash had been earmarked to help pay for the new Meadowbank sports centre. But now the council might have to settle for less.
Recommending a halt to the Cala deal, the report to tomorrow’s meeting warns that pressing ahead would “galvanise objection to the proposals”.
It adds: “While withdrawing from a proposed sale at a late stage has professional reputational issues for the council, all bidders are aware the vendors can change their decision at any time.
“Conversely, there could be reputational risk with the local community and Scottish Government if this option does not proceed.”
The site was originally put on the market last year; 13 bids were received before Cala was identified as the preferred bidder, with the site apparently having potential for up to 175 homes.
Community activists are said to be “pragmatic” in their approach, recognising the need for the council to make some money from sale of the site but eager to ensure local residents have a say over what happens – they are keen to retain some of the land for leisure activities or other uses important to the community.
Justin Kenrick, of campaign group Action Westbank, said: “Fingers crossed councillors on the finance committee give the thumbs-up to the community and the council working together to secure a win-win outcome.
“The win-win we are seeking is one that builds on the community’s clear wishes as expressed in the March consultation weekend, one that enables the community and council to work together to develop a brief for a mixed use development that adds life and vitality to Portobello, including retained and enhanced leisure facilities for the community.”
Green councillor for Portobello Mary Campbell said: “I’m glad to see the council has recognised the value of a community-led process for the development of key sites. By halting the sale of Westbank to allow for community engagement in the design process, we ensure the outcome will be better for the community, with a real focus on what is needed in the west of Portobello.”