Irvine Welsh has warned that his native Leith is at risk of being ruined by the “crass exploitation” of property developers – as he called for an under-threat living music venue in the area to be saved.
The author said it was terrible that Leith Depot, on Leith Walk, was facing demolition to make way for a student housing development and expressed fears for the future “social mix” of the area.
Speaking in Leith ahead of the release of his latest novel, Welsh said Leith was at risk of being “completely destroyed” if working-class people and artists were driven out by “sterile” developments.
Leith is now regularly cited as one of the hippest places in the UK, thanks to its fashionable cafes, bars and restaurants, and cultural scene. But it emerged earlier this month that Leith Depot, which opened in 2015, will be demolished under the Drum Property Group’s plans for a huge swathe of land at Stead’s Place.
Welsh said: “This will be another set of these horrible soulless, crappy new-build flats that are replacing that beautiful old red sand-stone architecture. You might as well just bulldoze all these old buildings and build student flats. What is the point? It’s not gentrification, it’s crass exploitation and crass development.
“The situation with the Leith Depot is terrible. It’s in a beautiful spot with these old-school buildings. It’s very quickly become one of the great music venues that are left in the city. They get a lot of good bands and up-and-coming artists playing there.
“When you have shops and bars changing and becoming more expensive you drive out working-class people and you just don’t get that social mix. It is completely destroyed.
“We need a dynamic local authority in Edinburgh that understands the influence of the arts and that you can create long-term social capital for the local community which generates culture, which generates tourism and commerce.
“If everything becomes a sterile version of somewhere else, then you’ve nothing left to make it special. Why would anyone want to go there?
Council leader Adam McVey said: “Leith has a unique identity, heritage and sense of community that means so much to so many and we must do all we can to preserve that.
“The £1m investment to bring Leith Theatre back to life and regeneration of Duncan Place Community Centre are definitely steps in the right direction.
“The Edinburgh International Festival, meanwhile, has just announced that they are to work with the pupils of Leith Academy on various arts projects over the next three years, as well as presenting a programme of contemporary music at Leith Theatre during this summer’s festival.
“And we can also look forward to an even bigger and better programme at this year’s Hidden Door Festival.
“There’s always a balance to be struck between protecting history and community and development, particularly in such a vibrant, thriving part of the city, and we’re very aware of our role in maintaining that balance.”
Fife Hyland, the Drum Property Group’s communications director, said: “We’ve made a commitment to ensure the frontage onto Leith Walk remains an integral part of the local area providing retail and community space.
“We’ve been in discussions with existing tenants along the frontage, as well as with local organisations, about the potential of returning after any development is completed, subject to planning consents.
“All the current tenants’ leases finish between now and next year, but we are keen for them to contribute as we develop our plans and, ultimately, to be part of any new development.”