Graeme Bone: What are these protesters really ‘saving’ Leith from?

Drum's vision for Leith Walk showing new shop frontages
Drum's vision for Leith Walk showing new shop frontages
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Persevere. The motto of Leith has come to mind ­recently as I have read some of the more ­colourful comment regarding Drum’s proposals at our site on Leith Walk – both in this newspaper and across social media.

Some of it has contributed to an interesting and balanced debate about what we all want from our city centres. But much of it has been ill-informed, politically or ­personally motivated and on ­occasion, downright offensive.

Graeme Bone, Group Manager of Drum Property Group

Graeme Bone, Group Manager of Drum Property Group

In addition to many positive and considered discussions, we’ve also had comparisons to Nazi blitz tactics and accusations of corporate vandalism – as well as almost daily abusive social media postings and graffiti on our buildings. Yes – we are a property developer, and one that has a demonstrable track record of investing and building in cities across Scotland. But we are also a group of people who are passionate about the places and communities in which we live and work. We recognise how potent and positive the right mix of investment, design and collaboration can be for the neighbourhoods surrounding our developments.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Council “refuses” 12,000-strong Leith Walk petition

What’s most concerning about this current debate is the public spouting of misinformation by those who, perhaps, should know better. Despite one of the most inclusive consultation exercises ever carried out in Edinburgh, some individuals in the public eye still have an alarming lack of knowledge about the fundamentals of our proposal.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wrote in this paper this week about this being a battle for the “very soul and diversity of Leith”, bemoaning the imminent “demolition” of Leith Walk institutions like the Punjabi Junction and Leith Depot music venue. Inflammatory language aside, it’s irresponsible and unhelpful for any public figure or organised group to piggyback important local issues by making ill-informed statements without bothering to check the detail behind the story.

The row of shops in question, facing on to Leith Walk, is part of our development scope – which also includes the aged three-acre industrial estate that sits behind it. This entire site has been earmarked for redevelopment by the council for ten years now.

The public has been led to believe that the buildings – which would be replaced by a new development – have some special historical or architectural significance. They don’t, and that’s the view of Historic Scotland.

There has also been a suggestion that stopping the redevelopment will secure the future of the few remaining tenants who have leases. It won’t. All current leases will expire shortly and will not be renewed.

READ MORE: Leith Walk campaigners to host ‘Objectathon’ in bid to boost opposition

New shops replicating those which exist at the moment in the parade will be made available to local businesses. Contrary to comments made by Ms Dugdale earlier this week, Punjabi Junction and its parent charity, Sikh Sanjog, have already agreed to return to the new development. We are also providing a new, larger, sound-proofed live music venue. Leith Depot were asked to get involved but refused to do so.

But this is just one small, albeit important, part of our proposals. As critical to the future of the wider area is what we want to do with the three-acre industrial estate that sits behind the shop frontages, which has become a magnet for anti-social behaviour. In its place will be high-quality affordable homes for both local people and students, a new, accessible hotel with a restaurant and cafe, and a landscaped and safe connection to Pilrig Park and beyond.

Leith Walk doesn’t need to be “saved”. Rather, it deserves thoughtful investment and collaborative design which will bring jobs, businesses, much needed homes and safe public spaces. Well informed, positive debate without bias or abuse can assist that process. And we will persevere to achieve that.

Graeme Bone is group managing director of Drum Property Group.