Walking around Granton Waterfront with fellow councillors and senior officials, we all had a really strong sense of the scale, the possibilities, and what we can achieve.
It has some of the best views in the city. The drama of the bridges – from the looming industrial beauty of the rail bridge to the elegant, futuristic Queensferry Crossing – encapsulate Edinburgh perfectly as a centre for engineering and scientific endeavour. To the right the mouth of the Forth, opening out to the world beyond. We have always been a city that connects with others, through the flow of trade, ideas and people.
Historically Granton Waterfront was of great importance to the city both in terms of industry and trade. It’s easy to think of it now as just an industrial area, slowly being changed by new build development – but it is so much more. There is a rich history and it lingers in the old buildings, with their Victorian grandeur – the warehouses, the B-listed station, the lighthouse, the harbour and, dominating from every angle, the imposing gasholder which reminds you constantly of where you are.
But development, post-2008 and in the hands of the private sector, has been slow and piecemeal and the local community have been consulted and reconsulted for what must feel like decades. That’s why the council has taken a more proactive approach.
The councillors and officials who were on the walkabout make up the All Party Oversight Group – formed because the council took the big step of purchasing a large piece of land here, including the gasholder itself.
We are tasked with overseeing the project and making sure, this time, that now the land is in public ownership, the community sees the delivery they’ve been waiting for.
But this has to take the form of more than just ‘consulting’. We want to enable and empower people to create their own community and continue to have conversations the whole way through the process.
This started last year when we asked people what they want to see happen. Local businesses, organisations, key stakeholders and, most importantly, people who live in and around the area have told us what their hopes are for the new community.
Amongst the themes emerging are the need to retain a sense of place and identity, focusing on Granton’s rich industrial heritage, the opportunity to take part in cultural activities, and thriving bars and restaurants. People also want to see a safer, sustainable and better-connected district, with a flourishing economy and opportunities for young people to learn and succeed.
We need to make the most of one of Granton’s biggest assets – the waterfront. The world over, people like to be by the sea, so we know we need to open up access to the water. This will form a major part of any plans.
Over the coming years we will see the construction of around 4000 homes, shops, services, public spaces, streets and squares. We’d hope that the case will also be made for an extended tram service. But this is about much more than buildings and infrastructure. This is about creating a community, allowing it to take shape in its own way, to find its own focal point.
This month we will begin our second phase of consultation, where we will present a series of options showing what Granton Waterfront can look like and we want to hear what you think. This Saturday, 19 January, we’ll be at Granton Parish Church from 10am to 1pm, as well as travelling around the Granton area on our ‘project bike’, so please drop by to find out more and have a chat.
There is so much potential at Granton. But it’s only by listening to your views that we can make sure we get it right, now, and for generations to come.
Cllr Kate Campbell is housing and economy convener at Edinburgh City Council.