Keith Hales: Investment for new Leith of life

Leith Walk. Pic: Greg Macvean
Leith Walk. Pic: Greg Macvean
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For far too long now Leith has been the poor relation to the city of Edinburgh in terms of investment in the economy, its culture and as an area that has a deep proud history.

Leith needs to be seen for the area’s sense of identity that gives it its life and its vibrancy.

One of the ideas we are keen on is breaking the area into quarters, with business groups directing their own marketing policies. We would also like to change the way the whole place looks, getting rid of the modern shutters as York and Harrogate have done.

We would like to have more events in Leith and to make Balfour Street a public space with a fountain, a plaque or a statue that reflects Leith’s history.

Leith needs to be seen as an important part of the whole, not an isolated entity that is left to get on with it as best it can. Leith has been marginalised for far too long.

Very few people doubt the fact that one day trams will be running down Leith Walk into Leith. If the present transport convener has her way then it will be sooner rather than later – putting aside the fact that many believe the council should not be extending its mountain of debt for a vanity project.

Put aside the fact that there still is not any large scale support for the trams, other than from councillors and council officials, we are going to get them sooner.

The Leith Business Association and Marketing Leith have to remain neutral on trams. However, we will oppose any development plans that continues to marginalise Leith and does not have investment in Leith Walk, The Shore and Leith in general as a fundamental part of the package.

Leith has to be seen as a destination in itself, not as a community to pass through as quickly as possible. Leith needs investment in its people, its history and its energy. There needs to be better support for all those organisations that work for the betterment of Leith. Good ideas and good intentions have been consistently ignored. The view of many is this is because the city does not own them.

Leithers old and new recognise the imbalance between the investment in Leith and the city centre.

I accept that the rest of Edinburgh has the same sort of problem attracting investment and that other areas have been neglected.

But Leith arguably has a lot more history and character than some of these places, and people come here from all over the world on cruise ships.

What Leith needs now is for this imbalance to be addressed – not just in financial terms but also in terms of investment in leadership, in a new belief in Leith, a new focus, a new way forward. When this happens then not only will Leith be a better place, but the whole of Edinburgh will be a better place.

Let’s hope that when the next detailed plans for the tram extension are published, we will see that investment in Leith and Leith Walk is a fundamental priority, and an essential ingredient to the success not only of the tram project but to the future of Leith and Edinburgh.

Keith Hales is vice-chairman of Leith Business Association.