Edinburgh housing: Leith locals' anger as larger than expected Dockside tower blocks approved

Revised application for Leith tower blocks given the go-ahead
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Locals who spoke last week at the City Chambers against a revised planning application for a larger than first anticipated tower block in Leith, have spoken of their anger at the larger building getting the green light.

The Dockside, previously Skyliner, development, opposite the Cala houses on the edge of the Albert Dock basin north of Ocean Drive, was approved in 2019, with four tower blocks, two of 39 metres high and one each of 46 metres and 52 metres height. The proposal before councillors last week from Goodstone Investment Fund Management Ltd was to increase the westernmost block from 39 metres to 51.3 metres, adding four more storeys.

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Local residents are worried that the development will ruin the skyline at the Shore, with the only high buildings in the area at the moment being the 40 metres high Ocean Point 1 office block and the new distillery which is 37 metres high. The first three towers at Dockside are already under construction, with large cranes currently on-site.

An artist's impression of the revised Skyliner buildings approved to be built at the docks in Leith.An artist's impression of the revised Skyliner buildings approved to be built at the docks in Leith.
An artist's impression of the revised Skyliner buildings approved to be built at the docks in Leith.

Speaking about the plans, local resident Robert Drysdale told the Evening News: “We don’t think the 2019 application or last week’s should have been approved, as the development will totally alter the character of the area with such high buildings, and there is barely any open space associated with the proposal.

"I highlighted the fact that the council’s own policy says all homes should be within 800 metres of good quality parkland, which this site most definitely isn’t – it’s nearly 1.3 km to Leith Links – and the residents of these flats will have no private open space at all.

“Back in the 1960s we built many tower blocks in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but they soon became social disasters and many blocks have since been demolished. However the council now seems to think that allowing them again will solve the housing shortage, and they also appear to have decided that Leith is the place to build them, no doubt partly because it will reduce the pressure to find housing sites in other parts of the city.”

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Robert and his neighbours are worried that this revised application’s approval will lead to more high-rise buildings being built in the area, claiming that Leith is seen as an “easy target” for such developments.

The Skyliner development will be built opposite the Cala houses on the edge of the Albert Dock basin.The Skyliner development will be built opposite the Cala houses on the edge of the Albert Dock basin.
The Skyliner development will be built opposite the Cala houses on the edge of the Albert Dock basin.

He said: “We are particularly concerned that there are two other adjacent applications – one for two tower blocks and the other for redevelopment of the north end of Ocean Terminal – which also involve very high towers of 50 metres or more.

"So within a fairly short time this part of Leith could be transformed into an area covered with tall towers all lined up very close together.

“What doesn’t seem to have occurred to the council is that this relaxed attitude to allowing the building of tower blocks – higher than any that have been built in Edinburgh at any time since the 1960s – could set a trend for developers to follow in other parts of the city, anywhere with a small undeveloped parcel of land, all in the name of solving the housing shortage.

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"We suspect that similar proposals, if they were submitted for Portobello, or Morningside, or other ‘smarter’ areas, would be strongly opposed by both local people and councillors – but Leith seems to be regarded as an easy target.”

Large cranes at the Leith Docks site where three towers are already under construction.Large cranes at the Leith Docks site where three towers are already under construction.
Large cranes at the Leith Docks site where three towers are already under construction.

Another local resident, Caroline Currie, added: “It is all so dispiriting watching Leith become a latter day Muirhouse. The whole development was a done deal before any faux consultation exercise and rides roughshod over all the council's own planning policy safeguards. It's even being built on land that SEPA itself has designated at risk of flooding.”

Another concerned local resident speaking about last week’s decision, Patricia Morrish, raised concerns about the lack of green space in the area.

She said: “What a complete whitewash it was. The argument to add the storeys purely based on what has already been granted and should never have been! When did the committee ask why is it necessary to put up high rise flats on a postage stamp of reclaimed land in a flood plain? Or what is the demographic of people who will be renting these flats, will this have any effect on the housing shortage?

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“There is no substantial area of green space for a considerable distance. There is an extremely scant representation of the height and effect on the protected views of The Forth for Edinburgh's World Heritage status in the documentation. Leith is already one of the most congested parts of Scotland so adding so many more residents is completely unacceptable.

“The planners seem to favour the developers Goodstone over the community and there seems to be no higher power that can say this should not happen.”

While another local resident, Hilary Ford, added: “The residents in the Cala Homes there will have their whole view and access to good daylight taken away. The shade caused by these monolithic monstrosities will also have a really negative effect on the local wildlife.

“In addition, I have a real fear that such a limited mix of housing and such poor design will lead to the tower blocks soon becoming the equivalent of the awful sink estates which many councils have been forced to demolish. Since these will be privately owned, such a decision in the future would be much more difficult and we could well witness a significant increase in social and environmental problems in the area.”

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At last week’s Development Management Sub-Committee, councillors were happy to approve the site. And while some elected members had sympathy with locals, there was a general agreement that the latest plans could not be rejected given that three of the towers are already under construction and extra ground works had been added by the applicant Goodstone, who plans to rent out the properties and maintain the site.

Cllr Joanna Mowat said: “We have heard from the local community and the local councilllor, who are not happy about this site. But we have four extra storeys and additional green space. I see nothing today that gives us concerns about the additional four storeys. This brings us more housing more quickly in an area that is well connected, so I will be going for approval.”

Cllr Hal Osler said: We can’t wind the clock back, particularly as the original application is currently under construction. And this application has considerable open space for the public. It’s four more storeys and I don’t think there are strong reasons to object to it. It provides much needed housing in the city.”

She added: “We should thank the applicant for trying to make improvements, I really think we should commend the applicant for trying to make something better. We are never going to get a 100 per cent perfect application.”

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While Cllr Tim Jones said: “I do have some sympathy with the community, but the site is not in a conservation area. They do have a point about the height of the buildings and the view from other parts of the city. I think the developers should take that on board.

"However, we currently have a housing crisis, we need new homes built as quickly as possible. So I can see no reason why we should refuse this.”

And Cllr Alex Staniforth said: “I don’t like that it’s so far from a park, but Cllr Staniforth not liking something is not a reason to object. There is already a building 53 metres high on the site, it’s under construction, it’s going to be there.”

Cllr Alan Beal added: “I don’t know how it got through previously but I can’t see any reason to refuse this application unfortunately.”

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