Edinburgh's rainbow bridge: Council agrees to look at alternative option to demolition

Campaigners trying to save Leith’s “Rainbow Bridge” have persuaded the city council to consider an alternative to demolition.

The bridge, a key pedestrian and cycle link between Leith and Newhaven, was closed by the council in December 2021 over structural safety concerns.

A report to the transport and environment committee said the bridge, which originally carried traffic over the Caledonian Railway, had reached the end of its lifespan, was beyond economic repair and should be demolished. It added that there was no funding available for a replacement crossing.

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But Roisin Therese, who manages the nearby Dreadnought pub with partner Toby Saltonstall, told the committee that infilling the bridge’s three arches, which would mean the deck of the bridge was no longer load-bearing, could be carried out for less than the estimated £500,000 cost of demolition and re-routing of utilities which run through the bridge.

She said as well as being an active pedestrian and cyclist thoroughfare, the bridge – which has been painted by volunteers, including local children, in the colours of the rainbow and is seen as an LGBTQ icon – was a much-valued community space.

She said countless children learned to ride their bikes there, birthday parties were held and in the summer it was a beer garden where adults could gather while kids played in safe environment.

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Ms Therese said: “Having a space that is free and available for anyone to use is so important in an area where a lot of us are struggling financially.

"Most people in the area live in small tenement flats with no outside space and the bridge serves as their garden – somewhere for their kids and dogs to play and for them to spend time outdoors and connect with other people.”

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Roisin Therese with partner Toby Saltonstall.

She argued, based on projects elsewhere, that concrete infilling of the all three spans of the bridge was a better option than demolition. She said the campaign group had spoken to a professional bridge assessor who had inspected the structure and believed demolition was both unnecessary and more expensive.

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And Ms Therese produced a quote from a bridge refurbishment expert suggesting a basic price of £28,920 for one arch.

She said: “There would be further costs for materials and foundation survey but, even with additional expense considered, all three arches of the bridge could potentially be repaired in this way for considerably less cost than demolition.”

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She said the bridge provided essential connections to services, shops, schools and public transport links. Since its closure, people had been re-routed along the Hawthornvale Path, a dark and secluded cycle path, where they felt unsafe after dark and there were problems with litter, dog mess, broken glass, drug dealing discarded drug paraphernalia.

Ms Therese added that a petition to save the bridge had now attracted almost 4,000 signatures and more than 50 local and national businesses and organisations had signed an open letter asking for bridge to be restored.

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Backing the campaigners, Leith Green councillor Chas Booth said he had worked with the other ward councillors to see if there was a way to retain bridge.

And they proposed a motion, which the committee agreed, asking officers to liaise with organisations or individuals with relevant expertise and bring an updated report outliningcosted options for retention of all three spans of the existing bridge, using infill.

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Cllr Booth said: “There is no guarantee and until we look in more detail we won't know whether it's feasible for this bridge, but we very much hope it is possible.”

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