Residents against a controversial multi-million pound development are uniting to have an input in “building something spectacular that brings Leith Walk to life again”.
A huge area of land at Stead’s Place was snapped up last year by the Drum Property Group, which intends to replace the existing buildings with a “mixed-use development”.
The company says that the development will create a 500-bed student accommodation, a 50-bedroom hotel, 50-60 affordable homes and space for the benefit of local retailers and the community.
The plans have sparked an outcry among Leithers, including author Irvine Welsh who said his native Leith was at risk of being “completely destroyed” if working-class people and artists were driven out by “sterile” developments.
Residents have united to create Save Leith Walk – a group hoping to influence the developer’s plans before it submits a planning application to the city council. It has received backing from Edinburgh Northern and Leith SNP MSP Ben Macpherson, who was in attendance at a meeting at Leith Community Centre on Monday evening which attracted more than 100 passionate residents.
He said: “Many people, including myself, have a lot of affection for the current sandstone buildings and for the local businesses that successfully trade out of them.
“There are real concerns locally about the potential demolition of this block and what that could mean for the character of the area. Many constituents have contacted me about their anxieties and there have been a number of well attended community events about the proposed development, including Monday’s meeting. The large turnout on Monday was remarkable and demonstrates the strength of feeling that there is about this issue in the community.”
The developers hope to join forces with the University of Edinburgh to create the student accommodation. But with two other student blocks already on Leith Walk, residents feel more attention should be paid to addressing the Capital’s housing crisis.
Leith Walk Green councillor Susan Rae believes some of the student lets should be given to young workers in the area who do not have the chance to live independently due to soaring rent prices.
She added: “It would be great to have people who live and work in Edinburgh and want to build lives here. Edinburgh University has an exemplary architecture department. This is a fantastic opportunity for their students to get involved and gives us a chance to put an enormous input into building something spectacular that brings Leith Walk to life again.”
Residents at the meeting felt the influx of people will have a detrimental impact on already pressured services such as GPs and transport.
The sandstone frontage is a historic feature which Leithers would like to see preserved while the future of existing businesses within the plans remain unknown. One of those is the only dedicated live music venue in the area, Leith Depot, which opened in 2015.
Mr Macpherson added: “What Leith needs is more affordable housing and opportunities to help local businesses thrive. That’s why many Leithers are urging the developers to reconsider their initial proposals, to conserve the current sandstone frontage, and to provide more affordable housing within any new development of the site. I will continue to work with others to help make sure that the community’s voice is heard.”
A first public exhibition was hosted by Drum Property Group last week outlining the plans for the site. The firm has vowed to listen to public feedback and refine their proposals before holding further public exhibitions in May.
A Drum Property Group spokesman said: “We were delighted to see so many people at the exhibition over the weekend and would like to thank all attendees for taking the time to come along. The discussions and feedback will help will inform the development of our plans which will then be on show at the second round of public exhibitions on May 4 and 5 ahead of the planning application submission.”