THE man behind Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations has urged the city council to complete the tram service to Leith or risk stalling the regeneration of the waterfront indefinitely.
Events organiser Pete Irvine believes a concert venue, arts centre or film studio would help turn the neglected waterfront into a major destination.
He says Leith’s docklands are in danger of being left behind by the city centre due to a lack of cultural activity and any long-terms plans for the waterfront, which has in the past hosted major Fringe shows and the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Irvine, who recently stood down as director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, said he had previously looked into creating a new music venue with fellow Regular Music founder Barry Wright, which would have been Edinburgh’s equivalent of the SSE Hydro in Glasgow had it gone ahead.
Irvine – who has just published the latest edition of his Scotland the Best guide – said there was “no question” that a tram extension was needed, claiming it had “huge potential” for the waterfront, which would link Leith with Granton.
They were meant to be part of the first phase of the network when trams returned to Edinburgh after almost 50 years in 2014. But the line was cut short due to a lack of funding. It is unlikely to be completed until 2021 at the earliest.
A trust behind plans to reopen the former Leith Theatre will have to raise several million pounds for a revamp after recently agreeing a lease with the city council.
And it emerged last month that a former wave turbine factory in Leith could become a film studio, while the National Galleries of Scotland has plans for a new collection centre on the waterfront.
Irvine said: “Leith probably needs a place – a reason for people to go there, whether it is an attraction, or an events space, a live music venue or an artist-driven centre. Most of the ideas that we’re seeing discussed in Edinburgh at the moment are all up-town.
“Lots of different venues are being talked about. But at the moment, Leith just doesn’t seem to be on the map.
“A long time ago now, myself and Barry proposed a waterfront venue not unlike the Hydro and went as far as talking to architects. If that had gone ahead, there would be a very different landscape in Leith now. It needs something like that to provide a focus.
“The tram was supposed to stimulate the whole waterfront. When the extension comes, as I’m sure it will, that will change things. There is no question about the need for it.
“If the tram comes onto the plan, as it were, in the next five years or so, that will definitely have an effect, because anticipation is a whole lot to do with the growth of something. I hope there is a link to Leith because the lack of one is holding it back.”
Irvine praised the transformation of Leith Walk by the number of new bars and restaurants which had opened up – but criticised the number of student housing developments.
He added: “It’s the one part of Edinburgh where rates are relatively cheap and you can ‘pop up’ with a business. All these new places are really good and make for a growing sense that this is somewhere you would definitely go to eat or drink.”