Victory for campaigners as councillors refuse £50 million Leith Walk development

A building on Leith Walk has been saved from demolition after councillors unanimously backed campaigners by refusing permission to build a hotel and student housing in its place.

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 10:31 am
Updated Thursday, 31st January 2019, 10:35 am

Councillors rejected Drum Property Group’s proposals to knock down the red sandstone building at Stead’s Place on Leith Walk to make way for a 56-bedroom hotel, accommodation for 471 post-graduate students and 53 affordable housing flats – as well as a new music venue.

The Edinburgh City Council meeting, which lasted more than four and a half hours, included contributions from ward councillors, community councillors, the developers and campaigners from Save Leith Walk.

Members refused the application, stating the proposals failed to meet more than half a dozen planning policies – and were unconvinced that developers have done enough to try and retain the sandstone building. Concerns were also raised about the mix of housing and student accommodation – while campaigners raised fears about “aggressive lease management” tactics with existing tenants.

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Revised proposals by Drum Property Group for a £50 million development on Leith Walk have been rejected by councillors

One property insider said: “You have to feel for the Drum group. They’ve worked for years on an application on a site zoned for development for a decade and been told that it’s in line with the council’s policies, but then they’ve been told to get stuffed. The question has to be asked that if you don’t want to regenerate Leith, what do you want to do with it?”

Planning convener, Cllr Neil Gardiner said: “There are good things about this development. I hope that Drum will go away and think about what’s been said and come back with a proposal that looks at conserving the existing building.”

Cllr Chas Booth added: “The arrogance of ignoring these community views is just staggering.”

Developers were quizzed over why the sandstone facade on Leith Walk could not be retained but Graeme Bone, managing director of Drum Property Group said “it was not economically viable”.

Save Leith Walk demonstrators appeared outside Edinburgh City Chambers ahead of the councils planning meeting today. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

A visibly upset Julie Carty from music venue, Leith Depot, told councillors that the plans have already caused “permanent damage” to businesses and developers have “systematically removed traders”.

Council leader Cllr Adam McVey, urged the committee to reject the plans, adding: “The key thing is that it isn’t a residential-led development – that’s what we need as a community. I don’t think it adds to the aspiration of what the street should be.”

Leith Walk Cllr Lewis Ritchie labelled the proposals “charmless and bland”, “devoid of character” and added: “The people of Leith Walk don’t want this development. Leith Walk deserves better.”

A spokesman from the Save Leith Walk campaign, said: “We are delighted by today’s decision. It is a victory for Leith, for Edinburgh and for local democracy.”

Mr Bone said yesterday’s refusal was a “another step” in the planning process, and he is still fully committed to seeing the project through to fruition.

He added: “It’s a shame that Leith will be deprived of much-needed new homes, facilities and improved amenity whilst that process is ongoing.”