A WELL-KNOWN writer and activist has been condemned for comparing £50 million plans to build student flats on Leith Walk to the Nazi blitz during World War Two.
The comments from poet and publisher Kevin Williamson - who is said to have ‘discovered Irvine Welsh - about the controversial proposals have been labelled “idiotic” and “ridiculous”. The plans for 500 student flats for Edinburgh University postgraduate students have been the subject of a campaign against the so-called ‘gentrification’ of Leith.
The developers, Drum Property Group, say it will transform a largely rundown area between Leith Walk and Pilrig Park, opening it up and creating jobs and new facilities for all the community.
But the proposals have attracted a petition with around 12,000 signatures opposing the development, including high profile names such as Jeremy Corbyn and The Proclaimers.
Mr Williamson took to Twitter to say: “For Leith this is on par w/ Nazi blitz of WW2. Targeted destruction of a community by Drum & @EdinburghUni 4 profit.”
When the comparison was questioned, he responded: “At least after the Nazis social housing was built. There’s v little social housing involved here.”
Plans for the land, earmarked for development since 2008 by the city council, include a 500-bed student accommodation, 56-bedroom hotel, 53 affordable homes, a restaurant, café and retail units.
Mr Williamson, who moved to Edinburgh from Thurso in 1979, has often courted controversy with his outspoken views, particularly concerning drug-taking.
He founded the Scottish Cannabis Coffeeshops Movement and was the SSP’s drugs spokesman, authoring the book Drugs and the Party Line.
His comments have attracted widespread condemnation. Green Leith Walk Cllr Susan Rae, who has been a keen supporter of the Save Leith Walk campaign, said: “This is entirely disrespectful to those who died during the war.”
Conservative councillor John McLellan said: “Comparing any proposed development to actions of the Nazis is quite frankly idiotic. It doesn’t help anyone’s cause and it’s just ridiculous.”
All the current tenants’ leases will come to an end by October 2019 with a number of units already vacated as Drum looks to get the site ready for development. So far, charity Sikh Sanjog, with its affiliated community enterprise the Punjabi Junction Café, has confirmed its intentions to return to the site if the planning application is approved by council chiefs.
Graeme Bone, managing director of Drum Property Group said: “Deeply offensive comments like this on social media can only undermine the positive contribution that the vast majority of the local community has made so far to the consultation process. We will continue to engage in constructive dialogue with those who want to have a sensible debate about our plans.”