Controversial plans to build a £50 million mixed-use development on Leith Walk have been recommended for approval by council planning chiefs.
Drum Property Group plans to bulldoze the two-storey red sandstone shop frontages and industrial units at Stead’s Place to redevelop the site.
In its place the developer wants to erect a five storey building along Leith Walk with the new facility compromising of 471 student room accommodation, 56 bedroom hotel, 53 affordable flats, a café as well as business and retail units.
The application is to go before Edinburgh City Council’s development management sub-committee for the first time on January 30. Planners are recommending that the committee back the proposals, which were revised by Drum last month to “keep the site in line with surrounding buildings”.
Approval would be subject to a legal agreement to secure a number of key elements including £41,160 for education, £696,999 to the trams, £105,340 towards the Leith and city centre (east) cycle route and that development should commence no later than three years from the date of consent.
Drum’s vision for the site has divided opinion among the community with the demolition of the existing building attracting 2181 objections to 1775 supporting statements. However the new development has received 2051 letters of support to 1831 objections.
Campaign group Save Leith Walk, which has been supported by big names such as The Proclaimers, Jeremy Corbyn and Irvine Welsh, still fear the plans threaten Leith’s unique heritage and culture.
The report states: “On balance, the proposed design, height and layout, including the loss of a small area of open space, are acceptable and the proposal will preserve the character and appearance of the Leith and Pilrig Conservation Areas.”
But MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, Ben Macpherson said: “I am disappointed that Council Planning Officials have recommended the demolition of the building at Stead’s Place, which would go against concerns raised by many people in Leith.
“The existing building makes a positive contribution to the Leith Conservation Area, so I don’t understand how demolition of this building would help preserve the character of the Conservation Area.”
Ian Hood, of Save Leith Walk highlighted that the planner’s report “glosses over serious problems and omissions in the development plan in order to justify approval.”
He believes the building should be refused for reasons stated within the report including it being taller than surrounding and facing buildings and the proposed development being of a greater density than the surround area.
He added: “We are calling on all councillors on the development management sub-committee to join residents rejecting this report on and to reject both the applications to demolish and to develop the site.
“We remain optimistic that democracy and good sense will win the day.”
The Stead’s Place site has been earmarked for development by city council since 2008 with Drum hoping to begin demolition work after Leith Depot’s contract runs out in October, subject to approval.
A number of empty units within the current block on Leith Walk have been boarded up already as Drum prepares to redevelop the site.
Charity Sikh Sanjog and its affiliated community enterprise the Punjabi Junction café are currently the only tenants to agree to return to the new building once complete.
The report concludes: “Overall, the application accords with the development plan as the minor departures on some matters represent justifiable exceptions to LDP policy.
“The regeneration benefits for the town centre and wider area outweigh concerns regarding student housing and employment space, impact on amenity and the level of cycle parking provided.”
Graeme Bone, group managing director of Drum, welcomed the officers’ recommendation.
He said: “For the past eighteen months, we have worked closely with the council, the local community and many groups, businesses and organisations to address the urgent need to bring new investment, connectivity and life back to this hugely important part of Leith Walk and the wider Pilrig area.
“Given there are no valid planning reasons to oppose the proposals, we trust that the elected members will now share the view of their officers and give the green light to this major transformational investment opportunity for Leith Walk and the rest of the city.”