Lost Edinburgh: Farewell to Leith Street’s ‘bendy bridge’

The first section of the new footbridge linking the St James centre with Calton Hill, June 1975. Picture: TSPL
The first section of the new footbridge linking the St James centre with Calton Hill, June 1975. Picture: TSPL
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Okay, so it’s no Queensferry Crossing, but I’m going to miss Leith Street’s curvy footbridge.

This weekend, the bridge will be dismantled, hacked into pieces as part of the ongoing St James revamp. City of Edinburgh Council say the bridge’s removal is essential as they seek to increase pavement space on Leith Street and to implement a new two-way cycle lane.

Removal of Leith Street footbridge, June 2003. Picture: Rob McDougall

Removal of Leith Street footbridge, June 2003. Picture: Rob McDougall

Some, myself included, had hoped that a new site could be found for the bridge, but its design specs and the fact that it could not be dismantled in one piece, made this impossible.

The current Leith Street footbridge was dropped into place, section by section, at the tail end of 2003 (yes, it really has been that long) to connect the St James Centre with Greenside car park.

Affectionately dubbed the ‘bendy bridge’ on account of its distinct curves, it was an almost carbon copy of the bridge that spans Harthill Services on the M8. You may recall the bendy bridge was the replacement for an earlier bridge over Leith Street, built back in 1975.

After the completion of the St James Centre in 1973, grand plans were proposed for the adjacent Greeenside district. The bridge was intended to connect the shopping centre to a new residential district. But, alas, it failed to materialise, and the site lay empty for more than a generation. The unwanted moniker, ‘the bridge to nowhere’, ensued as a result.

The 'bendy bridge', pictured in 2006. Picture: Bill Henry

The 'bendy bridge', pictured in 2006. Picture: Bill Henry

And at £100,000 (a pretty penny in those days), its price tag was a tad high for a white elephant.

Liberal Party environmental spokesman, Ronald Guild, was less than kind about the new bridge, when he described it as a ‘monstrous piece of multi-thousand pound lunacy’.

When this bridge disappeared in June 2003, its replacement endured a similar welcome and attracted the ire of disabled users who complained that they could no longer enjoy access between Calton Hill and the St James Centre. Over the years, though, I think many Edinburghers warmed to it.

Speaking yesterday, Councillor Lesley Macinnes, had this to say: “The removal of the Leith Street footbridge marks a visual milestone for the St James development but also signifies moves to create a more relaxed atmosphere to the east of the city centre.

“Over recent decades, Leith Street has been very much focused on cars rather than pedestrians and cyclists, but before long it will be busy with shoppers, tourists and workers drawn to the revamped east end. By opening up the area for active travel we want to ensure it is welcoming to all visitors and residents, whatever mode of transport they choose.”

Not being a motorist, I seldom used the bendy bridge, but I’ll definitely miss its presence. Edinburgh city centre, after all, is full of bridges, it was nice to have one representing the 21st century.