FOR almost 150 years it stood as a symbol of Edinburgh's proud brewing heritage. But now the site of the famous Fountainbridge brewery is being earmarked for a vibrant new canalside district.
• An artist's impression of possible changes. Picture: Complimentary
A blueprint produced for the site controversially closed down by Scottish & Newcastle five years ago shows how it is set to be transformed over the next few years.
A new canal basin with moorings for boats, a public park, hotel, a commercial quarter and waterside cafes and bars are all part of a proposed masterplan for the 13-acre site.
It has been drawn up by award-winning Edinburgh architect Allan Murray, who designed the Hotel Missoni development on George IV Bridge and is the master planner for the new St James Quarter in the east end of the city centre.
Hundreds of new homes would also be created as part of the development, which would open up new routes connecting the Haymarket area with the Union Canal, Bruntsfield and Viewforth.
A brewery opened on the site in 1856 and beer production continued until 2005 when the plant was closed down as a cost-cutting measure by S&N.
Planning officials in the capital say the brewery development has been designed to link with other proposed schemes in the area, which has been dubbed "Little Venice" because of the number of boats which visit the canal quarter.
The blueprint lodged with Edinburgh City Council said: "The site is more than just a tract of land for redevelopment. "It is a unique opportunity to consider a comprehensive approach to the regeneration of the area as a whole – making new connections, extending the financial Exchange district, creating a mixed-use development and establishing the canalside as a new quarter of Edinburgh.
"The Fountainbridge brewery site has a long history of industry, brewing and manufacturing, much of which has either migrated to out-of-town areas or has been superseded by technology.
"The current site is disused and requires careful consideration of how and what its contribution is to be to the wellbeing of the city and to the local community."
Architect Allan Murray and planning consultants CBRE Richard Ellis were brought in by Lloyds Banking Group to draw up plans for the site, which it plans to put on the market once a blueprint is approved.
The masterplan is being drawn up so that several developers could take on different parts of the scheme should the site be broken up.
The bank is also expected to seek permission to knock down the remaining brewery buildings on the site and clear the land before it is put up for sale.
Lloyds property director Paul Baker said: "While we will not be proceeding with this development ourselves, we will work closely with Edinburgh council to help it move the project forward."
The site had earlier been earmarked for a new headquarters complex for the Bank of Scotland, which bought it from S&N after a fierce bidding war. But those plans were shelved when the company was taken over by Lloyds Banking Group, which announced earlier this year it would be putting the site up for sale.
The bank, which paid a reputed 100 million, gazumped two development companies that had spent three years negotiating with the brewer over the prime sites.
Consultation is under way with community groups and local councillors ahead of formal plans being lodged in October.
Council leaders hope the development will finally kick-start the regeneration of the end of the Union Canal, which has stalled in recent years as a result of the slump in the capital's property market.
Images show how the drab industrial landscape could be redeveloped to become home to waterside cafs, bars and restaurants, while a new public square is envisaged for the heart of the development. The main road at Fountainbridge and Dundee Street, which is already home to the separate Springside development and the Fountainpark leisure complex, would become home to a commercial boulevard.
The bulk of the new residential properties would be built in the western end of the site, around a park which would open on to the canal.
The middle section would include a new canal basin, surrounded by shops, offices, cafes and restaurants. A hotel is earmarked for the east end of the development, near the existing licensed premises in the area. It emerged in June that Lloyds had ditched any plans to create new offices for the firm on the site, but would be pursuing a mixed-use development. It is thought the bank is prepared to wait for at least a year to put the site on the market, as its value will have soared once planning permission is secured.
Michael Halliday, associate director of CBRE Richard Ellis, said: "The masterplan is about establishing general principles for what could be created on the various parts of the site, the shape and massing of various buildings, and new routes that are proposed through the site.
"It leaves options open for any developer in future and should be seen as being like a jelly mould for the whole area. There has been a lot of work carried out with the council and British Waterways on the whole regeneration of the Fountainbridge area and the idea is that the development creates vibrancy and a real mix of uses. A key part of the development is opening up access to the canal."
A spokesman for the city council said: "The overall strategy covers the whole framework area, regardless of ownership, and the council will continue to encourage landowners to work together to deliver an integrated plan for a regenerated Fountainbridge.
"Naturally, the provision of open space is one element to be considered as part of the redevelopment.
"We are still at an early stage in the process but welcome the fact that developers are working closely with the council in bringing forward their plans."
The Fountainbridge area is at the very end of the Union Canal, which was reopened, after more than 30 years of disuse, in 1998 as part of the Millennium Link project, which saw the huge Falkirk Wheel attraction created to link the Union to the Forth & Clyde Canal, allowing travel all the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow.
One of the local councillors, Jim Lowrie, who is also the city's planning leader, said: "People in the area are broadly supportive of the plans that have been emerging.
"The brewery has been closed for a long time now, it's a bit of an eyesore, and there are problems with vandalism.
"There's no doubt the regeneration of Fountainbridge has been a bit slow up until now and the canal quarter in the area has yet to take off.
"An important part of this development will be about bringing life to the banks of the canal and also opening up a new area of water, with space for boats to moor, which has been an aspiration from the council for some time."
148 YEARS OF BEER-MAKING HISTORY
SCOTTISH and Newcastle's shock decision to close its brewery at Fountainbridge – announced in February 2004 – called time on 148 years of beer-making history in the area. Some 170 jobs were lost when the brewery finally closed its doors for the last time in June of the following year, a move that signalled the demise of the last major manufacturing business from central Edinburgh.
William McEwan established his Fountain Brewery in 1856, with money borrowed from his mother and uncle. By the turn of the century, McEwan had nearly 90 per cent of the beer trade in the north-east of England, a flourishing trade in Scotland, and a valuable export trade to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India.
McEwan's merged with a rival firm, set up by brewer William Younger in Leith in 1749, to former Scottish Brewers in 1931. Scottish & Newcastle was created in May 1960 when the Edinburgh business joined forces with Newcastle Brewers.
Famous brands such as Younger's Tartan Special, McEwan's 70/- and 80/-, McEwan's Lager and Younger's Pale Ale were all been brewed at the site at Fountainbridge. A new brewery opened at Fountainbridge in 1973, covering some 22 acres with the capacity to brew two million barrels of beer a year, as well as bottle up to 36,000 bottles every hour.
Throughout the 19th century, and up until the 1960s, brewing was a massive industry in the capital. At one point the Fountain Brewery was just one of 30 in the city, but S&N's closure decision left just one in the city, the nearby Caledonian Brewery.
The Caley, as it is known locally, was founded in 1869 and makes popular brands Deuchars IPA and Caledonian 80 Shilling from its Slateford Road premises.