PLANS for a massive concert arena on Edinburgh's Waterfront have taken a major step forward after it emerged talks are under way with a potential operator.
Forth Ports has confirmed that it is speaking to a firm which wants to build and run a 5,000-seat arena at Leith Docks.
The venue would be at least double the size of Edinburgh's current largest music venue, allowing the city to compete with Glasgow's SECC in a bid to attract top acts.
News of the talks emerged after councillors approved a new masterplan for the regeneration of the first two "urban villages" at Leith Docks, the biggest expansion of Edinburgh since the building of the New Town.
It would be built on one of two new piers that will extend out into Western Harbour.
Once an agreement is reached with the company interested in the site, an international architects design competition is expected to be launched in a bid to create a flagship "landmark" building on the Waterfront.
Nathan Thompson, managing director of the company's property arm, Forth Property Developments, said: "We are having exciting discussions with an operator about a 5000-seat arena that it wants to own and operate at its cost."
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Dave Corbet, promoter at DF Concerts, the company behind T in the Park and Edinburgh's Edge festival, said: "It is about the right kind of size for Edinburgh but I would urge caution about the number of shows that could be put on. It would have to be multi-use, like the Corn Exchange, to make it add up."
Edinburgh's biggest current music venue is the Corn Exchange, which has a capacity of 2,800. The Playhouse is larger, but it is rarely available for use as a gig venue.
Councillors yesterday spent four hours debating the new masterplan for the harbour area, before granting approval.
Detailed designs will now be drawn up for the scheme, which will include a 26-storey building for a hotel and/or flats and scores of shops, restaurants, offices and leisure facilities. Approval of the 26-storey building will not be given until detailed plans are provided at a later stage.
At yesterday's meeting, some councillors were concerned that only five per cent of the 1,312 homes in the first two areas would be family housing, but the masterplan was still approved.
Leith councillor Gordon Munro said: "I have a number of problems with it: the lack of family housing in the first two villages, lack of clarity on open space, very real transport problems and the fact that we're having to take out a (council] mortgage to make sure it works."