One of Scotland’s leading tourism and events experts is warning the regeneration of Edinburgh’s waterfront faces being stalled indefinitely unless the city can create a cultural attraction and extend its tram there.
Pete Irvine, who recently stood down as director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, believes a concert venue, arts centre or film studio would help turn the neglected waterfront into a major destination.
He says Leith’s docklands are in danger of being left behind by the city centre due to a lack of cultural activity and any long-terms plans for the waterfront, which has hosted Fringe shows and the MTV Europe Music Awards.
The event organiser said he had previously looked into creating a new music venue with fellow Regular Music founder Barry Wright, which would have been Edinburgh’s equivalent of the Hydro in Glasgow had it gone ahead.
Irvine who has just published the latest edition of his best-selling Scotland the Best guide, said there was “no question” that a tram extension was needed.
He claimed it would have “huge potential” for the waterfront, which would link Leith with Granton.
Trams there were meant to be part of the first phase of the network when they returned to Edinburgh after almost 50 years in 2014. But the line was cut short due to a lack of funding. It is unlikely to be completed until 2021 at the earliest.
A trust behind plans to reopen the former Leith Theatre will have to raise several million pounds for a revamp after recently agreeing a lease with the city council. It emerged last month that a former wave turbine factory in Leith could become a film studio, while the National Galleries of Scotland has plans for a new collection centre on the waterfront.
Irvine said: “Leith probably needs a place – a reason for people to go there, whether it is an attraction, or an events space, a live music venue or an artist-driven centre.
“Most of the ideas that we’re seeing discussed in Edinburgh at the moment are all uptown. Lots of different venues are being talked about. But at the moment, Leith just doesn’t seem to be on the map.
“A long time ago now, myself and Barry proposed a waterfront venue not unlike the Hydro and went as far as talking to architects. If that had gone ahead, there would be a very different landscape in Leith now. It needs something like that to pull the place together and provide a focus.
“The tram was supposed to stimulate the whole waterfront. When the extension comes, as I’m sure it will, that will change things. There is no question about the need for it.
“If the tram comes on to the plan, as it were, in the next five years or so, that will definitely have an effect, because anticipation is a whole lot to do with the growth of something.
“I hope there is a link to Leith because the lack of one is holding it back at the moment. There is huge potential for the waterfront all the way to Granton.”