Flagship cultural centre for Leith axed

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A MULTI-MILLION pound cultural centre on Edinburgh's Waterfront is set to be shelved for years due to a lack of funding and a string of rival projects vying for backing.

Details of a concert hall, gallery and exhibition centre had been expected to be at the heart of new blueprint for the redeveloped Leith Docks. But The Scotsman has learned the idea has been put on the back burner in favour of new homes, shops and hotels in the area, which will also include a new marina.

The 500 million development, plans for which will be formally launched next week, has been created by the international design firm RTKL, which masterminded the transformation of Baltimore harbour in the US.

But councillors were told yesterday there is no funding at all in place for the scheme and Forth Ports, the developer, has yet to finalise what form the flagship project will take.

It had been hoped the derelict site at Britannia Quay would become home to Edinburgh's answer to the Sage centre in Gateshead or a Guggenheim-style modern art gallery. Other suggestions have included an opera house or museum.

Although Forth Ports will safeguard land for a new cultural building for the foreseeable future, it is expected to be at least ten years until detailed plans are brought forward.

Sources at City of Edinburgh Council say a number of other projects are already competing for backing, including a long-awaited home for the capital's film festival, a national photography centre and planned refurbishments for the Assembly Rooms and the King's Theatre.

Michaela Sullivan, the head of planning at Forth Ports, said: "We are only at the point of submitting an outline planning application, which shows the potential of various sites. We have identified land for a cultural building, but we are not any further forward at this point."

Forth Ports will instead concentrate on building more than 1,800 homes, two towering hotel developments and a major expansion of the Ocean Terminal shopping and leisure complex.

The new marina area will become home to a relocated Royal Yacht Britannia as well as a cruise liner terminal.

The two hotels are planned to be 26 and 16 storeys respectively, compared with the 17-storey hotel in the Haymarket area, which has been "called in" by the Scottish Government amid fears over the impact it will have on the capital's skyline.

Marjorie Thomas, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Leith, said: "It is a real bugbear that they've not made any progress on this cultural building. They don't seem to know what they want to do or where the money for it is going to come from."

Ross McEwen, the head of the Jump action group, which campaigns against Forth Ports' plans for Leith, said: "We have so many unanswered questions.

"What kind of cultural building are they trying to create? How is it going to be funded? What will the impact of new retail space be? Who on earth is going to buy all these new homes?"