Historic Leith waterfront in danger from silt, rubbish and rumbling traffic

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EDINBURGH'S flagship waterfront area is at serious risk of flooding and damage to its historic buildings, due to a lack of control over the amount of rubbish gathering in its river basins and the growing levels of traffic being diverted into the area.

• Residents of the Shore area of Leith say a build-up of silt in the river basins increases the risk of flooding. Picture: Greg Macvean

Environmental campaigners are demanding action from the city council over the future of the Shore amid claims that dangerous levels of silt and waste are being allowed to gather in the Water of Leith.

Businesses and residents are also raising concerns about cracks being discovered in buildings and properties shaking due to the levels of traffic being rerouted there to accommodate work on the city's tram scheme.

A campaign is under way to persuade the council to ban all or the vast majority of traffic from the Shore at peak times to encourage a "pavement caf culture" in the area, which is home to three Michelin-starred restaurants.

There is concern that more traffic will be diverted into the area when the city's tram scheme starts operating along nearby Constitution Street.

Supporters believe the area has the potential to emulate the success of the part-pedestrianisation of the Grassmarket, where a multi-million pound makeover was unveiled 18 months ago.

Critics warn that a major clean-up of the three river basins in the Shore area is urgently needed to prevent thoroughfares flooding and bridges being damaged in the event of torrential rain. Council officials have agreed to install a new boom further upstream as concern grows about the basins becoming increasingly clogged.

The Greener Leith campaign group has told the council that "if left unchecked, the build up of silt will lead to increased risk of local flooding."

It has condemned as a failure a "gentleman's agreement" struck between the council and a private firm, Water of Leith 2000, which owns the riverbed and is supposed to ensure regular clean-ups are carried out.

Campaign spokesman Alastair Tibbett said: "The amount of litter and debris allowed to gather in the basin is a perennial issue, but the real concern locally is that things are getting worse, with the amount of silt building up. It may actually lead to more rubbish being blocked in the river, but is also going to be extremely costly to remove."

Greener Leith organised a one-day "car free" trial on the Shore last year. which has since triggered calls for the council to make the move permanent. Councillors agreed last week to look at options for such a move, including banning all through traffic, other than bikes, making the road one-way or allowing only buses access to part of the Shore.

Mr Tibbitt said there was growing evidence from firms and residents that the historic fabric of the area was suffering due to road traffic.

"We are hearing stories which suggest that the historic buildings on the Shore are being damaged by the levels of traffic using the street, with reports of buildings cracking and shaking as a consequence of the larger vehicles.

"The traffic also causes disturbance and distress to residents living close to the road."

Lesley Currie, owner of the King's Wark pub, said: "Our whole building shakes when a heavy lorry goes past.

"You only have to go down to our basement to see the impact it is having on our building, with the amount of plaster that is crumbling off at the moment.

"We need to do something about the volume of traffic down here, particularly the amount of buses and lorries that come through the area, which was not built for those kind of vehicles."

A spokesman for the council said it had received no reports of damage to buildings caused by traffic levels in the area.

However, he added: "Our transport committee last week agreed to a public consultation on the proposal to remove through-traffic on the Shore.

"Meanwhile, we will continue to work closely with our partners on the Water of Leith Action group to develop a ten-year management plan and, with that, preserve the environmental and aesthetic qualities of the river."

Local councillor Marjorie Thomas said: "I have been assured there is absolutely no risk of flooding from the levels of silt in the river."

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