Former concert promoter Peter Irvine has warned that Leith Walk is being ruined by a rash of “concrete block” developments, including the one threatening the future of its main year-round venue.
Mr Irvine, founder of Regular Music and Unique Events, said the city needed “local destination places” like Leith Depot to thrive in future, but was driving out independent operators in favour of real estate firms and student housing operators.
His views have emerged just weeks after author Irvine Welsh called for Leith Depot to be saved and warned that Leith Walk was being ruined by the “crass exploitation” of property developers.
The operators of Leith Depot have vowed to fight the prospect of demolition and campaign to reduce the impact of the “monstrous” property development on the area.
It emerged in March that Leith Depot was one of several businesses expected to be affected by plans by the Drum Property Group for a huge swathe of land at Stead’s Place.
The firm claims that its proposals for student housing, a hotel, affordable housing and new retail units will “revitalise an important part of the city.”
However Mr Irvine, who is also the author of the best-selling Scotland the Best travel guide, said: “This isn’t just about one live music venue which is going to be trashed. It’s also about an area where emerging businesses and independents of one kind of another can still start there. Leith Walk is the one part of town where independent business and entrepreneurs have been able to afford to open in recent years.
“There is still a whole load on them at the moment, but Leith Walk is changing fast, and not for the better, because of the leaping property prices and explosion of student accommodation. It’s not just businesses that are being squeezed out. There seems to be an unstoppable demand for new student accommodation, all of which is utterly boring. Developers just throw them up - they don’t care.
A statement from Leith Depot said: “If demolishing this entire block is allowed to happen, it will mean the end of another independent grass-roots venue. This cannot happen and should be stopped. “We understand the developers own this land and they are wanting to develop the site, but it needs to be done responsibly. This building is currently viable and the businesses there employ a lot of people and serve the community.
“We believe there is a solution. It may sound naive, but is possible with some creative imagination and design. Once the building is gone there is no definite way back for anyone.”
A statement from the city centre music venue Sneaky Pete’s said: “This isn’t a venue being turfed out when they fail to pay the rent - Leith Depot is a brilliant bar and venue that’s doing great trade. What do we actually want our city to be? Hotels and student flats, maybe with some retail space?”
Leith councillor Gordon Munro said: “Big business does not have to be bad business.
“The contribution of the small businesses here should be an integral part of developing this space.
“Keeping the social space created here and making it part of the design would make it a unique space which would be in stark contrast to the ubiquitous ‘build it high, make it bland‘ approach found further up Leith Walk and in other cities.
“It can be done it just requires will on the part of the developer and their partners.”
Fife Hyland, commercial director of the Drum Property Group, said: “Current tenants returning on subsidised rent, retaining a music venue and building affordable housing are all key elements within our plans.”