Conservation body discovers book of radical plans for Edinburgh circa 1949

The book includes plans for a radical overhaul of the city centre road network
The book includes plans for a radical overhaul of the city centre road network
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A STARTLING series of snapshots of Edinburgh as imagined by city planners in 1949 have emerged featuring a motorway running through the city centre – and a school built on Portobello Park.

Entitled the Abercrombie and Plumstead post-war plan, the book was uncovered by city heritage body the Cockburn Association.

A forerunner to what is now the Local Development Plan, it features a new motorway which appears to cut straight through an expanded Princes Street Gardens minus Waverley Station.

Another major shelved development includes the St James’ Square Festival Centre featuring a proposed theatre and concert halls together with garden terraces.

The plan also include the proposed expansion of Portobello in a south-easterly direction on to the present day park and golf course featuring a new school, bungalows and two-storey houses.

Other images for developments include a new boxing stadium and a children’s culture park at the Water of Leith.

Euan Leitch, assistant director of the Cockburn Association, found the dusty old book in a cupboard. He said the plan offers an enlightening snapshot of “what might have been”.

He said: “The road system through the city centre is pretty eye-opening, it spans the Waverley Valley and there is a tunnel running right through The Mound.

“That period, the late-40s, was very car- orientated and it makes you glad that some of these plans never came to fruition, although this is a pity when it comes to the proposed redevelopment of St James’ Square. Planners imagined it as a cultural centre featuring concert halls and theatres.

“Instead, we received a shopping mall with offices above it.”

St James’ Square was demolished in the mid to late-1960s and the present-day shopping centre opened on the site in 1970.

He said: “The Abercrombie and Plumstead post-war plan is the equivalent of the Local Plan today and it dictated the shape of what Edinburgh became. These planners in the post-war period had the best interests of the city in the forefront of their minds.”

Another major project touted in the document is the expansion of Portobello – 
featuring a school on land which today is the community park. Ironically, parents and campaigners have been locked in a bitter tussle over the construction of a new Portobello High on the site for several years.

Euan added: “If this project had been given the go-ahead we would not have the ongoing debate over the siting of a new school.

“Planners in 1949 envisioned the town expanding in that direction with housing and a school north of Milton Road.”

One key modern project that will soon be carried out as suggested by 1940s planners is the Water of Leith improvements. Council officials had envisioned a green oasis snaking through the city with walkways and recreational facilities.