Massive plans to revamp docks

A MASSIVE regeneration of Leith Docks featuring 16,000 new homes was unveiled today in the biggest planning application ever to come before the council.

BIRD'S EYE VIEWClick here to view the new plans for Leith Docks >>The 30-year plan, by Forth Ports, is set to create around 12,000 jobs, generate billions of pounds in investment and make Edinburgh's waterfront a "world-class" destination.

Images of what the regenerated area will look like were released today, as an outline planning application for the scheme was lodged with city council chiefs.

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Nine "urban villages" will be created under the plans, with the masterplan for the first one - to be placed beside Ocean Terminal - due for release later this year.

Along with thousands of new homes, the newly created community will feature a range of leisure, retail and commercial developments, including a possible new concert hall.

Exact details of the plans are still to be determined and the cost is impossible to predict, though independent assessors have said the application, together with developments at Western Harbour and Granton, will attract 5.6 billion-worth of private investment.

Charles Hammond, chief executive of Forth Ports, hailed the project, which will transform 144 hectares of brownfield land, as a pivotal one in the city's history. He said: "The Leith Docks outline planning application is one of the largest ever submitted in Scotland and will lay the foundations for the next 30 years of development in Edinburgh.

"This development creates an excellent platform for the private and public sector in Scotland to work together to take the capital city forward.

"It will regenerate the entire Leith Docks area and reconnect the waterfront with the city of Edinburgh.

"This project has potential to make a huge economic contribution to Edinburgh and Scotland.

"The submission of today's application is an important step forward in what will be a long-term process to enhance Edinburgh's position as one of the world's great waterfront cities, increase tourism and improve the quality of life for the city's residents."

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Business leaders today welcomed the planning application, describing it as "the last piece of the jigsaw" for the city's transforming waterfront. As well as luxurious flats, expansive green areas - including extending Leith Links to the waterfront - and entertainment facilities, Forth Ports wants to capitalise on the potential for business. Around 100,000 square metres of office floor space will be created, which is thought will contribute an additional 194 million a year to Edinburgh's economy - and a further 240m for the country's coffers.

City leader Councillor Jenny Dawe said the revamp was critical to Edinburgh's future.

She said: "The waterfront is our opportunity to create a new destination within Edinburgh. I want to see an area that appeals across the board to businesses big and small, provides a top-class mix of leisure facilities and a range of housing suitable for all. "I look forward to hearing the detailed proposals of this application."

Ron Hewitt, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "Leith Docks has been the centre of trade for Edinburgh since the Middle Ages, and this development will serve to make the docks attractive again, providing space for new business, tourism, retail and industrial uses, as well as homes and community facilities. This application is welcomed as it will form the last piece of the jigsaw at the Edinburgh waterfront."

The plush apartments, many of which will boast stunning views across the Forth over to Fife and out to the North Sea, will not only be for the wealthy. Of the 16,000 built, 4000 will be affordable units, going some way to help the city's social housing crisis.

Economic development committee convener Councillor Tom Buchanan, said: "It is one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Scotland and one of the city's most important growth areas - the opportunities it presents for the city are numerous.

"Taking advantage of these opportunities will create a new dimension for the Capital's northern boundary to the Firth of Forth. It will enable the waterfront to play a strong role in the future economic, social and cultural life of the city, as well as introducing much-needed housing, leisure, business and commerce facilities to the area."

Forth Ports said it was also keen to retain much of Leith's heritage within the plan.

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A spokesman for Forth Ports said the plan would not only connect the city with the waterfront, but would also "maintain its maritime heritage operating as a capital city port with a greater emphasis on recreational activity". Brendan Dick, chairman of the Edinburgh Business Assembly, added: "Edinburgh is a world-class city that can deliver world-class services. Our task is to look to the future and to make Edinburgh the most sustainable economy in northern Europe by 2020.

"Wealth creation is at the heart of this strategy, and the scale of this development provides a unique opportunity to enhance the city's economic prosperity."

Concert arena would be key part of 'cultural hub'

A MAJOR new concert arena is likely to be at the cornerstone of a new "cultural hub" at the waterfront.

Forth Ports has previously released plans for the 3000-seater concert hall to attract top pop and classical artists.

It is said to be keen to create a venue along the lines of the Sage Centre in Gateshead, which attracted 1.4 million visitors in its first two years and generated an estimated 90m for the local economy.

It has also been suggested that the Ocean Terminal shopping centre could double in size as part of the plans.

Bosses are also hoping to build a revamped multi-million-pound cruise liner terminal, which would attract 150 ships a year to the Capital.

This year, around 50 liners were set to dock in the port - up from an annual average of around 30.

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Other plans which have been floated as part of the regeneration scheme include a 30-storey skyscraper.

The hotel and flats complex, if it came to fruition, would become the Capital's tallest building.

Last week, plans were unveiled for a "Crow's Nest" viewing tower to take pride of place in the revamped docks.

If plans are approved, visitors will be able to climb the 12-metre steel structure and take in spectacular views of the Shore, the Firth of Forth, Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat.

The proposed landmark will also feature information panels charting the history of Leith along with updates on existing and future plans for the waterfront.