Granton gasholder vision can be a new symbol of Edinburgh’s ambitions – Brian Ferguson

It seems strange to recall it now, but there was once a time when a new shopping and leisure complex was the symbolic figurehead for the hopes and ambitions of Edinburgh’s waterfront.

A new Gasholder Park is proposed to be created on Edinburgh's waterfront in the next few years (Image: Tetra Tech)
A new Gasholder Park is proposed to be created on Edinburgh's waterfront in the next few years (Image: Tetra Tech)

Built on part of Leith’s former industrial docklands, the opening of Ocean Terminal just over 20 years ago was expected to lead the wider regeneration of the area, two decades after the demise of the Henry Robb shipyard.

Leith’s fortunes had changed significantly by the time Ocean Terminal had arrived in 2001, after Leith had won the battle to become the new home of the Royal Yacht Britannia.

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Other flagship developments like the transformation of a former seaman’s mission into Leith’s first hotel, the Malmaison, the opening of a new Scottish Government building at Victoria Quay and the arrival of fashionable new restaurants on and around the Shore had radically shifted the port’s reputation within just a few years of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting being published.

Ocean Terminal initially lived up to expectations, attracting the Scottish premiere of the first Harry Potter film within months of its opening, helping Leith to secure the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2003, providing the backdrop to a vast big top Fringe venue and even becoming a regular nightclubbing venue.

However the expected wider redevelopment of the waterfront failed to materialise – particularly after the financial crash and the shelving of the tram link to Leith for years – leaving Ocean Terminal looking increasingly isolated, surrounded by gap sites and half-finished developments.

It is changed days around Ocean Terminal now, thanks to the long-awaited arrival of Leith’s tram lines, ahead of the actual tram service starting to operate next year.

And it is no coincidence that meaningful progress on the project has been the catalyst for wider redevelopments, including a £100 million overhaul of part of Ocean Terminal itself, including new retail units, homes, waterside walkways and cycle tracks.

The opening of a new whisky distillery, a second floating hotel in Leith, and the long-awaited overhaul of both the Victoria Swing Bridge and the Rennie’s Isle Bridge, will also make a huge difference.

But a few miles along the shoreline, a separate stretch of the waterfront is the focus of plans just as ambitious as the ones which shaped the huge changes in Leith in the 1990s.

There have been plenty of unrealised visions for Granton over the years, but the one to emerge over the last couple of years offers much to be optimistic about, not least the prospect of Europe’s largest coastal park and 3,500 net-zero carbon homes being created.

What has captured the imagination of many is the idea of reinventing Granton’s former gasholder, a symbolic reminder of its gasworks.

It is not so long ago that heritage groups faced a battle to save the listed structure from demolition.

But now the city council itself is leading efforts to turn it into a tree-lined amphitheatre for cultural events as well as the centrepiece of not only a proposed “Gasholder Park" but the wider coastal town envisaged for Granton.

With £16.4 million in UK Government funding already confirmed, the project is more than a pipedream.

It will be intriguing to see if it can do for Granton what The Kelpies have done for Falkirk and the V&A for Dundee.

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