Steve Cardownie: Leith Walk doesn’t need to be saved from Drum plan

Councillors will meet today to determine the outcome of the planning application from Drum Property Group to demolish a two-storey building at the ­bottom of Leith Walk, and old industrial units at the back of it at Stead’s Place, in order to build a 56 bedroom hotel, 53 affordable housing units, room accommodation for 471 ­students, a café and business units at a cost of £50 million.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his backing to Save Leith Walk campaigners in June last year. Picture: Greg Macvean

Given that it has been the council’s plan to see this area developed, and has been for some time, hence planning officials’ recommendation to approve the application, you could be forgiven for thinking that it looked pretty straightforward. Not so!

A campaign group adopting the name of Save Leith Walk sprang up and has been tirelessly campaigning against the proposal.

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In an effort to apply pressure on councillors on the committee, Ian Hood, one of their spokespeople, said in this paper on Monday that “what makes the impending decision so important is that it will reveal if the council listens to local communities, or if democratic rights are being sold to the highest bidder”, the implication obviously being that if the committee approves the application it will be ­flying in the face of democracy.

This after the application has gone through the planning process, has been amended several times to take account of local feedback, and has attracted 2073 letters of support against 1942 letters of objection.

Despite this Mr Hood prefers to portray councillors as potentially undemocratic rather than solely relying on the merits of his case. It is of course perfectly legitimate and, in many circumstances, normal, that proponents and opponents of a proposed scheme will endeavour to attract as much support as they can for their cause and highlight the outcome to planning committee members.

But to imply that if, in this case, the committee makes the “wrong” ­decision it is inherently undemocratic, is simply not true.

Indeed Drum Property Group could play the same card, and they may say, with greater justification, that their proposal obtained 122 more letters of support than there were objections.

What is surprising, however, is that objectors usually outnumber supporters of applications that attract such public attention as this one has – although that is not what appears to have happened here. Although the committee will note the support afforded to both sides, their main deliberations should be (and I am sure, will be) concerned with the ­merits of both cases before reaching its conclusions.

As someone born in ­Burlington Street, who went to Fort Street Primary and Leith Academy, just a few hundred yards from the site, as a Leither, I am afraid that I can’t buy in to the hyperbole that Leith Walk needs to be ‘saved’ from this proposed development. It is a view that I hold, and what’s more, that I am entitled to hold.

I have assiduously read what ­supporters and objectors have said. My initial misgivings were probably the result of an ­emotional response, as buildings that I was familiar with in my (distant) childhood were going to be demolished. After looking more objectively at what was being replaced with what was being proposed, I came down on the side that, on the face of it, there was more to commend the ­proposal than disapprove of.

Councillors will make up their own minds (without taking instructions from their own political parties) on whether or not to vote in favour or against the proposal.

I hope that the debate/discussion takes place in a democratic fashion, listening with respect to both legitimate views expressed without rancour and irrespective of the decision, without recrimination.

Councillors have a hard enough job on the committee without being subjected to a form of emotional blackmail.

Greens might force Mackay to budge a bit

It is common knowledge that the Scottish Greens in the Scottish Parliament are currently withholding support for the SNP’s proposed budget at Holyrood because they are unhappy with the level of council funding proposed by Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary.

Although securing Green support for the last two budgets, the SNP cannot take it for granted that it will be forthcoming this time if tweets by some Green MSPs are anything to go by.

They have called for a rethink on council funding with Patrick Harvie (pictured), their co-convenor saying that “if Derek Mackay thinks he can reach agreement with another opposition party in the next few days he will have to hurry up”.

Given that the Greens are of the view that “neither Tories, Lab or Lib Dems have been involved in any serious negotiations” they obviously know that, once again, they are in pole position to cut a deal that would allow them to vote the budget through.

Derek Mackay is still insisting that his door remains open to opposition parties to secure a deal and it would be a surprise if the Greens did not walk through it a few times more before the budget is set in the middle of next month.

There will be a number of politicians in local government – and I am not just talking about Greens – who will be praying that they are successful and that they can prise more money out of the Finance Secretary which may alleviate some (but not a lot) of the financial pressure that they are under. Their prayers are sure to be answered.

Holocaust horror can’t be denied

It was with some dismay that I read that a recent survey conducted by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that, out of the 2000 people canvassed for their view, one in 20 did not believe that the Holocaust had taken place and that one in 12 said that the scale of this horrific atrocity had been exaggerated.

With the increased activity of right-wing groups across the UK, US and on the Continent, these shocking figures must surely sound an alarm call and have to be addressed. What is it about this extensively documented dark episode that people don’t believe?

There are some people out there who either choose not to believe it, and that it was all an elaborate hoax by the Allies to denigrate Hitler and the Nazis, or simply shrug their shoulders in indifference because, at heart, they are anti-Semitic. But there must be others who, for whatever reason, remain to be convinced.

Schools devote a great deal of time and energy to teaching pupils about the horrors of the Holocaust and the lessons to be learned from it.Perhaps this is a classic case of children needing to educate their parents.