Pier we go again at Portobello

PORTOBELLO'S tired and neglected seafront is set to be transformed with a £35 million new pier and marine centre.

The prom is to be restored to its former glory under the ambitious proposals drawn up by community groups, which also include a visitor centre and simulation of the Forth Estuary seabed.

The brainchild of Portobello arts trust Big Things on the Beach (BTOTB), it is hoped the complex could become Scotland's first national marine centre and regenerate the economy of Portobello.

The project won the backing of politicians, councillors and residents at a meeting outlining the plans. The town last had a pier in 1917, when the Victorian pier, built in 1871, was knocked down after structural damage meant it became too costly to maintain.

A new lottery funding programme, Living Landmarks, is hoped to be the main source of cash for the project, dubbed "Re-aPier" by the organisers, and Portobello is in the process of submitting an application for a grant of up to 25m. If successful, building work would begin in 2007.

Private companies are to meet with BTOTB at the City Chambers next week, when chairman Damien Killeen hopes to secure private funding for the remaining 10m cost of the project.

Mr Killeen, who heads an annual project to display art installations on Portobello beach, said the project had been welcomed by the community.

"At the moment, it has been taken on by Big Things on the Beach, but it will become a much wider community initiative," he said. "We have already held a community meeting and the plans were met with a fantastic response."

He added: "We heard about these lottery grants and we saw the opportunity to do something big for Portobello.

"What we are developing is a major structure that would stand off the beach and that would be a hub that would raise the awareness of the Forth Estuary."

He said he hoped to attract key marine and wildlife groups to relocate to the centre.

"There is no centre for Scotland that focuses on the marine environment and that is what we hope to achieve with this project. We would like scientific agencies connected to the Forth estuary to be housed here."

But he said the development would not be a reconstruction of the Victorian pier. "We want to look forwards, not backwards and keep an eye on future heritage."

The interactive riverbed simulation will enable people to find out more about the wildlife and plantlife in the Forth.

A gallery and performance spaces within the centre will celebrate the marine, coastal and urban environments of the sea and river, and a local museum and visitor centre will provide information about the Forth.

A cafe or restaurant will also be part of the complex.

Susan Deacon MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, said: "This would be a tremendous asset not just for Portobello but for the whole of the city."