Plans unveiled for giant 'eye' in Leith

ONE of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world would be built in Edinburgh under radical new plans unveiled today.

The city council is in talks with the company that built the 165-metre-tall Singapore Flyer – the world's biggest observational wheel – about creating something similar on Edinburgh's Waterfront.

Initial proposals being discussed are for "Scotland's National Wheel" to rise to up to 120 metres high – nearly four times the size of the temporary Princes Street Christmas wheel.

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This would make it the second biggest wheel in Europe – only marginally smaller than the London Eye – and the fifth biggest in the world.

New images created by specialist firm Great City Attractions show that the wheel would become by far the biggest structure on the city's skyline.

City leaders say that the wheel could become one of Edinburgh and Scotland's most popular tourist attractions and help trigger the regeneration of the whole Waterfront area, which has slowed in recent years. Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, said: "This is a hugely important opportunity for Edinburgh. We need to look at what we can put in areas like the Waterfront to get people down there.

"It would help to bring forward a regeneration opportunity for that part of the city, would help Forth Ports develop their plans, and would be a major tourist attraction attracting thousands of people. People make journeys to London just to go on the London Eye and we would look for people to do that in Edinburgh.

"We would hope that it could attract similar numbers to those who go to Edinburgh Zoo."

The zoo had 650,000 visitors in 2008.

Initial talks have taken place between the city council's physical development support team and Birmingham-based Great City Attractions, which is currently building a 208m-high wheel in Beijing that will become the world's biggest Ferris wheel when it opens next year.

After the Singapore Flyer, the Star of Nanchang in China is the second-tallest existing big wheel, at 160m, followed by the London Eye at 135m. It is not yet known how much tickets would cost for the wheel, although it costs 17.50 to visit the London Eye.

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Cllr Buchanan dismissed any fears that the wheel could concern heritage groups. He said: "It is not in the world heritage site and we are deliberately looking at somewhere like the Waterfront, where it will be less problematic."

Great City Attractions, which would fund the development, confirmed that it was in talks with the council and said that the size of the wheel would range from 80m tall to 120m tall. The exact cost is not yet known but the London Eye cost 20m to build in 1999.

Nigel Ward, the firm's head of global site development, said: "We are happy to confirm we have been speaking to Edinburgh City Council about the potential for a project of this nature in Edinburgh and the Waterfront is an area we have been considering, but we have a policy of not commenting on these proposals until a planning application has been submitted."

He admitted that sites in the city centre may have proved appealing, but added: "It is a simple statement of fact that there is not space in Edinburgh's city centre for a wheel of this size.

"This is a completely different concept to the traditional Ferris wheel operated in the city centre at Christmas and is far more in keeping with the London Eye as something that will become a destination in its own right."

Dave Anderson, the council's director of city development, said: "It is anticipated that the wheel would be known as Scotland's National Wheel and is likely to bring a substantial number of visitors to the Waterfront. A number of locations close to Ocean Terminal and the tram stops are being considered in discussion with the operators and Forth Ports."