Sunshine on Leith as plans to build a vibrant 'Forth Riviera' are revealed

PLANS to build nine urban villages on the "Forth Riviera" were revealed yesterday, immediately sparking debate on how Scotland should build new communities.

Sink estates on city outskirts, massive tower blocks and soulless new towns with roundabouts scattered along near identical streets have blighted Scotland for decades. But Forth Ports has insisted it will transform Leith Docks into a place where generations of families would be able to live, work and enjoy themselves in a safe and "vibrant" urban setting.

However, one of Scotland's leading architects warned developers in the UK were taking advantage of a planning system that was "a bit Wild West" and creating neighbourhoods reminiscent of Los Angeles, infamous for being one massive suburb with no actual centre.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Richard Murphy OBE said he had been underwhelmed by what he had seen of (the existing) Edinburgh's Waterfront development and described the prestigious Platinum Point development, sited nearby, as a "catastrophe".

The Leith Docks development will be built over the next 30 years on the 350-acre site with 16,000 homes, about a million square feet of office space and community facilities such as a library, schools and possibly a 3,000-seat concert hall.

Mr Murphy, whose Edinburgh-based firm has won 15 awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects, said he was looking forward to seeing the detailed architectural plans, the first of which is expected to be submitted later this year.

He said the key was to connect the buildings to make a truly urban streetscape. But Mr Murphy said: "I'm exceptionally underwhelmed by what I've seen so far [on the wider Edinburgh Waterfront]. What we need to avoid is the catastrophe of Platinum Point.

"I've never seen something so badly planned. Platinum Point is just a series of gigantic things from Mars that have landed.

"What we have got there is a series of isolated buildings with space sloshing around them. Cities are not made of isolated buildings, they are all joined up. It's the difference between Edinburgh and Los Angeles. There are no centres or any sense of being [in LA], there isn't a single urban space, it's a series of isolated buildings. If you look how traditionally Scottish waterfronts were developed, they are usually quite protected from the elements. In Orkney and Shetland they have streets that are very tiny, very protected from the weather."

He said the situation arose because developers "hated" having to deal with the problems of walls shared with another developer and a weak planning system."

However, Charles Hammond, Forth Ports Group's chief executive, said the nine villages - names such as Mulberry Piers have been suggested - would be genuinely attractive places to live.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We can build a community. The first step in that is to carry out an exhaustive community consultation exercise to ask them what would they want the area to be like," he said.

"The masterplan sets the tone for that in terms of open spaces or community facilities, whether they happen to be libraries, nurseries, schools or public buildings.

"The key for us is concentrating as much on the public realms as the housing itself. The development is a broad range of housing with affordable homes.

"The intention is not to provide gated communities or housing estates - we are trying to integrate the different types of housing and different facilities so people can feel safe, send their children to school and enjoy a vibrant urban lifestyle.

"It allows people to stay in the city. The pattern in the past has been people have moved out of Edinburgh because they cannot get on the property ladder. They have moved out and commuted in."

He said he expected key workers such as nurses, teachers, police officers along with young professionals, wealthier people who are downsizing and families with children to be among those interested in moving to the area.

Yesterday's outline planning application, which will be considered by Edinburgh council, was accompanied by artists' impressions, but the actual plans have not yet been decided and the images reflect the different densities of the development.

• WATERFRONT redevelopments have become popular the world over. In Britain, the London Docklands scheme brought an economic boom that sparked similar schemes across the UK, from Cardiff Bay to Dundee.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Richard Murphy, an architect, said Copenhagen was one of the best, with traditional streets alongside modern offices. "They do join up the buildings and just have a very high quality of architecture. Go to Platinum Point [Edinburgh] and go to Copenhagen; there's no comparison," he said.