Thousands protest against £50m student flats and hotel plan in Leith

HUNDREDS of campaigners against a proposed £50m development they fear could rip the heart out of Leith Walk have attended a fiery meeting pledging to fight the plans.

Campaigners say proposed £50m development could rip the heart out of Leith Walk
Campaigners say proposed £50m development could rip the heart out of Leith Walk

They claim Drum Property Group’s bid to demolish existing buildings and replace them with new mixed use units will shatter Leith’s history and heritage.

Locals say it is just the latest in a flurry of changes, including moves to extend the tram network, they say is changing the area’s character too much.

And amid fears it will spell the end of some local favourites haunts and businesses, some 5000 signatures of support and £2,500 in donations has buoyed pressure group Save Leith Walk to sustain their efforts - which has earned overwhelming cross party backing.

Campaigners say proposed £50m development could rip the heart out of Leith Walk

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Popular Leith Depot to make way for student housing and hotel

The initial plans for Stead’s Place include the development of 54 affordable houses, 500-bed student accommodation, a 50-bedroom hotel and retail space including a new live music venue.

More than 200 people attended a public meeting last night at Leith Theatre to discuss the proposals with a range of speakers including Leith Depot, LeithLate, Leith Recording Company and the Edinburgh University Students’ Association.

Joseph Taylor, of the Cockburn Association, has questioned whether the developer has conducted a thorough heritage assessment of the site. He added: “From what we have seen we have a number of concerns about the direction the case may be going in. We don’t feel a thorough heritage assessment has yet been made about the site, specifically the Leith Walk buildings.

“This is the demolition of not one, but an entire row of buildings in a conservation area. It is worth remembering that council policy guidance states proposals which fail to preserve or enhance character or appearance of a conservation area will normally be refused.

“It’s hard to see how erasing all the buildings along Leith Walk will preserve or enhance anything. Once heritage is lost it is very hard to replace.”

Drum told the Evening News that a heritage assessment is being undertaken and will form part of the detailed planning application which will be submitted next month.

The application however will not feature the existing buildings on Leith Walk with Drum feeling the structure is now “dilapidated”.

Ben Macpherson MSP said: “There is no need for the current sandstone building to be demolished and it shouldn’t be demolished – that has been my consistent position, and it’s clearly the widely shared view in Leith and beyond.”

Linda Somerville, of Save Leith Walk, said: “Our hope is still that ultimately we can develop a vision and plan for Leith to ensure it can flourish and persevere.”

It comes as a number of projects are considered too, including three-mile extension of the tramline from York Place to Newhaven if approved.

The proposed demolition of the buildings on Leith Walk will have a huge impact on the local businesses currently operating in those retail units, locals say.

The businesses have current tenancies with the last of those being Leith Depot which expires in October 2019.

Drum Property Group has offered each firm the chance to return to Leith Walk once the new development is in place with a reduced rent.

But concerns have been raised regarding the viability of those affected to find a temporary base elsewhere before returning to a new home. One of those is music venue Leith Depot, which announced it will likely close as a result of the proposals.

Other businesses affected include The bed shop, Punjabi Junction, Cassia, Charcoal Grill, Leith Walk Cafe, MagiKats, Eastern European Food while Lil P’s Boutique, VapourOhm, Barnardo’s and Mr Frangos Grill have already closed.

Drum communications director Fife Hyland said: “The existing buildings at Stead’s Place are no longer an economically viable investment for us.

“All of the leases in the development are due to expire and will not be renewed so the site will be vacant in 2019.

“While the plans are not final and we will continue to take into account the consultation response, those plans will not include the retention of the existing buildings.

“We feel our revised proposals incorporating a sympathetic design, with a mix of retail tenants and a live music venue will continue the rich traditional of diversity, independence and interest which makes Leith Walk such an exciting destination for which to live, work or visit.”