A new home for Edinburgh’s festivals is set to be created in and around the surviving Granton gasholder, which has been overlooking the Firth of Forth for a century.
Its rebirth as a “multifunctional public space” is expected to be the catalyst for the complete transformation of the waterfront, which is said to be the biggest regeneration project of its kind in Scotland.
The first work to restore the 157ft-tall landmark and create a new “Gasholder Park” is planned to start in January and take around 16 months to complete, if councillors approve a £19m contract this week.
Open-air music and theatre events, light installations, water features and sculptures are all proposed under the project, which is being largely bankrolled by the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund.
A flexible greenspace circled by trees and hedges will be created for the heart of the space inside the gasholder, while the outer ring of the new attraction will also have six distinct areas linked by a circular walkway.
Council chiefs want Granton to become home to one of the world’s biggest coastal parks under a planned £1.3 billion regeneration of the waterfront area over the next 15 years.
Other key elements include the creation of 3,500 new ‘net zero carbon homes’, a new primary school, medical centre, and walking and cycling routes.
Council leader Cammy Day said: “It’s great news we’re now at a point, with committee approval, we can appoint a contractor using the money we received from the UK Government levelling up fund to get spades in the ground to restore this iconic structure as a centrepiece for the area.
"The gasholder sits at the heart of our £1.3bn regeneration project to transform Granton Waterfront. Using brownfield land, we’re developing a sustainable 20-minute neighbourhood it’s residents will be proud of.
"It will be an area where people live in affordable environmentally friendly homes, have excellent transport and active travel links and access to lots of open and green space, arts, sports and culture.”
Dating back to 1903, the surviving gasholder was one of three built for the Granton gasworks, which closed in 1987. It was saved from demolition by developers in 2015 after protests were raised by heritage experts and has been earmarked for restoration by the city council after it took ownership of the former gasworks site in 2018.
More than £16m in UK Government funding for the Gasholder Park project was secured last year by the city council, which has since been consulting community groups on possible uses for the landmark.
Among the most popular suggestions were festivals, markets, concerts and theatre events, while there was also strong support for water features, light installations and sculptures to be introduced.
An official report for the city council on the proposed appointment of contractors McLaughlin & Harvey Limited said there had already been “strong interest” in staging events in and around the gasholder from the city’s festivals sector.
Paul Lawrence, the council’s executive director of place, said: “The gasholder forms part of the wider Granton waterfront regeneration, which will create a new coastal town home to around 8,000 people on Edinburgh’s waterfront. The restored structure will become a key anchor for phase one of the regeneration, acting as an enabler for the surrounding plots.
"The project will ensure placemaking is achieved from the outset, while restoring and stabilising the structure so that the plots surrounding the gas holder can be built out safely.”
Planning permission has already been secured for the restoration of the gasholder, while a new blueprint for the Gasholder Park development has just been lodged with the council. The blueprint states: “The central green space has purposefully been kept free from any physical features to allow flexible use for public events.
"An inner ring walk will provide access around the edge of the gasholder space. This will have a series of six mixed-use spaces arranged around its inner edge, offering separate spaces for art, relaxation and interpretation, and three play spaces for children of differing ages. To the outer edge of the ring walk, a circular planting bed with high quality seating will frame the edge of the space and help to direct visitors through the gasholder guide frame.”
The blueprint said the Gasholder Park was being designed to become home to both semi-permanent and temporary or pop-up works of art and installations. It adds: "The large, central green space has been designed as a flexible, multi-use area at the heart of the gasholder. It will benefit from electricity supply provision, and will be lit via lighting columns at three of the six entrance pathways, making it usable for a wide range of events and activities.
"An electricity hook-up point will be included to facilitate digital works and to light features at night. There are also opportunities to introduce temporary or permanent artworks within the centre of the gasholder, and around the main entrance route to the south east.”
A major new cultural attraction for Granton is being planned by the National Galleries of Scotland as part of a bid to create a “living archive” for the storage, conservation and research of some of the country’s most important art paintings, drawings and sculptures.
A sculpture garden, “event lawn”, wildflower meadows, allotments and nature trails will be created as part of The Art Works project, which is also expected to see large-scale works of art go on display outdoors.
New hubs for the creative industries are due to be created at Granton’s historic former railway station on Waterfront Avenue and a warehouse on West Shore Road.