Saturday, 20 October, 2018 by
Writing: Ian Hood
Illustration: Mia Takemoto
Real estate developers Drum Property Group want to demolish a Leith landmark and built a massive student residence and linked hotel. This student residence is not aimed at homeless or poorly housed students. It is aimed at the highly lucrative overseas Post Graduate Taught market. If the building is completed then the University will add more courses and recruit the students with a guaranteed offer of accommodation – at a cost. The threatened building, 106 – 154 Leith Walk, is a long low sandstone building built in an Art Deco style over 80 years ago but known locally as the “new shops”. Up until a few months ago, it housed over 40 small and medium shops, pubs, recording studios, offices, and cafes. Behind the building were 7 commercial units housing a range of much larger business. Almost 300 people were employed. But now the developers have evicted almost all the businesses, thrown people out of work, and have boarded up the buildings with a view, letting them rot prior to demolition.
A city like Edinburgh is a vibrant and diverse community that flourishes because of the combination of all its parts. This development is just one of many that aims to cut off the working class part and turn it into a downmarket tourist experience, a kind of overflow area for the Grassmarket. Of course the working class has changed over the last 30 years. Now Leith has few dockers and a higher proportion of graduates, tech workers, and creative types than the rest of the city. Its cheap housing offered a chance for many people who wanted to stay in the city, work, and make a life of that opportunity. Our campaign has argued for two things from the start – first, to save the building and second, to build social housing for long term tenancies at the rear. Housing that would be available to all, including students – after all, shouldn’t students get decent housing too? We want to build a community for all in Leith. That’s why our campaign has had so much support. Saving buildings will attract some support, but keeping a community alive – that is real!
We have had over 12,000 sign the petition in support and over 3,000 planning objections to the development and demolition. Almost all of these objections were personalised with people’s own views. If we are serious about building a lasting change, then we have to take people with us. Because all of our objections are based on what are called “material considerations” – where the plans breach planning guidance – they cannot be simply ignored. The Council’s Planning Committee will need to consider these and we will know before the decision is made which way the “wind is blowing” and will act accordingly. But the sheer volume of objections has pushed any decision well back into 2019. Meanwhile the campaign is planning its next steps.
These include: · A Community Planning Workshop to develop an alternative plan for the building and the land at the rear. · A “Leith Development Trust” to look at the wider issue of how Leith should be shaped to meet the needs of its current and future residents. · A “Reopen the Shops” campaign to force temporary reopening of the boarded up shops until the future of the building is secured. We would welcome the support of students at the university, continuing to raise the question of the responsibility of the university authorities to the rest of the city. It continues to play an increasing part as a major economic force in the city and it cannot just wash its hands of the consequences of the actions of its partner developers.
To learn more about the Save Leith Walk campaign and how to get involved, check out their website: (http://saveleithwalk.org/) and follow them on social media.