Developer faces a battle
£50m Leith plan facing objections
New look: older buildings will be replaced by a new ‘vibrant’ community
Developers behind a £50 million plan to ‘transform’ the centre of Leith face a battle with tenants who are determined to stop it going ahead.
Drum Property Group has submitted an application to replace a row of buildings near the foot of busy Leith Walk with affordable homes, student accommodation, a hotel, restaurant, cafe and and retail units.
The 2.9-acre Stead’s Place site has been earmarked for development by Edinburgh Council since 2008, and is currently an industrial estate and office space, fronted by shops and bars. All current tenants’ short-term leases on the site are now coming to an end in anticipation of the redevelopment.
Drum’s development vision is to transform the entire site and street-facing buildings into a destination in its own right, and tenants have been invited to return when it is complete.
However, a number are resisting the plan and have told Daily Business they will not be forced out. There has been some investment by traders, including the transformation of the notorious Meridian bar into the popular live music venue Leith Depot. Objectors feel the area is being transformed in the wrong way by introducing too many transitory students into a community built around local businesses.
The proposals have already been comprehensively revised following an extensive consultation programme with the Leith Walk community. This has included five days of public exhibitions, setting up a community liaison group – plus regular update meetings with tenants, local community groups and stakeholders.
Graeme Bone, group managing director of Drum, said: “We have listened to the often passionate views of the local traders and community and we understand the importance of maintaining a distinctive and independent feel for this important stretch of Leith Walk – whilst bringing a bold, modern development for a confident and diverse Leith.
Leith Depot is a live music venue occupying the former and notorious Meridian bar
“The existing buildings at Stead’s Place are no longer an economically viable investment and we propose to invest £50 million in a new mixed-use development when all of the existing tenants move out and the site is completely vacant in 2019.
“Our proposals will bring an added dimension to Leith Walk, opening up what is currently an inhospitable industrial site by creating a vibrant, contemporary and accessible community for residents and visitors alike.”
Much of the recent consultation and debate surrounding Drum’s proposals focus on the row of retail units, cafes and the live music venue facing directly on to Leith Walk. This remains an important part of Drum’s planning application, with all current tenants invited, with favourable contract terms, to be part of the new retail development which will front on to Leith Walk.
Almost three acres of potential development space linking to Pilrig Park and beyond. Drum says that although the University of Edinburgh will be the key tenant, the end vision “is not the usual student-led development”.
At its heart will be a contemporary 56-room hotel to be operated by the university “which will act as a vibrant focal point for the local community and students alike.”
It will include more shared space accessible to the whole community throughout the day and evening.
There will be 53 affordable one, two and three-bedroom housing units developed by Places for People linked through accessible and landscaped walkways and cycle routes to Pilrig Park and the rest of the city.
It was recently announced that existing tenants – charity Sikh Sanjog and its affiliated community enterprise the Punjabi Junction Café – will return to the new development.
Hilary Jones, Trustee of Sikh Sanjog, said: “Working in the existing building, we appreciate better than most that it requires modernising and redevelopment – and we are keen to return to brand new premises after relocating for a couple of years.”
Drum will continue to work closely with the Leith Walk community during all stages of the development process. There are plans to incorporate artwork created by the local community into the fabric of the main buildings, including creating large murals and stained glass windows on prominent corners facing Leith Walk.
Mr Bone added: “We want our proposed development to become a blueprint for introducing modern, contemporary design into the urban landscape without sacrificing the individuality and vibrancy that makes Leith unique.
“Our revised proposals, incorporating sympathetic design with an eclectic mix of residential accommodation, hotel, restaurant, retail tenants and a stand-out live music venue, will continue the rich tradition of diversity, independence and interest which makes Leith Walk such an exciting destination in which to live, work and visit.”