The hostility between citizens and property developers continue to increase while the public battle to preserve the community of Leith Walk. Campaigners led by the grassroots organisation Save Leith Walk have been working endlessly to prevent the destruction of the area’s heritage. The petition has received backing from many high-profile figures including Jeremy Corbyn and Edinburgh’s much-loved novelist Irvine Welsh.
Plans to demolish many buildings along Leith Walk have caused uproar within the local community. As house prices continue to rise across Edinburgh, Leith remains one of the more affordable areas to live, maintaining a thriving community where businesses remain predominantly independent.
Drum Property Group have proposed a comprehensive planning application for the demolition of Leith Walk’s buildings (no. 106-154), making way for new student accommodation blocks capable of housing 532 students, a 56-bedroom hotel, and 6-7 storey high buildings. Amongst all the redevelopment, only 53 flats have been deemed ‘affordable’.
Amidst nationwide governmental rows over the lack of affordable and social housing, it is staggering to see such an example of inefficient property development taking place, making no real attempt to amend the ever-pressing housing crisis.
Architectural drawings revealed earlier this year were met with much disapproval. Endless high-rise properties will drastically alter the area’s unique architectural landscape and create a sense of enclosure on what is currently a broad and open street. Additional criticisms of the plans highlight the lack of both car and bicycle parking, only leading to a more chaotic lined street with decreased accessibility to locals.
Save Leith Walk have attacked developers for undermining the historical significance of the street. Leith Walk celebrates a rich history, owing its name to its pedestrianised past. The walk has continually provided an integral route connecting Leith’s port to Edinburgh’s centre, an alternative to the longer Easter and Wester Roads which we now know as Bonnington and Broughton Road. After the completion of North Bridge in 1772, Leith Walk superseded these to become the predominant transport link.
Fearful uncertainty looms over Leith’s residents as several local businesses and community groups face eviction. One such example is Punjabi Junction; a brilliant social enterprise community café, providing minority ethnic women with employment and training in an attempt to reduce social exclusion.
While developers insist they will provide opportunities for businesses currently facing onto Leith Walk to reclaim their tenancy after two years, it remains uncertain how easy or affordable this will be. Even with an agreement allowing tenants to return, a two-year period relocated elsewhere puts huge financial strains on businesses. If developers want to avoid eroding this community atmosphere, they should be prioritizing citizens’ needs, creating alternative solutions for local enterprises whose livelihoods rely on the street’s infrastructure. Failure to do so will only reaffirm current opinions that this regeneration is purely a profit-motivated project.
Following the government’s decision to lift the cap on the number of students accepted into universities in 2015, cities across the UK are feeling the pressure to provide housing solutions to an ever increasing student population. Although it is brilliant to see an increasing number of people attending university, we must remain mindful of its consequences.
An influx of students now competing with locals’ need for housing raises issues similarly associated with Airbnb properties. Unfortunately student lodging often fundamentally deprives citizens of the housing which could have alternatively stood in its place. The majority of students live only part of the year in Edinburgh and bear no real attachment to their accommodation, often leading to a dissociation with the community. Despite this, government figures still include student accommodation in their overall housing targets.
Examples of a more efficient use of space can be seen close by at Shrub Hill where a former derelict site on Brownfield land is being re-purposed into 226 affordable homes, 76 of which will be for social rent. The Places for People project, launched in 2016 (due for completion in 2020), saw no demolition. Surely there are more inclusive and accommodating ways to meet the housing demands of both students and the city’s residents.
Image: Richard Webb via Creative Commons