It’s a familiar story for folk in Leith.
A large housing project gets the green light, but when it comes to construction it only later appears that no-one put any thought into the green space that locals would need.
Residents of Western Harbour know about this one. They’ve had to campaign hard just to get a small section of the huge brownfield site there opened up to the public and “temporarily greened” with extra public subsidy.
But further east its only now as new flats have started going up at Salamander Place that people have started to look hard at the deal planners did with the developers over wider infrastructure investment. And it looks somewhat odd.
The agreement planners signed with developers – called a “section 75 agreement” – includes the following payments:
- £16,000 – City Car Club
- £31,460 – St Mary’s Primary School
- £228,400 – Leith Academy
- £28,550 – Holyrood RC High School
- £928,840 – Tram Contribution
- £434,000 – Transport improvements in vicinity of development
- £9091 – Local Transport infrastructure improvments in the North Edinburgh Transport Action Plan
- £2000 – Legal costs of for implementing local Transport Regulation Orders
So that’s nearly £1m pounds for a tram line where the nearest stop will be some 2 miles away from the development, but absolutely nothing for green space improvements nearby.
Now when this deal was first mooted back in 2007, it probably looked more reasonable. A tram to Leith was still on the cards and Forth Ports hadn’t yet decided to rip up their plans to build thousands of houses on the docks. But in 2013, locals have looked again at the plans and asked whether those sums add up for a development of 780 flats on that site – particularly when more than 600 of the homes are of two bedrooms or larger.
As members of Leith Links Community Council have recently noted: that’s potentially a lot of kids.
At the moment all those kids will have to muck in with all the others in Leith who currently enjoy the oldest play equipment of any premier park in the city. Renewing this equipment and improving it usually comes top of any public consultation for improving the links – and has done since 2008.
For example, The Leith Links Ask consultation identified this issue as a priority at the same time as these deals were being negotiated, yet planners failed to make any provision for this in the section 75 agreement.
Greener Leith members have lobbied the Parks Department through the Leith Links Steering Group and the City Play Strategy consultation to prioritise investment in the play facilities on Leith Links. And on this issue there’s been some obfuscation to say the least. In 2011, the draft play strategy seemed to give a particularly poor deal to Leith, and possibly as a consequence of Greener Leith lobbying the council appeared to firm up a commitment to funding an upgrade of the play facilities in the park in 2014 (as well as agreeing to retain the small play park in Pilrig Park.)
However, a recent FOI request submitted by Greener Leith shows that this apparent cash commitment for Leith Links in the council play strategy didn’t extend to very much beyond changing the colour of the text in the final strategy document. Asked whether planning had started for the 2014 upgrade the official response was:
“This plan will require extensive external funding to meet the estimate of £400,000. Arrangements have been made for an officer to attend the next Leith Links Steering Group meeting to remind the group that we have an aspiration to provide a much improved play area in Leith for 2014 and to seek a way to progress this including plan consultation, funding applications etc.”
Nothing can be done to revisit the legal agreement with the developers of the Salamander place site as planning permission has been given and the contributions agreed. But that lack of any contribution towards upgrading Leith Links does look increasingly like a serious oversight. For where else will the cash come from to upgrade the play facilties in these straightened times?
And what of the Leith Links Extenstion?
Leith also has a relatively high population density compared to most parts of Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Greenspace Audit calculated that the average amount of open space per 1000 people in Edinburgh is 4.25 ha. In the Leith Partnership area this figure however is only 1.35ha, or about one third of what the average resident of Edinburgh enjoys.
The Salamander Place application also reserves the eastern part of that huge brownfield site between Leith Links and Salamander Street for a new bit of green park and a new ‘community fire station.’
The park was to be the first section of the “Leith Links extension” that was to run all the way to the coast as Leith Docks was redeveloped. We know that’s not going to happen now, so a further question locals are asking is what will happen to that proposed green space when the houses are finished?
The section 75 agreement with the Salamander Place developers has no provision for funding to establish the new green space, and given that the newly formed Fire and Rescue Scotland see more intent on closing fire stations than opening them, it seems questionable whether that facility will ever materialise.
The new Draft Local Development Plan – which is currently going through its tortuous approval process – at least gives some hope that this extra green space may yet become a reality as this extract from the plan below shows that the park still features in the plan . This makes it less likely that a new planning application will come forward to build more flats on that site.
But the fact remains that the council has not identified funding for upgrading the Leith Links play facilities or providing new green space in Leith – even as the population is set to expand and most of the big brown field sites earmarked for residential use are developed. At least there’s a million quid for the New Town trams.
If anyone have a spare £400,000 lying around for new play facilities we’d love to hear about it! Answers on a postcard please…