Leith Walk

Thousands of new homes moving off the drawing board?

Digger at seafield

Many of us may still be feeling the impact of the banking crash and the recession that followed, but a flurry of activity on local brownfield sites suggests that property developers are suddenly feeling more positive about the future.

All over Leith, sites which have seemingly been mothballed for years have suddenly seen some kind of action. It looks as though thousands off new homes are set to start moving off the drawing board and into reality over the coming months.

As the photo above shows, the diggers have started preparing the ground at the former Eastern General site at Seafield. There are 155 new homes proposed for this site, or which 70 will be for social rent, and 70 for “mid-market rent.”

At Shrubhill, both the adjacent Shrub Place site and the site at Shrubhill House have been sold to new owners in recent weeks.

Shrubhill brownfield site

Although Retties, the sales agent for both sites, wouldn’t confirm it, they also didn’t deny the rumour that the Shrub Place site is likely to be developed by one or more housing associations.

Despite an earlier plan hatched by the council with local housing associations to build around 340 homes for mid-market rent on the site falling through, we’d not be surprised if a similar plan with a marginally different financing model, involving the same organisations and possibly Retties themselves, is announced in the coming weeks.

Retties are no stranger to these sorts of deals. As we previously reported, the firm is already a partner in an existing deal with Forth Ports and the City of Edinburgh Council to develop a site at Western Harbour for more “mid-market rent” flats.

Meanwhile, demolition work has already begun on next door Shrubhill house, where new owners Ziggurat Student Living say they will have completed a new development on the site comprising 260 student bedrooms and five commercial units in time for the new 2015 academic intake.

Big Society

Whilst many are happy to see the derelict shell of “The Big Society Headquarters” come down, disquiet has also been expressed at the uninspiring design of the new building that is set to replace it.

Student flats are a bit of thing in the Leith walk ward, although arguably they’re not yet as contentious in Leith as they have become in other parts of the city. As well as the 260 student flats under construction at Shrubhill Place, Ziggurat are also building around 276 student bedrooms at nearby Murano Place.

Further up Leith Walk at Haddington Place another proposal for a development incorporating around 200 student bedrooms is in the process of gaining planning approval. And of course this development will be just over the road from the 155 student flats on the old Gateway Theatre site.

Another long standing derelict site on the edge of Pilrig Park, at 18 Tenant Street, is also the subject of a planning application for 49 homes. The proposals have attracted objections from Leith Central Community Council and the Friends of Pilrig Park. You can read their comments in the latest set of draft minutes from LCCC.

And lastly, the Evening News revealed this week that Cala Homes, who have a history of building where others couldn’t in Leith, are to set to take over where Baratts failed at another long standing brownfield site in the area – the former Royal Mail sorting office site at Brunswick Place.

Early indications suggest Cala are going to go for a plan that involves 180 homes on the site, down from the 241 flats proposed by Barratts. According the Evening News, Cala will reveal more details of the intial plans for the site at public consultation events at two public exhibitions.

The first will be held at McDonald Road Library on Tuesday from 4.30pm to 7.30pm, and the second event will take place on August 23 from 11am to 2pm.

Have you seen any other signs of building work in Leith recently? Get in touch to let us know.

Picardy Place revamp ideas unveiled by Sustrans

Picardy Place ideas from Sustran

Active travel charity Sustrans have released an “ideas” document outlining their vision for the future of Picardy Place.

The designs show an extended tram line running down Leith Walk with a stop at Picardy Place.

Instead of a huge round-about, traffic arriving at the top of Leith Walk must navigate a cross-roads at the top of Broughton Street.

In these plans Leith Street would be restricted entirely to buses, cyclists and pedestrians, save for vehicle access to the St James Quarter via Calton Road.

The plans provide space for excellent quality public transport interchange facilities on Picardy Place, and seem to elaborate on earlier proposals from the charity that sought to cut the number of buses that use Princes Street. The idea being that good quality integrated public transport interchanges make it far easier to cut the number of “through routes.”

To some these plans may seem radical, but Sustrans do hold some sway at the council.

There are already proposals to do away with the roundabout in its current form, and some form of hotel on the site looks inevitable to accommodate the King James Thistle Hotel whilst the St James Centre is rebuilt, even if locals have reservations about the size of it.

Additionally, the council is to commission investigative work as part of a £300,000 study (half-funded by Sustrans) into how the new dedicated cycle lanes on George Street can be linked with the Sustrans funded lanes which are to be built between Pilrig Street and Picardy Place on Leith, with a view to seeking further match funding from, yes, Sustrans to help pay for any final design proposal.

Roseburn to Picardy Place missing cycle links

And of course the council has also been given the green light to borrow £61m from the “not a penny more for the Edinburgh tram” Scottish Government, in order to fund public realm improvements in the area.

Given all this, it would seem that some of the ideas in this Sustrans discussion document might actually fly. What do you think of them?

Council plans for 20mph speed limits almost everywhere

Leith 20mph Map

This week the council are to be applauded for listening to local residents and publishing detailed proposals that would see the speed limit lowered to 20mph on virtually all the streets of Leith that doesn’t already have a 20mph limit.

Every road in the map above that’s coloured blue could be made safer.

If implemented, the proposals would help to cut road deaths, and cut air pollution, by encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

In fact, it’s probably about the single cheapest public health measure that’s available.

Professor Danny Dorling makes the case exceptionally well in this 2011 video.

We’ve shared it before, a long time ago, but now, given that the council is about to embark on a detailed 20mph consultation in the neighbourhood, it seems like a good time to share it again.

Lest you think, this all seems somewhat academic, and not really relevant to Leith, consider these salient points.

The roads around Leith schools have a poor safety record.

Road accidents are the biggest killer of young people in the UK, and we know that the roads around Leith Primary Schools have some of the worst records on road safety in the whole of Edinburgh and the UK.

The most dangerous roads are the “main shopping streets.”

We already know that it is that is usually the very old who are killed in road accidents in Leith, and that accidents of all kinds tend overwhelmingly to happen on the main roads – not the ones which are already 20mph, as this map shows.

20mph limits work in Edinburgh.

20mph limits do tackle the barriers that put people off walking and cycling. This evaluation of a pilot project in the south of Edinburgh shows that people felt the streets were safer for cycling, and that they were more likely to let their children play in the streets, following the introduction of the 20mph zone.

20mph limits on Leith Walk have virtually no effects on bus services

In days gone by, Lothian Buses were caught out lobbying against 20mph speed limits on bus routes. But after a bit of heroic citizen science which strongly indicated that a 20mph speed limit would make virtually no difference to the time a bus takes to move along Leith Walk, it would appear the firm is now supportive of 20mph limits, provided they’re not enforced using speed bumps.

Something needs to be done about air pollution in Leith.

Air pollution in Edinburgh is linked to 205 deaths each year. People living on key roads in Leith like Great Junction Street, Commercial Street, London Road, Salamander Street, Leith Walk and Easter Road all live with dangerous levels of air pollution. Here’s the stats in this 2013 report.

Community support for 20mph limits is already well established in Leith

Frankly, Leithers have been consulted to death on this already. Whilst, it would be wrong to say there’s a consensus, there’s a pretty clear view that has emerged in favour of 20mph limits on main shopping streets. This local support mirrors strong support city wide for lower limits, and indeed, more and more cities across the UK have implemented similar measures.

Not really so radical?

Given all this, a plan to slow traffic down a little bit, in an area where the majority of households have no access to a car, doesn’t really seem that radical.

That is, unless you’re the Evening News, who seem to think that despite all the evidence to the contrary, Leith Walk is “expected ” to remain at 30mph, and that Leithers will bin these “radical plans.”

Exactly who, other than the Evening News sub editors expects this, remains unclear, from their article.

Now might be a good time to contact your councillor

Whilst formal local consultation processes are still to be announced, if you think 20mph limits on all roads in Leith would be a good idea, it wouldn’t do any harm to make your views known to your local councillor.

We’ll update this blog when we know more about the formal local consultation proposals.

Now Leith has the best bus stop in Edinburgh

Leith Late Henderson Street

Thanks to artist Russell Dempster and Leith Late, Henderson Street is now the location of the best bus stop in Edinburgh.

The new artwork, a portrait and celebration of another Leith artist Eduardo Paolozzi, is a truly inspired transformation of a neglected eye-sore shop front.

It’s a brilliant addition to the growing panopoly of Leith Late artworks, although whether the work ‘imortalises’ Poalozzi as claimed by The Scotsman, is debatable.

The unintentionally sad side effect of making long-derelict shop units more appealing, is that all of a sudden, letting agents decide there’s a chance the shop could be bought back into use* and attach garish signage all over the very artwork that makes the shop more attractive in the first place.

Yes, Edinburgh Commercial Property, this is about you, and what you’ve done to the Guido van Helten artwork on Leith Walk.

Leith Late Leith Walk

*Of course it would be a good thing if any derelict shop is bought back into use, but are those signs really necessary?

You can read more about street art in Leith, in this excellent round up on Edinburgh Spotlight.

Leith tram plans to be considered before end of year

Tram Leith Walk

Recent council papers seem to have confirmed rumours that serious thought is already being given to extending the Edinburgh tram line to Leith, despite senior Scottish Government figures previously insisting it wouldn’t happen for a generation.

But first, there’s the reinstatement works to be got through.

A tender for the next phase of these works covering the Foot of the Walk to Pilrig Street is expected to be finalised within weeks, even though aspects of the design remain in dispute. Work is expected to take eight months, which means it might, just about, be finished in time for next spring.

The ludicrously arcane nature of the Roads Scotland Act means that the unresolved disagreements between local traders and the council can only be sorted out by a £20,000+ public hearing.

Most of the outstanding objections focus on the provision of loading bays and parking spaces on the northbound side of the street.

Businesses including Junkadelic and Woodland Creatures objected to the proposals on the basis that they needed a loading bay nearby in order to receive deliveries. In the case of Woodland Creatures this objection seemed particularly reasonable given the weight of beer kegs – they’re not easy things to lug around.

A funeral director on the street has also threatened to move from the street entirely as a consequence of the new design of the street.

The council responded to these objections by offering to install an extra loading bay just down the hill at 226 Leith Walk, and including extra parking spaces elsewhere, but as some of the businesses still do not deem the proposals acceptable, the council now plans to simply build around the disputed areas in order to avoid any further delay.

Officials estimate that the legal processes associated with the public hearing could slow progress on the reinstatement works by 18 months if they did not take this approach.

If the hearing finds in favour of the council, could the businesses in question have scored a spectacular Pyrrhic victory as this would apparently mean the council would have to come back in a second pass to finish the job?

Leith Walk reinstatement budget passes £10million

On the other hand, perhaps those Leith businesses might know something we don’t.

If the tram route is to be extended down Leith Walk relatively soon perhaps holding up the improvement works is a sensible idea, as all the building works may end being done at the same time.

Afterall, it seems to be anyone’s guess whether the reinstatement workers who are scheduled to work their way up from the Foot of the Walk to Picardy Place over the next few years could end up meeting the tram workers laying rails coming down the street from the New Town.

Politicians still maintain that no formal decision to extend the tram line into Leith has been taken, but papers reveal that the reason for the latest budget increase in the Leith reinstatement process is that further works are to be undertaken to “tram proof” the street.

Specifically, “voids” discovered under the road at Baxter’s Place apparently need to be made safe for trams to run over them at a cost of £1million. This new £1million cost follows the allocation of £3.4million to the Leith Programme by the Scottish Government – ostensibly to remove the London Road roundabout to make it safer for cyclists.

It just so happens that removing the roundabout also fits nicely with the tram design too.

Lastly, perhaps the biggest clue that trams might be coming to Leith sooner rather than later is that officials have admitted that they plan to use a thinner than normal road surface on Leith Walk where the tram rails will run, in an effort to ‘minimise abortive costs.’ This would seem to suggest that council officials expect it to be dug up again almost as soon as it has been laid.

Would all this be happening if any tram extension had really been shelved for another generation?

Timescales

Whatever happens the council has confirmed it has until 2021 to start work on the Leith line before their planning permission runs out, and the Leith Walk reinstatement works aren’t due to be completed until the Winter of 2016, as the works timetable above shows.

In the meantime, expect months and months of more road works. Leithers can also look forwards to the end of 2014, when “a report detailing…the possible extension of the line will be prepared for consideration by Committee/Council.”