A new report has put a £4.8m price tag on a proposal for a new ‘raised park’ that could be built on around 550m of disused railway line that runs between Pilrig Park and Halmyre Street.
Drawing inspiration from similar projects in New York and Paris, the project would create a new landmark bridge, and a public path with dramatic views over Leith by landscaping the area on top of two former railway viaducts.
The most high profile aspect of the project would be the construction of a new bridge over Leith Walk that would link up two railway viaducts.
The idea is not a new one. Local architects Smith Scott Mullen and Ross McEwan have both proposed similar schemes over the years, and following this, in 2008, Greener Leith had some success persuading planners to protect the land needed for the project in the local masterplan for the area so that if money could be found to complete the project, it could still go ahead.
More recently the idea received public backing from local people when it came in as the third most popular idea in our 2012 Vision for Leith Walk consultation.
And in the last few years another local architect, Biomorphis, have produced designs for the project.
However, the big barrier preventing progress on the project has been the absence of any detailed costings or feasibility studies. But with funding from the City of Edinburgh Council and the Central Scotland Greenspace Network, the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust has recently undertaken a more detailed study.
The charity has published the executive summary, adding that it is ‘taking the proposals forward…as and when resources allow.’
The report proposes developing the western end of the park first, running from Pilrig Park to Leith Walk.
This alone would cost £1.25m, concluding at its eastern end with new stairs and a lift down to street level on Leith Walk.
The Biomorphis proposal for the bridge over Leith Walk has been costed at £713,000, whilst the eastern end of the park, which would run along Manderston Street viaduct would cost up to £2.3m depending on how the park is connected with the street at the Halmyre Street end.
The study outlines two different options for bringing the path down to street level at its eastern end. The most pricey option is to build steps into the viaduct.
Whilst a slightly cheaper option would be build a new tower on the other side of Halmyre Street, and bring the steps down there. This second option would shave around £400,000 off the total cost of the project.
The final cost of the whole project could in fact be larger than the £4.8m figure quoted as the authors say they have excluded a number of costs including things such as purchasing land, the costs of compulsory purchase orders, and land decontamination.
And whilst these figures may seem remarkably high for around 550m of park, the authors point to the potential of the project to stimulate investment in the area. A similar project in New York, 12 years on, is said to attract more than 3.7 million visitors a year, and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of private investment – and tax revenue for the city – in the surrounding area.
Even if The Leith Bridge attracted a fraction of those numbers, the cost of building it starts to seem less disproportionate to the potential benefits.
The council is currently consulting on a new ‘economic framework’ for Leith. Yet though the draft framework appears to confirm that the chances of any significant investment in the docks for off-shore wind turbine manufacture are now receding The Leith Bridge project doesn’t get a mention in the consultation – even though the idea has proven local backing and the council part funded the feasibility report.
We know Scottish Enterprise have spent at least £2.5m of tax payer cash on Leith Docks in a seemingly failed effort to create jobs there, perhaps its time our regeneration agencies started looking further inland?
You can read the executive summary of the Leith Bridge feasibility study in full here.
Update: An earlier version of this post said the park was 250m long. The true figure is 550m.