Read Kez’s latest Edinburgh Evening News column:
I was out campaigning on Easter Road at the weekend when a lady refused my leaflet and said ‘you politicians are all the same’!
I said ‘I look nothing like Jeremy Corbyn; – she laughed and we started to chat.
She was born in 1933. “Same year they built those shops on Leith Walk they’re trying to tear down – that’s a disgrace!”
She didn’t want her name known, she’s not one for the limelight, but we had a lovely long chat about her life. It was tinged with sadness, but she was full of fight and keen to tell me she’d signed the petition to Save Leith Walk.
Her signature joins thousands of others in an attempt to protect a section of the Walk’s heritage. Read the campaign’s website and you’ll find the whole history of the buildings and their link to the old railway yard that sat behind it. You’ll also find details of the man who designed it, information about the materials used and its architectural importance – which is not insignificant.
Ultimately though, the campaign is a battle for the soul and diversity of Leith. Leith Depot’s live music offerings sit comfortably next to the Punjabi Junction – an amazing social enterprise designed to bring Sikh women out of their homes and in to the community. I’ve had the best dal of my life there, and made the worst chapatis in their kitchen during a cooking lesson.
If the plan to knock these buildings down and replace them with a block of student flats that will sleep 500 succeeds, all this be lost. Yes, curries can be made in another kitchen, and songs can be sung in another place, but it will fundamentally and irreparably change this community.
Shops come and go, trends rise and fall, but this is an issue of planning for the future. It’s structural and fundamental. It will set the tone for who will live, work and relax in this bit of the town for years to come.
Over the years, I’ve often been on the unpopular side of planning arguments. I was passionately pro tram from the beginning. Hell, I even campaigned for the doomed city congestion charge because I believed it was necessary to bring the step change in public transport use that the city needed.
I’ve also been reluctant to outright oppose major housing developments across the city. For me you can’t accept the desperate need to build tens of thousands of affordable homes across the country, and then oppose every attempt to do just that. Most of my scrutiny is therefore focused on the mix of properties, the transport infrastructure to support them and the schools and amenities needed to ensure it’s a community we build, not just houses.
This proposed development in Leith won’t build a community, but it will damage an existing one.
There are two live planning applications open for this development: one to knock the existing buildings down; and another to build the new complex. If you are opposed to this development, please take the time to respond to both on the city council’s website. You can find out how to do so on the campaign’s excellent website.
The developers are pulling out all the stops to get this built, including paying people to knock doors and walk the streets to drum up support for the development. As much as I don’t like that, they are entitled to do it. What they are not entitled to do though, is run the community into the ground over the next 12 months to make some sort of redevelopment inevitable.
Putting up hoardings on the empty buildings is an unnecessary and divisive tactic. If the developers want to develop some goodwill in the community, they should immediately take these down and create short-term opportunities for local retailers and organisations to take advantage of the space.
Their failure to do so will only prove what everyone knows anyway, they’re motivated by profit – not the people of Leith.