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March 12, 2008

Leith community group produce alternative masterplan

The docklands of Leith are never going to see commercial shipping again. The owners, Forth Ports, have a vision which will see a town the size of Falkirk built across the massive site. However, there is an alternative view


We would like to inform you of a major project in Edinburgh that is currently a live Outline Planning Application (OPA) sitting with the City of Edinburgh Council.
The Leith Docks site in question is owned by landowners Forth Ports PLC who bought the company inclusive of the land from the British Government in 1992 for £33 million. The site consists predominantly of reclaimed land and has approximately 180 Hectares of developable land.

The City of Edinburgh should be taking a stronger leading role in the Edinburgh waterfront and Leith Docks development. They are currently undervaluing the heritage and merits of the city and they are insufficiently forward thinking when it comes to sustainability standards and contemporary design.

With regard to the Leith Docks site, the City of Edinburgh Council have never been presented with a planning application of this size. It is on a par with the development of the Edinburgh New Town and the planned proposal presented by the winning scheme by James Craig in 1766. (The development of Edinburgh’s New Town was competition led. There were seven entries with six submitted by the deadline of May 21st 1766).

Over the next 30 years the Edinburgh waterfront is to have 30,000 new homes built along it. We are not against development and acknowledge the need for more housing stock within the city of Edinburgh. However, we fundamentally question the process, procedures and resulting quality of what is rapidly happening around us and especially along the Edinburgh waterfront. Within the city of Edinburgh more and more campaigns are growing up in order to challenge the planning committees decisions.

The Leith Docks site is huge and is greater in size than the New Town of Edinburgh. As the city of Edinburgh is internationally renowned for planning with the historic and chaotic Old Town and exemplary New Town. Leith Docks unique character presents an excellent opportunity to create a contemporary and forward thinking new area within the city worthy of internationally merit. This site is to have 50% of all the new housing proposed for the Edinburgh waterfront. 15,900 new homes will be built over the next few years, spread between 9 “Villages” as the current live OPA outlines.

Forth Ports PLC have commissioned a master plan framework from RMJM Architects. If granted Outline Planning the land value of the Forth Ports site will vastly escalate. Current land values range between £2 – £6 million per acre. The profit that could be gained on land sales from the Leith Docks site is clearly vast. It is estimated that it will easily quadruple the value of the current site.

We have now formed a group called JUMP (Joined Up Master Planning) to question the original document, the Leith Docks Development Framework and the RMJM master plan framework.

Since the beginning of December 2007 the JUMP group have met every Thursday between 6pm – 8pm at the AiA Art in Architecture offices at 2 Commercial Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JA. JUMP is an open interactive group, welcoming to anyone interested in the development of the Edinburgh Waterfront and Leith Docks site. It welcomes input from professionals and non professionals alike, sharing a common interest in the long term quality of their local environment.

Transport, Housing Forms and Urban Grain are some of the topics being explored through the JUMP design workshop.

Some JUMP Design Workshop Ideas
Green Landscape, Canals, Draining some of the docks for use as recreational space, Major Events Park, Carbon Free Zone, No Cars, Pedestrian Friendly, Road / Rail Bridge to Fife from the east end of the city and linking to the A1, short and long haul Ferry Terminal in addition to the Forth Ports Cruise Linear docking station, continuation of the Shore Area, emphasising the Water of Leith river edge and creating more human scale retail outlets and café / restaurant culture, Housing Forms of various types from one, two and three level family housing to large blocks of predominantly one and two bedroom housing set within green space and having green roof tops and multi use facilities, Self Sustaining Energy.

The outcomes from the JUMP design workshop highlighted shortcomings in the Leith Docks Development Framework (LDDF) document that resulted in the live Outline Planning Application (OPA) by Forth Ports PLC and the RMJM master plan framework currently being considered by the City of Edinburgh Council. The JUMP design workshop also highlighted positive and negative discrepancies between the LDDF and RMJM master plan framework.

(It should be noted that the LDDF document was originally commissioned by Forth Ports PLC’s chosen consultants and then submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council who then tweaked the document and put it out to public consultation following which it was then adopted by the city. Therefore, whenever RMJM or Forth Ports are questioned over the OPA they will always respond by saying that the material they have supplied complies with the LDDF documentation approved by the City of Edinburgh Council.)

It should also be noted that the UK planning process does not currently effectively enforce planning conditions onto developers. This shortcoming in UK Planning Legislation is one of the fundamental reasons for the poor quality of the contemporary built environment and public space generated around us. The written applications presented for planning approval may be slick and propose to deliver the highest standards of Aims and Objectives, Best Practice, Environmental Sustainability and Industry Standards. However, because of the inability in the UK Planning System to enforce these written criteria onto developers they inevitably wriggle out of providing anything more than the basic standards that they know they can get away with in order to achieve the highest level of profit. These points are understandable – but it is the long term quality of our environment that we have to look out for and not just the short term gain.

Generally, other national and international cities that go through major city and waterfront development projects have done so based on a major international event happening. Edinburgh – to date – does not have this incentive. The 30 year plan to develop the Edinburgh Waterfront is an unrealistic time frame. To make an impact the City of Edinburgh should be able to say that there is a phased development strategy to take between 5 – 10 years. That way people may take note