Another year has passed in which Leith Walk, our much-loved and iconic high street, continues to dominate our meetings. Depending who you’re talking to, Leith Walk, once designated as a pedestrian-friendly boulevard or, more recently, a dual carriageway with pedestrian-deterrent paving (if the current tram designs go ahead), continues to be a political football. Plagued by disruption and road works for over 12 long years, residents are fed up and sharply divided as to whether the trams, should the plans be approved, will actually benefit the area.
Our Transport sub-committee, already dealing with many large and complex planning applications, have had to pull out all the stops as the comparatively straight-forward Phases 4, 5 and 6 of the Leith Walk Programme transmogrified into proposals for the St James Centre, The Picardy Gyratory and the trams. Although some of these developments are actually outside our ward, they are affecting the LCCC area. For example the Abbeyhill Gyratory, temporarily created for the benefit of the construction traffic to and from the St James Centre, is causing serious traffic congestion and pollution. Looking at the St James Development in the long term, it will potentially have a far-reaching impact on the area in terms of housing, businesses, traffic, pollution and loss of genius loci.
In response to the prospect of another 5 years of upheaval and uncertainty, LCCC has agreed on a list of measures that we feel need to be implemented if the unique character of the Leith Walk and Easter Road area is to be safeguarded. They range a.o. from financial compensation for existing businesses to the improvement of green spaces and better active travel connections to green corridors. To maintain the social mix that makes Leith one of the most popular places to live in Edinburgh, LCCC has also agreed to object in principle to any further planning applications for student and/or hotel accommodation.
Over the past twelve months the Planning Committee made submissions on 12 applications, including 2 from major developments on the banks of the Water of Leith (while the nearby public Water of Leith walkway remains closed) as well as inappropriate proposals for conversions from retail premises to residential accommodation.
Apart from the Planning Committee we have started a number of new sub-groups: Communications and Co-operation, Parks and Parking. Our continued desire for ‘Clean Streets’ was added to the Transport Committee remit. The activities of these committees are detailed on the LCCC website and groups are active when there is a demand. Recently the Parking sub-group started a petition to ask CEC to look at ways of regulating parking in the area to reduce car use and air pollution. The Communications group have taken charge of keeping the notice board – now hopefully in its final location – up to date with paper-based information while they also maintain virtual presence on social media via Facebook and Twitter. Among one-off activities LCCC supported a community buy-out of the London Rd Church, which was unfortunately rejected by the Scottish Government. Another was Leith Chooses, a £120k participatory budgeting project funded by Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government in which all three Leith community councils collaborated. LCCC applied for funding to improve greenspaces in Leith but did not attract sufficient votes. LCCC also organised a hustings for last year’s General Elections which was attended by about 120 people.
On average our meetings are attended by between 20-90 persons. Numbers are especially high when emotive matters arise, such as the accommodation issues around Gaelic Medium Education and Steads Place radical re-development proposals. Also attending regularly are the local police and our local councillors, MSP and/or MP.
I would like to thank all members for their active support of LCCC and in particular those who have represented LCCC on other bodies and contributed to working groups and sub committees, which require an additional input of time and effort. A particular thanks goes to Bruce Ryan, our Minutes Secretary, who is responsible for our improved presence online and our clear and concise paperwork.
Charlotte Encombe – Chair