Posted by Ged in March's Magazine
I very much hope you are enjoying a pint, or perhaps a coffee, whilst being entertained by this month’s magazine, in one of Leith’s many hostelries and cafes. Unfortunately, while you are sipping or supping, Forth Ports – under the guise of Forth Energy – are planning to change Leith forever and our interests are the least of their concerns. The promised parks, waterside walkways, cafes and hi-tech businesses are now a pipedream. Instead it is proposing to rip up its vision of a world class waterfront development and replace it with a power station.
Give them their due it’s not just any old power station, it’s the size of 17 football pitches and 65 metres high, it will dominate the skyline for miles, dwarfing existing buildings and belching fumes skyward through a 130m high chimney. Will it be built in some far off location? Nope, it will be a stones throw from The Malmaison and existing housing.
Over the past few years Forth Ports have been selling us, and the rest of Edinburgh, a vision of a new waterfront development that would be the envy of the world. People invested their hard earned money buying into that vision (from housing to new businesses), well it seems that this vision was a lie. Across the world, cities are developing their waterfronts into destinations for tourists and businesses alike with parklands and restaurants that enjoy panoramic views across water.
We were told Edinburgh, a World Heritage Site, would be no different; Forth Ports wowed us with images of cafe culture, an expanded Leith Links and inland waterways. In the original waterfront development plan they reckoned the Scottish economy would benefit to the tune of 7,000 long-term jobs, many in the Leith area itself. Some of those exist in the restaurants, bars and shops that sprung up in the area but are now under threat. What happened? They got greedy. The property crash put a hefty dent in their portfolio so they turned their gaze elsewhere. Now, it seems instead we are being offered up to 75 long-term jobs in a Power station! It beggars belief, until you realise that Forth Energy are reputed to be looking to benefit from £1 billion of public subsidy under the Government’s Renewables Obligation. These subsidises are in turn distorting the market and pushing the price of wood up and so threatening jobs in industries reliant upon it.
The Wood Panel Industries Federation has identified 8,900 UK jobs threatened by the planned Biomass projects; over 1,000 of those would be in Scotland. On top of this, thousands of other jobs in related industries are also threatened. Forth Energy dress all this up as ‘being environmentally conscious’, don’t be fooled, it’s not the environment they are thinking of it’s share prices and shareholders.
Harmless enough idiots
Over the couple of years I’ve been writing this column I have on occasion considered Forth Ports Authority as a bunch of harmless enough idiots who lacked vision and competence, people who merrily stumbled from one poorly executed plan to another. They had, by their own admission, built Ocean Terminal the wrong way round, thus blocking the waterfront view it would have enjoyed and the Royal Yacht Britannia – a major tourist attraction. The flats it did build showed little planning or co-ordination and were devoid of architectural significance. Their legacy thus far is those flats, a shopping centre sandwiched between two concrete car parks, a casino and an Asda.
However I did them a disservice. They are not a benign, bumbling, bunch of buffoons who need the likes of us to keep them enlightened, they are voracious capitalists who are out to wring every last penny out of the once publicly owned asset they have got their hands on, even if it means the people of Leith living in reduced circumstances whilst they line their pockets. ‘Greed is Good’ was Gordon Gekko’s cry in the iconic 1980s film Wall Street, The Forth Ports board has warmly embraced that mantra.
This is not only about whether people are for or against Green Energy, this is about a bloody great power station being built in the heart of a re-born community. The people of Leith are living with a feudal neighbour who came across public land thanks to the generosity of Thatcher’s Tories and is now ripping them off. They may not be levying direct taxes but they are draining money from every Leither into their own coffers. It will destroy existing jobs. Who wants to sit outside a pub next to a power station? It will dissuade new businesses from locating to the area. It will destroy property prices; who wants to buy a flat next to a power station? It may even have an adverse effect on the health of residents; remember the fumes from that chimney.
The actual plans submitted are contrary to many of the Council’s own planning guidelines and there are rumblings from the World Heritage authorities, in February the Scotsman wrote: ‘A Unesco report published in June 2009 was highly critical of the handling of major developments like Caltongate and Haymarket, both of which involved controversial tall buildings, as well as emerging plans for Leith’s docklands. The Haymarket scheme was scaled back after being turned down by the Scottish Government. The new guidelines for Edinburgh’s waterfront include a presumption against new buildings more than six storeys high.’
Dash for cash
Despite these guidelines, Forth Energy is ploughing on with the application, so what can be done? Is there a modern day Robin Hood out there to free us from the tyranny of these robber barons? The No Leith Biomass Group have fought hard, organising demonstrations at the Parliament and gathering letters of objection to the planning application – their next target is the City Council, and lobbying local councillors – however it requires citizens from all of Edinburgh to get behind them to show the Council that what Leith needs is a coherent plan that provides sustainable growth and builds on what has been achieved so far and not just a quick dash for cash.
Leithers deserve better than this grubby attempt to rip them off, too often Leith is treated as second class, somewhere that isn’t quite Edinburgh and so not deserving of the same treatment as those living in Morningside or the New Town and yet this time it will affect all of Edinburgh, this behemoth will scar the city’s skyline. Leith’s hard won reputation for world-class restaurants will also be endangered. Let us hope the council stand tall in the face of Forth Ports’ bullying – although it is the Scottish Parliament that will have the final say. Who knows, maybe Forth Ports will have a magical Scrooge like re-invention, waking up to the error of their ways and discovering civic responsibility. Somehow I think not, but we can live in hope.
Picture from: www.leithandnorth.org.uk