Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Boardwalk Empire Anyone?

Rob Munn reports on a radical new proposal for the Water of Leith Basin

Pardon the title! I'm not likening the Shore to hit US TV show Boardwalk Empire but Sandport Boadwalk is the working title for a plan to change the Water of Leith basin as we know it.
Some years back a company called Water of Leith 2000 put forward plans for barges along the shore line for use as houseboats. However the plans changed to office use and today the barges moored between Malmaison and the Ship on the Shore house a variety of offices.

Expansion of this scheme upstream through the inner basin and on to Bonnington weir at the Quilts had so far not materialised. Water of Leith 2000 put their property (the shoreline on both sides) up for sale by auction in 2009 but failed to find a single bidder.
Recently it was revealed that Water of Leith 2000 had changed into Bluefield and that a new plan was in the offing. Friends of the Water of Leith Basin made contact and suggested that once they had some ideas to share they would be happy to host a presentation at one of their meetings. On 4th April as part of a General Meeting of FoWL.B a presentation was made of the proposal 'Sandport Boardwalk' by well known Edinburgh architect Malcolm Fraser. It was tentative - Malcolm had only got involved about a week before the meeting. He stressed that what was proposed would balance commercial use (that's the bit that will make the proposal economically viable) and public space (the boardwalk bit). There are no definite plans yet and planning permission will have to be sought and further detailed public consultation would be required.
Concerns were raised at the meeting regarding visual impact, the consequences of changing the Shore in this way, practicalities such as access and increased pressure on parking in the area. As the proposed structures are intended to float as the barges do it was pointed out that the silting up of the inner basin could scupper the plans. Another concern was the effect of 'deadening' the Shore - before the barges went in people used to spill out of the bars and restaurants on the Shore on warm summer days and evenings animating the area in a social way. By contrast while the office barges are visually interesting their effect creates a barrier between the shore and the Water of Leith. This could be the effect of the what is being proposed for the upper reaches though to be fair the boardwalk could alleviate this effect by allowing people to walk around these units.
The plans need to be fully fleshed out before being exposed to full public scrutiny and consultation. I certainly want to see more about what these structures would look like and how they might look on the Leith Shore. It may be that some of it will find support and some of it won't. Malcolm Fraser is a renowned architect and capable of coming up with something interesting and challenging. Interestingly there were other locally based architects present at the meeting perhaps most notably Groves Raines Architects who have recent restored Lamb's House as a home and working architects office. Their response at this initial stage seemed to sit between lukewarm and hostile.
The Council has recently spent a lot of public money improving the road, footways and general public realm at the Shore and it looks fantastic. These plans could change the whole look of those improvements and it could be argued exploit this public investment for private gain.
One thing is clear - more public debate is needed on these proposals and much more detail of what is proposed needs to come into the public domain to allow as full a discussion as possible. There will be great interest in these proposals as the plans come forward and the public debate will be lively.
The Friends of the Water of Leith Basin are to be thanked for organising this initial presentation on Bluefield's proposals.

An earlier version of this article appeared on

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