Andrew Russell of Waterfront Edinburgh
interviewed by Antony Macnaghten, former journalist at The Edinburgh Echo
‘Our whole motivation in the development is for design quality. We want to produce something equivalent in quality to Edinburgh’s New Town of the eighteenth century. This is the only opportunity that Edinburgh has to do something on that scale’.
Around Granton, roughly two miles from the city centre, is a coastal site of nearly 350 acres which is earmarked for Edinburgh's biggest programme of development since the building of James Craig's New Town in 1767. This massive regeneration project aims to create several thousand new jobs and homes, but the plans have suffered fierce criticism from local councillors concerned about the impact of the development on the struggling local transport infrastructure and sailors and conservationists outraged about previos plans to infill Granton harbour to enable the building of luxury flats.
Andrew Russell, chief executive of Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd, the company set up to deliver the regeneration of Edinburgh's waterfront around Granton speaks to Edinburgh Contemporary Architecture about the state of play with the development.
Q: There seems to be a little confusion about the variety of plans for the area coming from different corners - could you clarify things here?
‘A masterplan for the area has been prepared for the city by Llewelyn Davies and has recently been given approval. This indicates a planning framework for development. There are also development plans from Forth Ports and Lattice Properties which indicate their intentions. All the various plans are beginning to converge.’
Q: About two years ago there was a lot of controversy generated by plans from Forth Ports to infill the Eastern Harbour at Granton - the recent Llewelyn Davies masterplan for the area does not appear to propose this: are there still any plans to infill the Eastern Harbour?
‘There is an agreement with a hotel operator to locate adjacent to the eastern harbour, but there are absolutely no plans to infill the Eastern Harbour at Granton. Forth Ports own the land around the harbour and are in the process of submitting a new development plan for the area. They are begininning to get their act together as Ocean Terminal nears its completion. The other development plan is from Lattice Properties (formerly British Gas) which owns about 100 acres around the gasometers.'
Q: The masterplan makes no mention of the gasometers - are you assuming that they will all be demolished?
‘We all assume the gasometers will be demolished. If the community has the money to do something with them then thats fine, but offered a choice between spending money on preserving some ropey lattice steel or on social inclusion in the community we will always choose the latter.'
Q: Demolishing the Gasometers will rid the area of its only landmark building (that is also a Grade II listed building, ed ). Do you see this as a problem for driving the whole development forward?
'No. We aim to provide the area with several new identifiable landmark buildings.'
Q: What type of buildings do you expect to become the new landmark buildings for the area?
'Probably office structures.'
Q: Including the planned World Trade Centre?
'Quite possibly. We have a license for a World Trade Centre which we are prepared to assign to anyone that has a combination of the money, the vision, the sense of quality and sense of place.'
Q: Are there plans to hold architectural competitions for any of the buildings for the development?
'Just as the building of the Edinburgh's New Town relied on design competitions, we shall as well - design competitions are a good way of arriving at world class buildings.'
Q: What architects have been involved in the design of specific buildings so far?
'Malcolm Fraser Architects are working on the refurbishment of the Madelvic car factory, Page and Park Architects have been doing development planning and have been also working for National Museums of Scotland and Foster & Partners have been working for Lattice. A design is evolving for the relocation of the Scottish Gas call centre in the area - Lattice have offered them a design from Foster& Partners and Waterfront Edinburgh have offered them a design through Page and Park Architects.'
Q: Where in the world would you look to as a model for Waterfront Edinburgh to emulate? Toronto or Baltimore perhaps?
'Baltimore, Vancouver and Toronto are good examples of successful dockside development, but the right way to develop anywhere is to primarily take in to account the prevailing culture, climate and landform of the area. Traditions of Scottish places such as Gourock, Rothesay and Kirkwall have much more in common.'
Q: In the masterplan document there is an ambiguous phrase used to describe a proposed public transport link between the city and the waterfront, 'a strategic link between the city centre and the waterfront'. Do you mean trams?
'We do mean trams and are beginning to be able to say that. A solution consortium has been set up by Waterfront Edinburgh to look at the transport requirements of the development and is coming to the conclusion that trams are the best way forward.'
Q: Will a tram system replace any of the current cycleways/footpaths?
'No. We will retain the cycleway and footpath alongside the proposed tramway. There is only one part where that presents a difficulty and that is the viaduct over the Water of Leith near Roseburn. We are working on a precise route which will be released in due couse. The emerging proposal has become a distinct possibility, moving towards a likelihood, because we have pooled together many of the landowners along the proposed route: Forth Ports, Lattice Property, National Museums of Scotland, Scottish Gas, Deutsche Bank, BAE Systems, Millers and the merchant schools - Mary Erskine's, Stewarts Melville and St. George's - and the Scottish Executive and City Council. The route going from Haymarket to Leith, and on to Granton, needs a bit more work done before it too will be a likelihood.'
Q: How have the problems of the CERT scheme impacted on this tram proposal?
'The city fathers will now be able to hopefully put more energy in to making trams happen, but the CERT scheme (council-sponsored proposal for guided buses between airport and city centre) in my view has been an unmitigated disaster for the city - the market now looks at something with an Edinburgh badge and groans - oh my god what an incompetent useless bunch who can never make up their mind about anything and lets add 10% to the cost....By mid-summer we hope to present to the City Council a transport proposition that will work and has a cost within 15%-20% of its real cost and the technology that is the right one.'
Waterfront Edinburgh's website which will be being updated as more details emerge about the development:
Forth Corinthian Yacht Club, based at Granton which vigorously opposed plans to infill The Eastern Harbour. Forth Corinthian Yacht Club website - www.fcyc.org.uk
Roughly a year ago it was reported in the Edinburgh Evening News that the £500m waterfront development was in trouble due to a wrangle 'over land owned by gas giant BG' and also due to a 'small businessman refusing to sell up'. The Council was reported to be considering forcing Mark Delicato to sell his shop, Terry's, on West Granton Road in Granton, which had been serving since the 1960's. At this time the development was reported as including two new schools, a 5000-seater ice rink and a 500-berth marina. The decision by BG not to sell up and develop their land - including the gasometers - themselves, was reported to leave a 'question mark over the future of the whole plan, launched in a blaze of publicity': 'The council has admitted that issuing a compulsory purchase order against BG for the 40-hectare area it requires could be costly'.
Image of hotel proposed for Granton harbour
Masterplan and built environment issues in Edinburgh's Docklands.