Fountainbridge: flourish or fail

The former Fountainbridge brewery sites could be hub for a vibrant “canal quarter” or it could be dreary business as usual, argues GAVIN CORBETT.

Fountainbridge has probably the most attractive development sites in Edinburgh just now.  There is so much opportunity there, with the canalside location; new designs for the location of Scotland’s top-rated school – Boroughmuir High;  a potential arts hub in the old rubber factory building; and the real asset of an actively-engaged community group, Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative, pushing for people-scaled planning.

So why am I filled with foreboding?  Why do I fear that it will be another Edinburgh Waterfront failure, rather than some of the magnificent canalside regeneration projects that we see throughout Europe?

Partly, it is what has already been done. Fountain Quay,  at the canal terminus, does its best to hide the waterway in an arc of half-filled retail units and offices. Brandfield Street is fast becoming stag ‘n’ hen party-flat central. Almost-completed student flats loom over Gibson Terrace to the west , complete with the
ubiquitous Sainsbury “Local”.  Inspiring capital, it is not.

And partly it is what is to come.  We have an existing masterplan which is five years – and therefore several light years – out of date, what one commentator has dubbed “Gotham City”. Despite that, last week saw the issuing of proposals, out of the blue, for an “apart-hotel”, office space, commercial, retail and some residential next to Fountain Quay.  I have not seen the detailed drawings yet but I fear the worst.

Local people who care passionately about the area want genuinely mixed-use development: new water-space in the shape of a canal basin;  pedestrian links opening up access to the canal; green space; mixed and affordable housing; space for small business to flourish; and the potential for new forms of energy supply . Based on what I have seen throughout Europe, that is what creates long-term value rather than glass and steel  towers.

And to that end we need a coherent and relevant masterplan with developers co-operating to a single vision of the area. Any takers?

This blog was published in the Edinburgh Evening News 13.6.13