Tonight the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) are holding a consultation event at the Thomas Morton Hall regarding the proposals in the Main Issues Report for Leith Docks. I've had an interested in what goes on in my local dock lands since my Masters here in 2005. See my journal article here (non-Uni people, comment or email me if you want a copy).I'm down to attend the event, but have decided not to because a) I'm tired, b) I need to cook my tea and c) well....
The proposal back in the heady days of the property boom was to redevelop the docks as a new suburb, Edinburgh's new New Town. Forth Ports (at that time a PLC listed on the LSE) spent a lot of its own money writing the lovely Leith Docks Development Framework for CEC. The CEC planners, to give them their due, turned glossy pap into a workable plan that would have created a good place. The net effect was Forth Ports assets shot up in value and by 2004 it was effectively a property company, not a logistics company.
Fast forward to the property slump and Forth Ports had to write off most of its assets - nobody wanted to live in those poky two-bedroomed flats in Leith and Dundee anymore. This meant in May last year Forth Ports were taken over by these people - Arcus Infrastructure Partners. I think the state of the UK's railway rolling stock is testimony to their attitude to long term asset management and investment. Forth Ports has, then, in 30 years, gone from being a nationalised company, to being a PLC, to being a line in an asset book hidden behind the smokescreens of a non-listed investment fund.
Before this takeover, Forth Ports had realised that their Ports were now worth something as industrial land - especially since the UK and Scottish Governments were doling out subsidies to the burgeoning renewables industry. Pelamis Wave Power and the French subsea engineering group Technip are now major tenants or users of Leith Docks. Forth Ports had even spun-out Forth Energy to promote biomass power plants on their docklands - a proposal for one on Leith Docks has been fought superbly well by Greener Leith.
However, the CEC Local Development Plan Main Issues Report states, quite bluntly, the quandary Edinburgh's planners are in:
"Over 18,000 homes are proposed at Leith Docks as part of existing regeneration plans. These will make a significant contribution to meeting future housing needs over the next 20 to 30 years. It has been assumed that most new homes in Leith Docks will be provided outwith the LDP period, after 2024. However, Scottish Enterprise’s National Renewables Infrastructure Plan promotes Leith Docks as a potential location to support Scotland’s offshore renewable energy industry through manufacturing and maintenance. In preparing the LDP, we need to decide on the future role of Leith Docks." (pp.19-20 watch out, MAHOOSIVE pdf)
The "preferred option" in the MIR is to stick with housing-led regeneration. Although as things have developed since then, it seems that the CEC's position has changed and they're coming on side to the idea of a "gateway" (what else is a port?) and renewables hub. Greener Leith, again fantastically, have managed to get the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Scottish Enterprise, CEC and Forth Ports. This sets out that they will create this vision of a renewables hub, with investment from Forth Ports and the public sector partners, with returns to both of them.
But, I'm sorry, I have to get all lefty about this. If this happened before Forth Ports were privatised, this investment would automatically be returned to everyone through increased profits. Even as a PLC, the investment would have increased the company's asset values and helped fend off foreign takeover. As it stands, the company is owned by a private investment fund. As soon as this plan goes through their assets will leap in value. They can then sell off the company, leveraged to the hilt with all the debt they've built up based on the plan, and the asset can then sit and rot as every last penny of income is siphoned off to pay the creditors. Frankly, to be more transparent CEC and Scottish Enterprise might as well just write a cheque for £200 millions to Arcus Partners now and be done with. So, I'm not attending the consultation because it's a farce. In the effort to achieve "partnership working" with Forth Ports CEC and Scottish Enterprise are writing-off Leith Docks for the next 50 years. And nothing I say will change this.
CEC should plan for bloody agricultural land on the site, reduce the value to nothing, compulsorily purchase the lot and plan for something that will help Leith and Edinburgh and bring the profits right back into the CEC's coffers. Treat Forth Ports the way Glasgow City Council have treated Margaret Jaconelli.