At the heart of the Granton Waterfront, the gas tower stands as a beacon of the town on the Edinburgh coastline. “The gas tower will stay as the remembrance of what it was before, but now, surrounded by green spaces and less polluting communities,” said Deputy Council Leader Cammy Day, spokesperson for the Granton Waterfront Development.
Until the late 1990s, Granton Waterfront in Edinburgh was a gas works and petrol storage industrial area. At the end of the century, the council, began to buy up land falling into disuse and abandonment through arms-length companies.
This derelict and vacant brownfield land will be the foundation of the city of the future. “For decades, we have turned our back on the shore, and we moved into the city to invest. Now we are looking to the sea and exploring what we could do along our waterfront,” Day says.
A new life for the coastline
The transformation of the coastline encompasses housing construction, job creation, leisure activities, and cultural experiences through a sustainable mindset and innovative approaches. Former industrial buildings will remain as heritage with a creative function. For instance, the obsolete railway station will transition into a creative hub providing artist startup space with an accompanying brand-new civic square to host temporary culture events such as pop-up markets.
For decades, we have turned our back on the shore, and we moved into the city to invest. Now we are looking to the sea and exploring what we could do along our waterfront
The overall regeneration should be complete by 2036, but the first new residents will enter their brand-new homes by the end of next year. With an investment of £1.4 billion (€1.68 billion), “Granton Waterfront is one of the biggest public sector-led regeneration projects in the country,” says Day. Between 3,000-4,000 homes will be built, and people will work, shop, and relax in a 20-minute neighbourhood.
Those currently living in the area want the council to build good quality affordable homes and, at the same time, ensure employment opportunities, but linking that to the highest areas of deprivation. “We need to make sure that decent, well-paid jobs and net zero-carbon don’t just apply to people who can afford to have electric Range Rovers. It must be affordable to everybody,” insists Day.
Affordable sustainable housing
And so must the housing. Vice Housing Convener Councillor Mandy Watt explains that “at least 35% of the homes delivered will be a model for how sustainable living can be affordable and contribute to the economy and the wellbeing of everybody who lives there and in the broader city.” However, good management of resources and good uptake in the homes for sale might trigger more social (reduced for low income families) and affordable rent (in between social and average rents in Edinburgh rented sector).
We need to make sure that decent, well-paid jobs and net zero-carbon don't just apply to people who can afford to have electric Range Rovers
The council aims to reduce the costs of the buildings and shorten the period of construction with offsite modular construction. Not only does this avoid the delays caused by on-site disruption such as adverse weather conditions, but also contributes to gender equality since women collaborate more often in this type of construction. “On-site can be a challenging place for women,” Watt adds. When the weather improves, workers are expected to work long hours. In contrast, modular building is not dependent on weather and allows better work patterns.
Another idea to maximise the use of available land and reduce carbon emissions is to promote low car ownership throughout the development by providing fewer car parking spaces. “Cars take up a lot of space that is valuable land for housing, green space and the provision of services in the area,” explains Watt.
On-site can be a challenging place for women
The reduction of energy consumption is at the heart of transport provision in the neighbourhood. The transition to low carbon transport includes electric vehicle charging points, car-sharing services, and transport mobility hubs. Public transport and active travel will be prioritised, and cycle stores will be set up close to residential buildings. All of this will be possible in a 20-minute neighbourhood that allows residents to get anywhere on foot.
Boosting future developments
Despite challenges along the way, Watt defines the project as “incredibly exciting and worthwhile.” Edinburgh will use the lessons learnt, the success and the failures of this development in future projects, bringing the production of these types of homes into and around Edinburgh.
“If private sector housebuilders see us make a success of this, they will adopt it themselves,” adds Watt. But not only that. If successful, Edinburgh will improve the processes to adapt older residential buildings into sustainable ones. If the techniques or the design of the buildings in Granton Waterfront can be adapted maintaining low costs and sustainability approaches, says Watt, “that will be a real boost to our development plans going forward.”