Irvine Welsh is often asked daft questions, and he’s given some daft answers in his time. But he’s dead right to condemn recent and proposed developments in Leith, generating headlines such as the one at the top of this, in The Scotsman. The old Caledonian Railway Company’s offices on Leith Walk, built in what looks like Glasgow pink sandstone, are part of Leith’s history and part of Leith’s present vitality and versatility. They host a diverse collection of operations, with good internal space at street level on busy Leith Walk. So we’ll flatten them and build student accommodation. At Pilrig we already have exactly this – the “flats” are really little more than pods with “kitchen” space only for a microwave and a kettle. So a supermarket, in thick with the developers, takes space right down below them selling, guess what, you’ve got it, microwavable stuff and hot pizzas.
Welsh is right to call for robust local authority controls over permission for such developments, but the councils’ powers have been much reduced. And they are very strapped for cash. None of this is inevitable; it’s policy choices. Austerity and neo-liberalism make us punters in a market-place, not citizens in a democracy.
As The Man says: “If everywhere becomes a sterile version of somewhere else, then you’ve nothing left to make it special…” It’s the death of meaningful community. The casual and wilful destruction of the best of Leith is continuing beyond the Trainspotting generation.