Residents of Portobello are furious at the City of Edinburgh Council’s plans to sell the Pitz Westbank Street site, and rightly so. This is one of the most valuable open spaces in Portobello and home to five-a-side football pitches and Tumbles, a gymnastics and soft play centre. Both are widely used and beloved by the community. Beach Wheelchairs Portobello also recently secured a storage unit on the site for their wheelchairs.
That is why, despite the current leaseholder’s wish to no longer operate the football pitches, it is alarming the council would move forward with selling the entire site with zero input from the community. 22 bids from developers have already been received, with plans for hundreds of new houses and commercial development and the fate of existing leisure and recreation facilities compromised.
At the Portobello Community Council’s public meeting on the Pitz’s future, residents were resolute in their desire that the Westbank Street site not be overrun with development. While there is a need for new homes across the whole of Edinburgh, Portobello is already strained with development: 700 new homes have or will be built directly across from the Westbank site alone. Schools and health services will not be able to cope. Traffic will become even more congested and air quality will suffer.
But in addition to the consequences of development itself, there is general unease with planning decisions made by the council. Specifically, the sale of the Pitz site has been made to seem necessary to fund the redevelopment of the Meadowbank Sports Centre. The Meadowbank facility is of course important, but it is cynical to tie its success to a sale of the Westbank Street site.
Furthermore, the site has been designated as open space in the last few local city plans, and the council promised it would remain recreational space in perpetuity when the open air baths were demolished. To all of a sudden sell the land for private development contradicts these promises. There is also the fact that a different entity could take over the lease that Powerleague wishes to vacate. Why this has not been encouraged over an outright sale is perplexing.
I respect that council officials came to the public meeting on the Pitz’s future and did their best to answer many concerned and frustrated residents. But the fact remains that it is elected councillors that have put this plan in motion.
In its current state, the plan is not community-led and has lacked proper consultation with Portobello residents. Members at the public meeting voted nearly unanimously against the council’s initiative, opting instead for some form of community-led approach to the Pitz’s future.
That is why I have written to councillors on the finance and resources committee asking them to immediately halt the sale of the Westbank Street site. I believe it would be a waste of time and resources to put any more effort into a plan that has lacked initial community input and lacks community buy-in at present. But more importantly, continuing with the sale as planned would be an affront to residents of Portobello.