Major Projects

FOWLB are involved in a number of aspects of the river basins upkeep. This includes river clean-ups and wildflower planting. We are also the driving force behind a number of major projects. Scroll down for more information.

Renovation of the South Shore

The renovation of the South Shore was identified by the Friends as a major project. The Friends approached the Chair of TIE (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) with the support of the Leith Councillors. The Chair agreed to meet with us in Leith and later in his office in the City Chambers to discuss the project with appropriate public servants. The Council threw their weight behind our proposals and found half the money needed, £200.000, to pay for the development. We then presented the proposal to the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership who allocated a large sum of money to the project. With £100.000 still to be found, the Council’s Planning Department made up the shortfall.

City of Edinburgh Planning Department appointed a planning officer to oversee the project. The officer worked in partnership with the Friends and contributed feedback at our general meetings. Thus local people were kept up to date regarding developments, resulting in a distinctly planned and well-designed Shore. £500,000 was raised and spent on a quality renovation of the Shore with Caithness stone pavements, well designed bollards replacing an unsightly metal fence as well as providing new benches and planting five trees.

Scheduled Monument Application

Two of our executive members oversaw this huge piece of work. Although it did not succeed, the document and the PowerPoint presentation were well received and its content was widely appreciated and has been used in promoting Leith and its Inner Harbour.

The reason given for refusal was that ‘the physical remains did not meet the criteria for scheduling or listing and that the designation would not provide outcomes that the Friends are seeking’ (Historic Scotland letter dated 27 November 2013). We strongly disagreed with these findings but were obliged to accept this ruling.

However, it did lead to an early reappraisal by Edinburgh Council of the Leith Conservation Area Character Appraisal, to which FOWLB made a significant contribution which was acknowledged in the report.

Siltation and potential flooding

 For the best part of our 10 year existence we have worked to try and resolve the problems and issues of the build-up of silt in the Water of Leith Basins. Prior to 1969 the water in the Basins was tidal but in that year Forth Ports installed sea gates at the entrance to the port to enable them to stabilize the water level in the docks. As a consequence there has been a progressive build-up of silt in the Basins, most evident in Basin 2 between the Bernard Street Bridge and Sandport Bridge. Forth Port do monitor the water level in the Basins and are able to reduce this in the event of heavy rainfall in an attempt to reduce the risk of flooding.

The siltation was evident to the Council who commissioned a survey in 2003/2004 to assess the situation and potential consequences, in particular the risk of flooding in the area adjacent to the Basins. At that time it identified a low level of risk but the situation was to be monitored. By 2010 the level of silt in Basin 2 had become clearly evident, especially when the water level was reduced by Forth Ports and large areas of silt banks became visible.

From the outset the Friends have consulted with the City of Edinburgh Council raising their concerns regarding the flooding resulting in a meeting with various Council officers in April 2012. A ‘draft’ report from 2010 relating to a second flood risk assessment undertaken by the Council and FOWLb was discussed and it was agreed a further detailed survey should be undertaken. This was reiterated when a further meeting took place in June 2014, with representatives from SEPA also in attendance. At this point SEPA advised that they were now showing the area as ‘medium risk’ on their flood risk map with a likely chance of flooding being 1 in 200 in any year. As a result of this map and assessment a number of owners reported they were finding it difficult to obtain insurance.

A further survey was undertaken in late 2016 but when the resultant report was made available in May 2017 it advised that while there was a significant increase in siltation in some areas overall the level of silt in the Basins had reduced since 2003 and the risk of flooding was low and did not justify any action to remove the silt. FOWLb strongly disagreed with this assessment but the Council are standing by the 2016 survey and have even advised that their 2010 ‘draft’ survey should be disregarded as inaccurate. Currently no further action is proposed by the Council but the Friends continue to pursue the matter. This is not helped by the solum of the Basins being in private ownership, owned neither by Forth Ports nor the Council.

Purchase of Custom House for the community

In the past considerable efforts were made by a group of eminent Leithers, politicians and others to promote a Museum for Leith with the possible purchase of the Leith Custom House as a venue. This was not successful. When in 2014 it became known that the Custom House, then owned by the National Museum of Scotland, was to be sold,the Friends decided to pick up the challenge. Meetings were held with civil servants, councilors, business people and politicians, including the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Culture and The Director of the National Museum of Scotland. It was clear that to concentrate on a Museum was misguided and that a different approach had to be taken concentrating on this listed building located in the heart of Leith. The best way to take this forward was to approach a Buildings Preservation Trust to oversee the development and the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) agreed to come on board. Fortuitously one of the councilors suggested that the City’s Common Good Fund could be used to purchase the building at a District Valuer’s price for the people of Leith. After 2 years of further meetings with the Council at which a large representative group from Leith was present, the consultants have been employed and a Feasibility Study for the future of the building has been commissioned.

Without the Friends interventions the Custom House would have been sold to a private owner and the people of Leith would have lost one of their greatest assets.

Planning Applications


We have led the way in opposing four planning applications on the Water of Leith Basins, all of which are in the Leith conservation area.

  • EcoBuild Living Labs and Floating Solar Concepts in Basin One
  • Pontoon on full length of north shore (Bernard Street to Sandport Bridges)
  • Pontoon on North Shore.
  • Block of flats in land adjacent to Basin three. Planning permission was given but was curtailed due to the

Friend’s intervention. We objected to some tree removal in what was an important wild life area and this was upheld. These have involved a considerable amount of work by members of the Executive and requires us being alert to planning proposals that may adversely affect the Water of Leith Basins.

Community purchase of Leith Basins


Over recent years there has been a growing community interest in and awareness of the significant loss of amenity associated with the Water of Leith. This is partly due the build-up of silt in the river which is possibly dangerous, certainly unsightly and supports the collection of general rubbish. Parking is also a problem, rticularly on the North Shore where parked cars hinder traffic and cause problems for pedestrians.

As the community interest grew volunteers organised by FOWLB started picking up rubbish along the footpaths and where possible from behind the various booms and in the river. The work by volunteers served to emphasise the neglect shown by the owners whose responsibility it is and to manage the vegetation that is damaging the quay walls and the rubbish in the river. This has prompted FOWLB and others to consider if the Basins could be taken into public/community ownership.

For the time being this remains as work in progress.

Leith Basin Bridges



FOWLb received (15/05/19) a letter from Charles Hammond, CEO of Forth Ports in response to our pressure for answers.

Mr Hammond acknowledged the importance of the bridges to the heritage and cultural identity of Leith. From his letter we understand that Forth Ports had sought to make temporary repairs but were advised by the “statutory bodies” that temporary works would be allowed only if an application for a permanent solution was submitted in parallel. They advise they are currently engaging with specialist engineers and historic building consultants to provide suitable proposals for both of these bridges.

We can therefore take it that there will be no solution in the immediate short-term but when it happens we should expect a comprehensive and high quality outcome that should keep both bridges in use and looking good for many years.

Friends of the Water of Leith Basins will continue to push Forth Ports and find a way to have a voice for the people of Leith to ensure the final outcome satisfies FOWLb members and the local community.


Swing Bridges


At FOWLB we have been concerned about the steady decay of these structures and recently called Historic Environment Scotland to find out what could be done about their state of repair. They cannot confirm ownership of the bridges (which would breach the data protection act), although we have heard that Forth Ports is responsible for them. Edinburgh City Council may be able to push for better care to be taken of these important, locally and nationally, features.

We would encourage the Leith community to ask Forth Ports if they are responsible for the bridges, and if so then what plans exist for their repair and upkeep. We also suggest contacting the council to ask what it can do to maintain and enhance the bridges and better take pride and care of Leith’s heritage.


We would encourage the Leith community to ask Forth Ports if they are responsible for the bridges, and if so then what plans exist for their repair and upkeep. We also suggest contacting the council to ask what it can do to maintain and enhance the bridges and better take pride and care of Leith’s heritage.

Get in Touch. Get Involved.

Use the form below or send your contact details to and we’ll get right back to you.