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Newhaven Redeveloped

by Frank Ferri

The start of the redevelopment of the south side of Newhaven from New Lane to the far western end of Newhaven Main Street (south side) probably took place about 1962 - 63. The occupants of the old south side were re-housed to the west of the city in places like Pilton.

I would suggest that the masses in Newhaven at the time were not aware of the intention of the Council in the 50’s to redevelop the whole village.  Mind you, whilst the housing in Annfield Street was considered substandard due to the lack of inside toilet, baths and kitchen facilities, many of the old buildings on the Main Street (some must have been about 200 years old) provided really bad living conditions.

In 1974 the council placed a compulsory purchase order on the properties at 1,3,5,7,9 & 11 Annfield St (north side of street) with the intention of knocking all these houses down (thirty houses in all).  I think most of the properties were owner occupiers, mostly indigenous Newhaveners, and the news of their demolition was very disturbing to us all, having witnessed the re-housing locations of the occupants of the South Development.  This unsettling news prompted the residents to hold a meeting in the Old Fishermen’s Halls (now Leith Motor Boat Club) which didn’t promote any action at all, other than allow people to air their grievances among themselves.

For purely personal reasons at not wanting to lose my house and be moved to the other side of the city, I decided to try and do something about it.  I got talking to some of my neighbours about setting up a committee and pulled in my local labour councillor of the time (Tom Nisbet, living at Blackhall at the time) for some support.

I organised another meeting with neighbours at the Fishermen’s Hall.  A committee was gathered and elected from the body of the floor and I was elected chairman.  We named the committee the Newhaven Action Group.  It was at this meeting that we learned from Baillie W. Lyle that he had an assurance from the Council that the whole village was to be redeveloped… news to us!

My first action as chairman was to organize a petition and it was distributed in all the local shops and pubs. The petition, paraphrased below, read:-   

“We the undersigned, request that . . .

1. The re-development of Newhaven North side should start at the earliest possible date.

2. Houses that can be saved, improved and re-stored, should be protected, especially those of an historic nature.

3. Houses that have to be pulled down should be replaced with facsimiles of the old Flemish design.

4. On completion of the North side re-development, the residents from Annfield St who are to be re-housed should get priority occupancy of the new houses.”

Next mode of action was to seek as much publicity as possible.  I contacted the Edinburgh Evenings News; using the slogan “Save Our 400 Year Village”, they gave us good coverage.  I then did a TV interview at Newhaven Harbour with BBC Scotland, outlining the village’s plight and its history and possibility that the indigenous population of this ancient place could be scattered to the four winds.  Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, was appearing at Leith Town Hall (now Thomas Morton Halls, Ferry Rd) at the time so I wrote him a letter, petitioning his help and gave it to an aide of his.  Whether he saw it or not, I cannot know.

The Council took heed of our demands and soon work was in progress, the contractor being Tensa Construction.

During the construction of new housing, I spent many hours going though the development, monitoring its progress and the quality of workmanship and complaining if standards in my opinion had not been met.  When the new houses were about to be occupied, the council contacted all the Annfield Street residents to be re-housed, asking them to give three choices of re-housing locations.  My advice to those at the time was to put Newhaven as first, second and third choice. Most took that advice and were re-housed in Newhaven.  

At the end of our campaign we were pleased to say that all our objectives had been met.