Anger as greenbelt housing plan forced through

Councillor Dominic Heslop. Picture: Roger Jonathan
Councillor Dominic Heslop. Picture: Roger Jonathan
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Angry residents have accused the Scottish Government of “undermining democracy” after it emerged a housing development rejected by planning chiefs is set to be pushed through on appeal.

An application to build 120 houses on greenbelt land not earmarked for development under the city’s planning blueprint at Ravelrig Road in Balerno was knocked back by the council in January this year.

The Scottish Government’s planning reporter has now announced his intention to overturn the decision – arguing the scheme was needed to combat a “significant shortage of effective housing land”.

The reporter, Lance Guilford, also said any conflict with the council’s own Local Development Plan (LDP) was “outweighed” by the wider need to secure more homes.

Yesterday, residents and political figures blasted the move as “a nonsense” and a “clash between democracy and bureaucracy”.

Richard Henderson, chair of Balerno community council, said the reporter’s decision and the council’s mishandling of the LDP had ushered in 
“planning by appeal”.

He said: “Balerno has been surrounded by applications for building developments in recent years.

“The community council objected strongly to this application. We believe that the green belt is there for a purpose and if you keep building on it you destroy whatever purpose it may have.

“What we are seeing now, due to the way the council dealt with the LDP, is planning by appeal. It leads to chaos.”

And Kat Burnside, from campaigning group Balerno Greenbelt, insisted the move undermined “planning procedure and democracy”.

She said: “The residents of this area are being inundated by planning applications and this is the least sustainable location, yet it will be the first to be granted.

“We feel badly let down by Scottish Government planning policy, [and] the failure of Edinburgh council to build the number of houses demanded by the government and have an effective Local Development Plan in place.”

Edinburgh is under ministerial pressure to build 32,000 homes in the next ten years to meet predicted population growth.

The proposed Gladman Developments project at Ravelrig Road is just one of a number of applications set for Balerno – with more than 500 homes already penned in for the area under the LDP, which is set to be approved by the Scottish Government in 2016.

Tory councillor Dominic Heslop, who sits on the council’s planning committee, said the Scottish Government’s decision made “a nonsense” of the whole planning system.

He said: “What is the point of the council having a planning committee if, at the end of the day, a reporter overturns our decisions?

“Scottish ministers can intervene at any stage of the planning process, as we have seen with the [Donald] Trump application up in Aberdeenshire.

“And the idea that some unelected bureaucrat – the reporter – makes the decision is a nonsense.

“It’s a nonsense, really, the whole system. It makes me wonder why I waste my Wednesday morning at the planning committee.”

Gladman Developments declined to comment.

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com