City targets green belt land in drive to build 4500 homes

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PLANS to free up green belt land for at least 4500 new homes in key development areas have been unveiled.

Two major housing projects in west and south-east Edinburgh have been proposed to meet the spiralling demand for family homes.

Up to 2400 properties would be built close to the site of the £310 million Edinburgh International site at Edinburgh Park. Meanwhile, at least 2000 homes would be built in the Gilmerton area, near to the BioQuarter at Little France.

The projects are detailed in the new Edinburgh Local Development Plan, which lays out plans for the future of the Capital.

Today, some councillors raised concerns about building on green belt land while brownfield sites in the city remain unused. However, they said the land had to be allocated to meet government targets.

Councillor Jim Lowrie, convenor of the planning committee, said good housing provision is crucial to ensuring the future of projects such as West Edinburgh – where a world trade centre, concert arena, hotels and a business district are planned.

He said: “We need to try to keep the city moving forward in an economic sense, attract investors and make it a nice place for Edinburgh residents. Housing is one of the most important aspects and, unlike many places in Scotland, we are growing in numbers.

“Having good quality housing, top-grade office space and improving transport is crucial to the success of developments like West Edinburgh.”

The report states that between 2009 and 2010 the city population rose by 1.8 per cent – more than any other local authority area in Scotland – and that has placed mounting pressure on housing provision.

As part of a joint plan with the other Lothians councils, the Scottish Borders and Fife, Edinburgh had to guarantee provision for 3000 new homes – to date it has identified 4500.

Extra homes are expected to be needed because some land earmarked for housing in Leith may be used for the new renewables sector.

If the proposals – on which the public can comment – are approved, green belt land would be encroached upon in both west and south-east Edinburgh.

Altogether in the south-east Scotland region an estimated 24,000 new homes will be needed over the next 20 years.

Councillor Angela Blacklock, a Labour representative on the planning committee, said her party was reluctant to see green belt land used.

She said: “We do need more housing and we are required to find this. However, it’s our preference not to use the green belt land and we had to approve this to meet the government requirements. It is unfortunate because we don’t know whether the Leith renewables site will go ahead or not.”

Councillor Steve Burgess, representing the Greens on the committee, also raised concerns. He said: “This report says we will need to release some green belt land. However, there is a considerable amount of brownfield land which has been undeveloped and that should be explored first.

“We need housing but it should be on brownfield sites and others within the urban area before we start picking away at the land on the green belt. The green belt has served Edinburgh very well and prevented a continuous urban sprawl.

“The Leith Docks area hasn’t been confirmed for renewables yet and our point is we shouldn’t cut into the green belt until necessary.”

The west Edinburgh sites include Maybury – near the Maybury Casino – the International Business Gateway and Edinburgh Park. The south-east sites include Gilmerton, Burdiehouse and Drum.

The report is a long-term plan with the timescales for the developments until 2024, during which time far more land may need to be allocated.

Other proposals include a move which would allow small villages of 50 homes to be built on green belt land, which council officials are asking the public to comment on.

Commenting on concerns about green belt land being used, Cllr Lowrie added: “When David Murray came forward with his proposals for the garden village for 3500 houses, we turned that down because it would have completely decimated the green belt. What we want to do is release small areas of green belt over 25 years and put the houses where the transport links for the buses, trains and trams are.

“The reason we have had to release green belt land is, although there are brownfield housing developments in the city, they are hidden, because sites that were ready to go have just stalled in the recession. That’s why we’ve taken that into account and only released 4500. We might have to add another 4000 or 4500 in five years.”

Cllr Lowrie added that building terraced houses for families – rather than two-bedroom flats – would be a key aspect of creating new communities. He said: “One of the difficulties we have is ten years ago builders thought everyone wanted to go for two-bed flats, and of course now families want terraced houses, duplexes, with gardens.

“We want to build communities, not just wastelands full of flats and estates, and these proposals will include new schools and medical and community centres.

* The public can view the proposals at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/localdevelopmentplan. Contact the council with your comments at {mailto: localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk|localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk}