The Scottish Government has overruled city planners to approve a major housing development after the council failed to agree on a blueprint for where new homes in Edinburgh should be built.
Communities Secretary Alex Neil personally granted an appeal from developers wanting to build 173 homes on greenbelt land at the Edmonstone Estate, near Little France, despite the plans previously being rejected by councillors.
The decision deepens the crisis around the city’s planning blueprint, with Scottish Government officials confirming Edinburgh no longer has a working Local Development Plan (LDP).
Critics say the city now lies open to “planning by appeal”, with developers able to circumvent local decision-making by appealing to ministers, and called on planning convener Ian Perry to resign.
The city’s previous five-year LDP has expired, with a draft LDP2 delayed by the city administration on the eve of a February meeting where it would have been signed off. Already delayed once before, that means the blueprint will not now be considered before the May general election.
Without a functioning plan signed off by councillors, decisions referred to the Scottish Government will be made based on Scottish planning policy – which has a presumption in favour of development provided it is “sustainable”.
Conservative planning spokeswoman Councillor Joanna Mowat warned: “We’re in a surreal situation where Scottish ministers are saying, ‘stick your housing applications in’, because they can approve anything at the moment.
“How are we supposed to plan that in any sort of strategic way, looking at transport improvements and adequate education provision, never mind health?”
Mr Neil is also considering four other contentious planning appeals, including one for Cammo in west Edinburgh, where residents are opposing plans to build more than 600 homes.
Cllr Mowat added that if ministers grant approval for the controversial 670-home development at Cammo “they will have undermined the entire purpose of having a Planning Act and a local planning system. They will have betrayed the people of Edinburgh and undermined local democracy”.
News of the appeal decision comes as councillors clashed over the troubled LDP2, with opposition members expressing “no confidence” in planning convener Cllr Perry.
Barring any legal challenge, work at Edmonstone Estate on Old Dalkeith Road can begin in as little as three months, provided developers agree a section 75 order with the council that sets out their contribution to public infrastructure like schools and roads in the area.
Mr Neil also approved another 52-home development at Old Craighall in Musselburgh, which was rejected by East Lothian councillors in 2014.
A Scottish Government spokesman told the Evening News: “After careful consideration, Scottish ministers propose to grant planning permission in principle for residential developments at Old Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh and Old Craighall, Musselburgh. These are the first to be considered in a series of major housing appeals which the cabinet secretary, Mr Neil, ‘recalled’ for ministers’ determination at the end of last year.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The council is aware of the appeal decision. We will consider any potential implications.”
Planning row ‘stinks like dead dog in middle of road’
Councillors clashed yesterday over the delay to a vital planning blueprint setting out how where new homes will be built in the Capital – with one likening the stalled planning process to roadkill.
Opposition Tory councillors lodged an emergency motion at yesterday’s full council meeting calling for the second Local Development Plan (LDP2) to be signed off within 14 days, after it was postponed by the city administration for four months until after the general election in May. Conservative councillor Dominic Heslop said the LDP2 was “like a dead dog lying in the middle of the road, stinking to high heaven”.
He called for planning convener Ian Perry to resign from his post, saying he “does not command the confidence of planning committee members, and he does not have the confidence of local community members.”
Highlighting reported divisions within the city’s Labour and SNP coalition over the LDP2, Cllr Heslop added: “This administration is playing politics with the planning system for the sole reason of maintaining its own survival.”
Planning chiefs say they cannot sign off the blueprint until after the Scottish Government, which has called in a number of controversial housing developments across the Lothians, makes its decision and provides clarity on which plots can and can’t be included in the plan.
And it is expected that Alex Neil, pictured, will also delay controversial decisions until after the May election.
Council leader Andrew Burns said: “This is a very important decision for the city. We’ve got to get this right, and if it takes five years rather than four, then I know which one I would prefer.”
In the balance
In January, Alex Neil recalled six housing developments across the Lothians, including three in Edinburgh, where developers had appealed against rejections or a failure to provide a decision.
Taken together, they represent 1200 homes, but by far the biggest is the controversial 670-home development at Cammo, where a decision is believed to be several weeks away.
Due to lack of a planning blueprint for the city, the decision will be made with a presumption in favour of development. As well as the two appeals now granted, the remaining three are a 72-home estate planned for The Wisp, 200 homes at Burghmuir in Linlithgow, and 119 homes at Clarendon Farm in Linlithgow.
Student flats appeal
Developers have lodged an appeal after councillors rejected a £30m plan for 579 student flats on the site of Homebase in St Leonard’s. Local MSP Marco Biagi said: “This will prolong the uncertainty at a time when my constituents want clarity over the future of the site.”