‘Half-billion black hole’ due to new schools and roads

Joanna Mowat. Picture: Toby Williams

Joanna Mowat. Picture: Toby Williams

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The full scale of the black hole in the city’s infrastructure budget has been revealed, with councillors warning the funding gap for schools and roads to serve new housing was “totally unsustainable”.

The first official estimate of infrastructure costs across the city associated with massive housing development expected over the next decade puts the cost of providing schools and transport links at £217 million.

However, that only includes fully costed projects – with the price of dozens of items on the city’s infrastructure action plan yet to be calculated. Opposition councillors have told the Evening News that even higher figures have been discussed privately by the Planning Committee, putting the cost as high as half a billion pounds.

And with no funds budgeted for infrastructure by the cash-strapped council there are fears interest payments on any borrowing needed to cover the cost could raise the bill to as much as £800,000,000 – more than the cost of the tram project.

Edinburgh must build 32,000 new homes by 2024 to meet Scottish Government guidelines and provide for a growing population. The city’s Local Development Plan (LDP) – a blueprint setting out where housing can be built – is set to be approved on Thursday after months of delays as councillors wrangled over which sites will be turned over to builders, including greenbelt land.

Funds for infrastructure to support new housing can be recouped from developers, but the council’s own estimates show that such contributions will cover just a fraction of the total cost of the south – and westwards expansion of the city set out in the LDP.

Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat, who sits on the planning committee, said: “It appears as if there is a half a billion pound gap at present. Most of the transport infrastructure just isn’t costed.

“If you don’t want to trash the city, the funding has to come from somewhere. We’re supposed to be doing sustainable development – this development is totally unsustainable.

“The real story in Scotland is that Edinburgh and its environs is the only place that’s growing. That means there are significant costs to the city. We have no tools at our disposal to help fund this growth.”

And Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw, who sits on the planning committee, said: “I believe brownfield sites alone can meet the city’s housing needs and that more suburban sprawl is simply unsustainable.

“The city certainly cannot be expected to cover the massive infrastructure costs involved.”

Cllr Ian Perry, Convener of the Planning Committee, said: “Clearly the council is facing a major challenge to fund all the necessary infrastructure to support Edinburgh’s growth.

“The associated costs are considerable and the Council will continue to work with the development industry to understand what contribution they can make, before programming projects and spending public money.”

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com