Alison Johnstone: Garden District doesn’t address affordability

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There are few issues that affect people’s lives on a more fundamental level than access to housing does. We all need a roof over our heads and a place to call home. In Edinburgh, we have a lack of affordable housing, and it shows. There are nearly 4000 homeless households in the city, and almost 1000 people are living in temporary accommodation. It’s not just a housing shortage, it’s a housing crisis.

Sir David Murray’s solution is to build 1500 new homes on Scotland’s greenbelt, an area that is already under pressure from the growth of our cities. Murray Estates has proposed that by developing an all-singing, all-dancing “growth area” in the outskirts of the city, we could address Edinburgh’s housing shortage.

However, Sir David’s plans fail to address the heart of the problem. The housing crisis will not be relieved by building big, expensive homes that are far away from public transport and services. The people who are most vulnerable to the impact of housing shortage are those living in the private rented sector who struggle every month to cover the ever-rising rental costs, and those who simply cannot afford a mortgage with a drop in wages and insecurity in the job market. Murray’s plans would do very little to help them.

Not only does Sir David ignore the real housing crisis underneath the market figures, but he also fails to see the real solution that’s right before our eyes.

At the moment, there are 2000 empty homes in Edinburgh. Surely 
the council should focus on restoring and refilling those empty homes instead of constructing suburbs that look good in catalogues but have little connection to Edinburgh’s communities.

Our focus must be on providing genuinely affordable, good quality homes within close proximity to Edinburgh’s public transport links and amneties. And for private renters, simply building more isn’t enough – we need to make sure housing is kept affordable through regulation on rent levels.

There are a number of communities in the city that need regeneration, and substantive areas of brownfield that could be filled with new homes. Instead of building on the greenbelt, the council could, for example, invest in areas like Craigmillar even further, and construct housing on the wasteland that is dotted all over the city. The greenbelt too has many potential uses that would benefit Edinburgh residents more than Sir David’s proposals – we could be using the land to farm food and to provide outdoor recreational space for city 
dwellers.

The Scottish Greens, resident groups and many local councillors have consistently opposed the new Local Development Plan, which makes building on the greenbelt possible. The new development proposals are a distraction from the opportunities for new homes and development that already exist in our city.

We are choosing between a vision for Edinburgh where development is driven by the needs of the community, or one where decisions are made based on the profit-driven preferences of development companies. Let’s choose the former, and make Edinburgh an affordable, good place to live for all of its residents.

Alison Johnstone is Green MSP for Lothian