Comment: ‘Government will have to support city’

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A decade ago Scotland’s then First Minister Jack McConnell told the country that our falling population was the “biggest challenge facing Scotland in the 21st century”.

Of course, Mr McConnell, now Lord McConnell, was wrong. The projections of civil servants failed to predict a huge increase in 
inward migration to Scotland in the coming years.

Today, we face another population challenge.

The latest figures from the National Records of Scotland tell us there will be an additional 470,000 more people in Scotland by 2037 – roughly a nine per cent increase, or the equivalent of another city the size of Edinburgh.

There are many positives in this. Much of this increase will result from further in-migration, mostly people of working age. This will enrich our culture and help to pay for the pensions of our older generation.

But for Edinburgh, in particular, there are great challenges looming. Many of these new citizens will make their home in Scotland’s capital, which is already under pressure from rising school rolls, increased congestion and pressure on the green belt. Further increases will put greater strain on local infrastructure across the Lothians.

Our city council, in common with other local authorities, is currently having to make steep cuts.

But if Edinburgh is to see continued population growth we need to plan for this. New schools need to be built, housing plans updated and, whisper it, we will need to extend the tram line to other areas.

This will require additional resources. The private sector will play its part, but much of this work will need to be supported by central government.

The Scottish Government will tell us that it recognises the important role that Edinburgh plays in the country’s economy. Over the coming years it will need to back its capital with even greater support if our population trends are to be managed carefully.