Gina Davidson: Our boom town needs cool heads

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I”VE done my bit for population growth. Three kids, which would horrify Sir David Attenborough, patron as he is of Population Matters, though I’m sure it would please the statisticians at the Scottish Government who have worried that Scotland’s population is in terminal decline.

Still, the result of an expanding family means you have to make choices about where you live. For us it meant sacrificing Edinburgh. We wanted to have a home with a garden and the prices of such – especially in the west of the city where we lived because we also needed easy access to Glasgow because of work – proved impossible to meet.

So we won’t be counted in the new figures which show that Edinburgh’s population is to rise to 600,000 over the next two decades. It’s hard to imagine the big village which Edinburgh can sometimes still feel like, will hold so many people without something being forced to give.

The biggest rise will apparently be in the 35 to 44-year-old age group, which makes it obvious that what is going to be in massive demand is affordable family homes. And for too long it’s exactly that type of housing which has been sidelined in favour of large blocks of apartments for singletons. Just look at all those lying empty at the Waterfront, it’s not the tram that’s to blame, but a lack of proper planning. However, that doesn’t mean I believe the council should now give a ready nod to any new developments which promise so-called affordable family homes.

At the moment the council is compiling its Local Development Plan which will replace the Local Plan which came into force just two years ago. Did you know this? I didn’t. But then I don’t live in Edinburgh.

However more than 450,000 people do, and yet the consultation of the LDP only resulted in 400 responses. Only 400 individuals and groups, businesses and organisations commented on the plans for housing, the economy, health and leisure development over the next five years. Maybe that’s considered a good response. Seems paltry to me.

One commentator suggests that the whole thing has been done in an “underhand” manner, while another questions that given that not everyone has internet access, goes to supermarkets to read bulletin boards about public meetings or even reads Outlook, how would they even know this consultation was going on?

For a prime example, you need look no further than under the heading “cycling” – there’s not one single response by any of the major pressure groups in Edinburgh who are normally incredibly vocal about the wants and needs of those on two wheels. Similarly on parking standards only a former councillor made any suggestions. No anti-car lobbyists, no pro-car lobbyists. Most peculiar.

However the big issue is just where all the houses are going to go. The pressure on the green belt is already extreme, it’s bound to get worse.

The consultation proves that those who responded are extremely concerned about any encroachment, with the emphasis squarely on high-
density housing in brownfield sites, and requests for more discussion on family and sheltered housing.

There was also a lot of support for the Green Network, which would identify where green space is created and retained in areas, yet when it comes to building on greenfield sites in the future the responses were divided, unsurprisingly between housing developers who are all for it, and community councils and other groups which just don’t believe any of Edinburgh’s greenery should be concreted.

Something will have to give. I just hope it’s not Edinburgh’s planning process, long decried as slow and unresponsive. With such huge issues to get right, I’d rather it was more tortoise than hare. Cool heads are required to decide how Edinburgh will look in a decade’s time – where the new houses are needed, and all the infrastructure that will have to come with them.

New developments will undoubtedly help the city’s economy, but that pot of gold shouldn’t have councillors allowing a rash of ugly development in inappropriate places.

With some major controversial developments going through planning now and in the near future, – including Craighouse, the Academicals site in Stockbridge and Portobello High School – it makes the council’s decision on those even more crucial to the long- term future of the city. With another 150,000 people due here in the coming years, the council cannot afford to get it wrong. It should take heed of the few responses it received, and go slowly.

Jay’s still got it

ANYONE who grew up in Edinburgh and the Lothians in the 70s, 80s and 90s would have woken up to the dulcet tones of DJ Jay Crawford – well, that’s if you listened to Radio Forth.

He was a home-grown celebrity, in at the start of the commercial radio boom, and became so recognisable that he was known as the “voice of Edinburgh”. Now, because of a blood clot in his ear as a result of DVT, he can no longer listen to the music he loves, or put on a pair of headphones.

A radio documentary on his hearing loss, made by Edinburgh-based Dabster Productions, was an emotional rollercoaster of a tale.

Yet Jay still appears to remain upbeat and those radio tones are as smooth as ever. And even with the Movember moustache he’s sporting, he’s still got it.