Jackie Kemp: No need yet to sacrifice chunks of green belt

The site of the old Eastern General is ripe for development. Picture: Jon Savage
The site of the old Eastern General is ripe for development. Picture: Jon Savage
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Does Edinburgh really need to sacrifice hundreds of acres of green belt to the west of the city for A development to fill a housing shortage as Murray Estates owned by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray argues?

The council is currently considering the company’s proposal for a £1 billion garden suburb to be created on land it controls at Cammo.

To a Leither, the case seems weak. To use a housekeeping analogy, surely before cracking open a new jar of jam we should first empty the one that is already open?

On the eastern edge of Leith, the old Eastern General hospital which has permission for 200 homes lies abandoned, its buildings demolished, home to scrubland and foxes.

And the waterfront masterplan created in the heady housing boom of the noughties which promised a new town of 30,000 homes, a Scottish Guggenheim, new parks towards Granton is miles from completion.

If any city fails to make the most of its waterfront, it is Edinburgh. Leith sands were once famous, miles of golden beach where horses used to race.

A famous kidnapping dramatised by Sir Walter Scott took place there. Golf was invented on the links land that fringed the shore.

But dubious decisions last century such as: ripping out the rail infrastructure to create the biggest residential area in Europe with no trains; building an open-air sewage works on the seafront; letting car showrooms with their backs to the sea colonise a major bit of waterfront, have blighted the area.

The old Eastern General has been for sale for years. It is fenced off but, as is the way of things in this area, the fence has been breached and it is a simple matter to gain entry.

I walked my dog around it the other day. It seems like a fine place to build new homes. On a slight hill, it has a view of the sea and it adjoins the pleasant, tree-lined fairways of Craigentinny Golf Course.

The site is near the sewage works, whose noxious smells have been ameliorated recently by some investment, but which ought to be covered completely. It extends to Lochend, where properties perhaps do not fetch as much as they would in the west of the city, but that should not be a reason for leaving the site empty.

Meanwhile, the waterfront development is taking shape, but evolving rather differently from the initial vision. Developers are encroaching gradually, taking little mini bites at the area. But the aptly named Windrush Drive comes to an abrupt halt at a chain link fence where the tarmac stops and the chip wrappers blow across the huge central wasteland like tumbleweed.

The housing crash has led to what has been built being more mixed than might once have seemed likely: two men in joggers and earrings are standing at the bus stop; a nanny is shepherding her charges along to the David Lloyd sports centre.

Children are playing hide-and-seek and play equipment in the handkerchief-sized gardens of Windrush Drive seems to imply that some young families have taken the opportunity to buy homes once intended for yuppies.

This area has huge potential; if there is indeed a growing demand for housing then that will act as a spur to development. When that is complete, there may be a case for opening up a pristine new area for housing. But not until then.