John McLellan: Cammo merely stay of execution

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There has been no dancing in the streets of Cammo after the plan to build 670 new houses off the Maybury Road was blocked by Communities Minister Alex Neil.

Senior local SNP figures had expected the plan by the Cramond & Harthill Estate to be approved on the basis that as it was heading for 
rejection by city planners why would the Scottish Government take the decision out of council hands if the intention was to do what councillors were going to do anyway?

How wrong can you be? Even the government official appointed to examine the case was blind-sided because he recommended approval.

But in the crazy world of the Scottish planning system that’s exactly what has happened; the Government has called in a plan, set its expert reporter off on a thorough examination of the proposals and then ignored his advice.

The reason given is a procedural technicality: that the site is earmarked for housing in the city’s local development plan (LDP) but that still has to be finalised by councillors and approved by the Scottish Government and that permission for such a big scheme can only be granted once the LDP has been signed off.

So if the LDP land allocation is signed off as it stands – and councillors on the planning committee voted it through only a couple of weeks ago – then there will be little reason the Cammo Fields housing development cannot proceed.

So the Cammo Residents’ Association is now fighting a new battle – to make sure the Fields’ green belt status is preserved and house building permanently blocked.

The Government announcement cites transport problems across the whole of West Edinburgh, even though, the Borders Rail Link apart, few places in the East of Scotland have had as much effort spent on transport infrastructure as West Edinburgh. In the last 20 years there has been the Gogar underpass, the M8 extension, Edinburgh Park station, the trams, and now the Edinburgh Gateway rail and tram interchange. The congestion along Maybury Road, Queensferry Road at the Glasgow Road is not going to go away, but it’s not as if nothing is being done.

Ironically, the one project likely to make matters worse is the Scottish Government’s flagship project the Queensferry Crossing, which will make it more attractive to live in Fife but drive to Edinburgh. Despite doubling the bridge capacity, the road network into which the new bridge feeds is essentially unaltered.

For evidence of Fife living’s increasing popularity look to the latest report from the Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre which shows the fastest increase in house prices was in Dunfermline, where the average price leapt 15.2 per cent to £158,000.

It’s still much cheaper than Edinburgh and the Lothians, but not far behind Midlothian’s average which rose only 0.4 per cent to £166,000.

What the Cammo ruling says is this: “the wider transport 
infrastructure implications of the 
proposed LDP, including the cumulative effects of this and other proposed allocations on transport infrastructure in the West Edinburgh area, have yet to be considered through the LDP examination process.”

Reading between the bureaucratic gobbledygook, this only requires the implications to be “considered” through the local plan process. Nowhere does it say that action has not been taken or new measures are needed, only that the process of consideration has still to be completed.

And far from expressing concern, planning reporter David Buylla said he believed the impact on transport would be minimal because of the developer’s promised improvements, in particular a new traffic light system at both the Barnton and Maybury junctions.

Crucially, Mr Buylla said that both the roads authority and Transport Scotland were happy with the plans. “One can confidently conclude that, subject to implementation of the proposed mitigation measures, there would be no adverse effects,” he said.

But the most important aspect of Mr Buylla’s report is his concentration on Edinburgh’s housing supply. He repeatedly refers to the problems the city faces in hitting its targets and how important West Edinburgh has become in meeting demand.

Apart from accepting the practical infrastructure difficulties like road and school capacity had been addressed by the developer, Mr Buylla’s conclusion is that even if he accepted local concerns none of them outweighed the need for more homes.

He couldn’t be much clearer: “There is a demonstrated significant shortfall in the housing land supply, both over the next five years and in the longer term. There is no evidence to suggest that... challenging housing targets could be met without the allocation of this site or some other (as yet unidentified) large site within the green belt.”

The applicants are not surprisingly furious that the minister has chosen to overturn such an unequivocal expert opinion, but the power of pork-barrel electioneering is never to be overlooked. It might not be in the long grass but certainly in the medium rough. The LDP has already been though the planning committee and will need to be approved by the full council, which is Labour led.

So here’s another scenario: the LDP is approved by the council, with chunks of West Edinburgh green belt land allocated for housing, including much of the Garden District and Cammo. It is rubber-stamped by the Scottish Government.

A new application comes in for Cammo and this time it is approved, just after next May’s Scottish elections are safely out the way.

BARKING MAD

The go-ahead bevvy merchant BrewDog might have bitten off more than it can chew with an application for children’s access to its pub on the Cowgate.

I’d be very interested to know what market research backs up the application because the Cowgate nursery across the road excepted, this is not a street much frequented by children, unless university students qualify.

What intrigues me is what kind of parent in their right mind would want to take their little darling for some lemonade and crisps in somewhere as dark and lacking in child-friendliness as that part of the Cowgate?

I’ve nothing against BrewDog or its high-octane products, but if it gets permission for this, don’t be surprised if the person sitting alone in a corner indulging in a bit of people-watching is employed by social services.

EASTER ROAD NOT THE ANSWER FOR EDINBURGH

Sixteen years after the failed experiment of Edinburgh Rugby (Reivers as they were then) playing home games at Easter Road, Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson says a move back to Hibs’ HQ is once again being considered.

The chances of success are every bit as good as the last time, when crowds were sparse and the atmosphere as thin as it is at Murrayfield.

Why Dodson, pictured, thinks it might be more successful this time around defeats me but we can only presume Scottish Rugby’s ticket data shows there are a surprising number of rugby fans down Leith way because a significant number of the ones who live near Murrayfield are unlikely to make the trip across town for an average home game.

I was a season ticket holder this year but I definitely won’t be in future if Easter Road becomes a permanent home, not because I have anything against Hibs but with so many games on Friday nights it’s just the wrong side of town. Not much of a fan, you might say, but I make no excuse and I know there are plenty in the same position. I’ll stick with Watsonians.

Scottish Rugby is rightly very happy with the success of Glasgow Warriors where a winning team regularly sells out 8000-capacity Scotstoun, but even that number of fans might not sound quite so raucous in a 20,000-seater football stadium.

The Easter Road suggestion might just be a kite being flown to measure reaction, or indeed a bit of leverage in the ongoing tussle with Edinburgh City Council about Meadowbank, but if it turns out to be serious then it’s just another chapter in the story of make-do-and-mend which has beset Edinburgh’s professional side since its inception.