Nigel Bagshaw: beauty spots should be off-limits

Protestors outside the City Chambers having seen the plans for the development of Craighouse approved. Pic:'' Neil Hanna
Protestors outside the City Chambers having seen the plans for the development of Craighouse approved. Pic:'' Neil Hanna
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A developer will be allowed to breach a whole host of planning policies at one of Edinburgh’s most-protected sites at Craighouse on Easter Craiglockhart Hill in order to build 81 new homes, thanks to a misjudged decision by some members of the city council’s planning committee.

The Craighouse decision is a microcosm of the much bigger debate which is looming – a debate which is being played out in the local development plan (LDP).

The LDP version two is currently out for “representations” until October 3 and can be viewed at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/localdevelopment plan. It matters because it frames the way land is allocated in the city for the next ten years and beyond – for homes, for workplaces and for green space. Hence it forms the backdrop to the big-picture decisions which the council has to make about planning applications, like the one at Craighouse.

Fundamentally, the plan is about the growth of the city and the wider city region. Across the South East Scotland areas as a whole, it is estimated that over 107,000 new homes will be needed through to 2024, with Edinburgh carrying over a quarter of that growth. That means, it is argued, that existing housing land is not enough and that new green sites need to be allocated, most notably to the west and south west of the city and then again over on the eastern side.

I believe the rationale is highly questionable.

Does anyone genuinely believe that 107,560 new homes are required in South East Scotland over the next ten years? This implies a volume of building which is way beyond current production levels, even during the so-called “boom” years.

Are we demanding enough on 
densities? New development at the edge of the city will typically be at suburban densities of 25-30 homes per hectare, which make modern infrastructure like district heating systems and well-supported public transport more difficult to provide effectively.

What about empty homes? Edinburgh has 2000 homes empty for more than six months. The LDP assumes that level of long-term vacancy continuing despite a council empty homes task group which could be focusing on bringing that number down.

And are we working brownfield land hard enough? If so, why has a site in Oxgangs been sold for yet another supermarket rather than housing? What about the Waterfront and the regeneration of Craigmillar? And so on and so forth.

I simply cannot see the case for losing large parts of the green belt. There is no truth to the argument that restricting housing land forces up house prices. Since almost all housing supply is in the second-hand market, prices are affected very little by new supply and housing affordability is much more a consequence of credit, taxation and subsidy.

So, yes to Edinburgh providing more affordable homes – but homes in compact, sustainable neighbourhoods, built around cycling, walking and public transport, where local shops and services can thrive. The LDP does not deliver that.

Councillor Nigel Bagshaw is planning spokesman for the Greens