In the next 18 months the Local Development Plan (LDP) for Edinburgh is expected to be adopted. It frames the way land is allocated in the city for the next ten years and more – for homes, for workplaces and green space. So planning applications will be seen against the backdrop of the LDP.
Although the LDP has been in preparation for a number of years it has now hit turbulence, with a ten-week public consultation being put back for a month, until June.
The delay reflects deep disquiet about the potential unprecedented growth of the city and the wider city region. Across the south-east Scotland area as a whole, it is claimed 107,000 new homes will be needed through to 2024, with Edinburgh carrying more than a quarter of that. That means, it is argued, existing housing land is not enough and new green sites are needed, most notably to the west, such as Cammo and Curriemuirend, and on the south-eastern side, such as Burdiehouse.
But I have yet to meet anyone who genuinely believes that 107,000 new homes are required or will be built in the city region. Building at that level is way beyond anything seen in the past. It is a developer’s charter.
Of course, new homes are needed. But is the LDP sweating enough from the existing space and buildings? Edinburgh has up to 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 should be focusing on bringing that number down. And if brownfield land is being used fully, why has a site in Oxgangs been sold for yet another supermarket rather than housing? Why, at the Fruitmarket in Chesser, is a retail park being built on half of the site which was earmarked for housing? What about the Waterfront and the regeneration of Craigmillar?
As long as questions such as these persist I see no case for losing parts of the green belt. So, yes to more affordable homes – but homes in compact, sustainable areas, built around cycling, walking and public transport, where local shops and services can thrive. That is why Edinburgh’s politicians need to stand up rather than just wringing their hands. It is not credible for SNP MSP Colin Keir to criticise the loss of green belt in his Edinburgh Western constituency when it is his SNP colleagues on the council and at Holyrood who are driving the expansion to the west. Likewise it is not credible for Labour MP Ian Murray to reassure local people in the south-east that housing should not be forced upon areas where there is already pressure on amenities, while his party colleagues on the planning committee are doing precisely that.
If the Local Development Plan is to meet genuine housing needs and protect our precious green spaces, we need to be united, and honest, in ensuring that it does.
• Councillor Nigel Bagshaw is Green planning spokesperson