Anger as council vote delayed until after election

Residents view the Curriemuir plans. Picture: Neil Hanna
Residents view the Curriemuir plans. Picture: Neil Hanna
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The approval of a vital blueprint for housing development across the Capital has been delayed by councillors until after the election, in a move which has angered residents, frustrated developers and drawn criticism for being politically motivated.

Discussion and a vote on the second version of the city’s Local Development Plan (LDP2) had been due to take place next week but has now been pushed back to mid-May.

Critics fear the document, which will determine whether homes are built at controversial sites including Cammo, is being held up to avoid political embarrassment ahead of the UK general election.

The planning blueprint won’t now be considered until May 14 at the earliest – a week after the May 7 general election.

The move means that decisions on controversial developments are effectively being left in the hands of the Scottish Government, which called in six contentious development proposals across the Lothians in December, including plans for 670 homes at Cammo.

No amendments can now be made to the blueprint before it is considered by the Scottish Government’s reporter and Planning Minister Alex Neil.

Residents battling the proposed development yesterday hit out at councillors for “passing the buck” as it emerged that they would be forced to wait months longer for clarity about the future of their communities.

And experts warned that frustrated developers could now decide to circumvent the system and go for “planning by appeal”, turning to the Scottish Government to push through controversial housing projects after growing frustrated by years of waiting for guidance which was to be provided by LDP2.

A planning industry expert with detailed knowledge of the LDP2 process told the Evening News that the city was faced with an “unprecedentedly large” housing land shortfall, and that “councillors and officers recognise they are failing” in their efforts to produce a plan to deal with the shortage.

The source said: “Politics rules all, and there were members of the Labour Party who have been told, ‘if you do this, we’ll make sure lose your seat’.

“It’s high stakes, so it would have been an easy decision to pull it. Officers would have had their head in their hands.

“What we currently have is planning gridlock, because the council won’t approve applications because it doesn’t have a plan, and it can’t approve a plan.

“The council have said in all their documents, ‘don’t worry, our plan is just over the horizon’. It’s clearly not.”

Another planning expert said more greenbelt land could eventually be added to ensure that the city meets housebuilding targets, and warned that the eventual delay could stretch on for years.

The source told the Evening News: “I think the council understands now that there is a significant shortfall in housing land. That’s partly the reason why I suspect there is a delay, because there is obviously a political decision to be made.

“This is effectively the third bite of the cherry. They’ve gone through LDP1, which was insufficient, and LDP2, which is inefficient. Edinburgh could be knocking this down the road as far as the next strategic development plan in 2016-17.

“For a plan-led system, this is not good news. Edinburgh has a housing land shortfall that is gargantuan. This can be tied to the failure of the Waterfront. Edinburgh is in limbo because it doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

Residents battling against the developments expressed their disgust that councillors were not debating LDP2.

Ken Shade, planning spokesman for Balerno Community Council, said: “A lot of people would have liked to have closure on this – the sooner the better. Personally, I would have preferred if it was settled now, this month, so that we all know where we stand. It’s been dragging on for so long.

“I’m not pleased that the decision is going to be made by the Scottish Government, who might not take fully into consideration the feelings of residents living in those areas.

“We make our representations to our local councillors and we expect them to fight our corner. If our views have just been sidelined, that would be rather disappointing.

“They shouldn’t just pass the buck to the Scottish Government. That is really just undemocratic.”

And the Cammo Residents Association demanded to know “who is driving development in Edinburgh” following the decision.

A spokeswoman said: “Further delay in determining the LDP is unacceptable. The council needs to act now and stand up for the residents of Edinburgh who they are supposed to represent. While the LDP remains unconfirmed developers will continue to submit plans to build on greenfield sites like Cammo and we risk ad hoc development spoiling our beautiful city.”

Opposition councillors said residents risked being “disenfranchised” because of the failure to reach a decision.

However, the council insisted the delay had not been motivated by party politics, but had in fact been forced on it by a lack of action from the Scottish Government looking into the Cammo development.

In a statement, planning committee convener Councillor Ian Perry said: “Following consultation with the head of 
planning, it has become apparent that it would be difficult for the committee to finalise the Local Development Plan until the Scottish Government makes a decision on whether or not the proposed housing at Cammo should be approved in line with its allocation as a proposed housing site in the plan.

“Until this decision is taken, the committee can’t determine the number of houses to be included in the other greenbelt sites.

“I have therefore postponed consideration of the plan until the next planning committee in May and by then we hope a decision will have been determined on Cammo.”

The deputy planning convener, SNP councillor Sandy Howat, said: “It is the SNP position to remove Cammo, Curriemuirend Park, Newmills and Curriehill Road from the plan and relocate the housing allocation into the more suitable northern Garden District.

“Labour’s decision abdicates local decision-making and results in poorer local democracy.

“As our LDP is already overdue we will be liable to a number of applicant appeals for sites that are not in our plan, nor in areas that could be proposed for our plan.

“A situation of ‘planning by appeal’ could prevail against the wishes of our communities. The council will not be leading on the city’s development.”

Cllr Howat added that there was no guarantee that the Scottish planning reporter will have ruled on the Cammo application by the planning committee meeting on May 14. He added: “Delaying the LDP disenfranchises our communities.”

HOW THE DRAMA HAS UNFOLDED

November 2011: First draft of an initial Local Development Plan published, outlining plans to build 4500 homes, many of which are in the west of Edinburgh.

March 2013: Draft of LDP published, prompting outcry at proposals to build on greenbelt land.

September 2013: Council goes back to the drawing board after Scottish Government rejects initial plan, insisting that the city needs to find space for thousands more homes to meet national housing targets. Planning convener Councillor Ian Perry promises new plans within a year.

June 2014: Councillors give their backing to new LDP2 proposals, but promise a further review in February this year – which will not now take place.

January 7, 2015: The Evening News reports that Planning Minister Alex Neil has called in six major developments across the Lothians, including Cammo, after appeals from developers complaining about delays.

May 7: Voters go to the polls in the UK general election.

May 14: Next meeting of the planning committee and the earliest date that the LDP2 can now be discussed.

Tensions run high over controversial proposals

RESIDENTS across the west of Edinburgh have spent months fighting controversial proposals for thousands of new homes, with areas such as Cammo and Maybury bearing the brunt under the proposed second Local Development Plan (LDP2).

The most contentious proposal is for homes on greenbelt land at Cammo, first suggested in 2013. Residents there and at Maybury, where 2000 homes could be built in total, say the area should be protected and that roads and schools could not cope with the influx of new families.

Plans for Curriemuirend Park in Juniper Green have attracted roughly 500 objections – more than any other site in the west of the city earmarked for development under the LDP2 blueprint. Residents there say that the proposal to build 180 homes on the site has blocked hopes to improve the park until a final decision is taken on its fate.

Householders in Balerno have sounded the alarm at plans to build homes on vacant land that separates the village from neighbouring Currie. Between the two communities, plans for 300 homes are set out in the LDP2.

Tensions over the plans nearly split the city’s SNP-Labour coalition during the first attempt to draw up a planning blueprint for Edinburgh and those disagreements have now resurfaced, with SNP councillors calling for all three proposals to be scrapped.

In their place, deputy planning leader Councillor Sandy Howat suggests reviving plans for a Garden District – a 3500-home development to the west of the city which was originally suggested to ease the housing pressure elsewhere but was rejected by planners. The

£1 billion scheme proposed for land between Edinburgh Airport and the RBS HQ at Gogar was put forward by Murray Estates, the property firm owned by tycoon Sir David Murray.

MURRAY QUESTIONS ‘DOUBLE STANDARDS’

An MP has criticised the Scottish Government after plans for controversial developments in the west of Edinburgh were called in for scrutiny by ministers, while proposals for the south of the Capital were not.

Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said that Planning Minister Alex Neil should take into account the views of residents opposed to developments at Broomhill, Old Station Road, Midmar, the Drum and Moredun.

Mr Murray, below, told the Evening News: “I’m demanding that all the sites in south Edinburgh are called in and given the same treatment as Cammo.

“It’s ridiculous that the city is being dictated to in terms of housing numbers, which they have got to deliver, which will have a significant impact on the south of the city, and then Alex Neil calls in the Cammo application which throws the Local Development Plan into the air.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that the developments were being scrutinised because they had gone to appeal.