Murray Estates backers brand council report ‘a work of fiction’

Artist's impression of the proposed Garden District.  Picture: EMA Architecture + Design Limited
Artist's impression of the proposed Garden District. Picture: EMA Architecture + Design Limited
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DEVELOPERS behind a major housing project on the outskirts of the Capital have hit out at council planners after they rubbished the proposals.

Murray Estates – owned by entrepreneur and former Rangers boss Sir David Murray – wants approval in principle to build up to 1500 homes on greenbelt land beyond the bypass in west Edinburgh.

The plans – the first phase of the so-called Garden District – would ease pressure on other sites in the greenbelt where controversial housing developments are proposed.

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But although the council has previously said the Garden District site has “merit”, a report to be considered by councillors on Monday recommends the application should be rejected.

It says the development would undermine the greenbelt and that the site is not needed to meet housing requirements. It also says access to transport is not as good as claimed and that the scheme could lead to more congestion.

And there is a warning that approval would prejudice the Local Development Plan, the housing blueprint for the area which has still to be finalised.

But Murray Estates claims the report includes “clear misinformation”.

And managing director Jestyn Davies has lodged a formal complaint with the council, alleging maladministration.

He highlighted the report’s assertion that the site is not included in the West Edinburgh strategic development area – the area prioritised for development in the South East Scotland masterplan – although it also quotes a council motion which acknowledges that it is.

In a letter to the authority’s monitoring officer, Mr Davies said: “There are a range of other factual errors and inaccuracies to the extent that I feel compelled to say make parts of the report read like a work of fiction.

“I am taking legal advice on how to respond to these issues.”

The Garden District proposal includes a mix of housing, including 300 affordable homes for rent, a shopping centre, primary school and a park.

Murray Estates says the site will include green space equivalent to double the size of Princes Street Gardens.

And the developers say there are 25,000 jobs within easy reach of the site – at Edinburgh Park, the Gyle and the RBS headquarters at Gogar.

However, the council report says that, although the developers highlight nearby bus, train and tram stops, there are “major barriers” to these facilities in the form of the A8 and the city bypass. And it says pedestrians would have to use existing underpasses to get to Edinburgh Park. “These would not create a safe and pleasant place,” it states.

But Murray Estates says that is a subjective judgement and points out that it has proposed an upgrade of the main underpass. It also claims the Scottish Government is building a narrower underpass at South Gyle and the council had raised no objection to that.

And it says the council’s proposal of a bridge over the bypass is unnecessary and prohibitively expensive.

The developer says that if the plans got the go-ahead, it would expect to start work on site within a year and the houses would be completed within the five-year timescale set for providing Edinburgh’s quota of new homes.

Three major housebuilders have been lined up to carry out the construction.

The report by officials, due to be considered at Monday’s meeting of the development management sub-committee, concludes that the application is “premature” and should be refused.

A spokeswoman for Cammo Residents Association said that, as far as transport issues were concerned, the Garden District was much better placed than Cammo for taking new homes.

She said: “Any traffic trying to go to and from Ratho has to go through either the Gogar junction, which leads onto St John’s Road, recently rated the most polluted street in Scotland, or the Barnton junction, which has also been identified as a gridlock blackspot.

“We’re also poorly served by public transport – there are some buses, but we’re not well connected, and we’re nowhere near the tram. The Garden District proposal overcomes all these issues.”

She said the association had been keen to remind the planning committee of its motion last May acknowledging “merit” in the Garden District site. She said: “It would seem a strange decision if they rejected at this point a proposal to build in the Garden District. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the wider context and what has been said previously.”

But there is opposition to the scheme. Alison Johnstone, Green candidate for Edinburgh Central and the Lothian regional list, said: “The Garden District has been presented seductively but in reality it is simply dressed-up suburban sprawl. Rather than feeding the outward growth of the city, Edinburgh needs to focus much more effort on existing brownfield sites, with compact, well-designed homes, close to local shops and local services, with easy access to transport and meeting housing need, not developer greed. Future generations will not thank us for shipwrecking them on development models of the past.”

The council would not comment on the “work of fiction” claims in Mr Davies’ letter.

A spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that we have received a letter from Murray Estates today and will respond to it in due course.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com