CONTROVERSIAL plans for new housing on greenbelt land look set to go ahead after the Scottish Government issued its judgement on Edinburgh’s Local Development Plan.
Campaigners battling proposals for tens of thousands of homes on sites such as Cammo and Maybury said they had been left “devastated” by the 886-page verdict.
It insists Edinburgh is facing a “significant shortfall” in housing over the next five years – requiring more homes to be built every year than “anything historically achieved even in the most positive economic circumstances”.
This pressure means Maybury and Cammo – along with many other plots sprawling across the city’s greenbelt – will be earmarked for around 2000 and 700 homes respectively, despite “significant local concern”.
In total, officials estimate the Capital still needs an extra 15,034 new homes by 2019 – a figure even council sources admit probably won’t be met. More than 25,000 extra houses are needed by 2026.
And despite 20 key sites being pegged for expansion in the Local Development Plan (LDP), the Scottish Government estimates a five-year housing shortfall of between 4700 and 7119 homes will remain.
The LDP – the city-wide planning blueprint of how the Capital can grow – was passed by councillors last year amid huge controversy.
It was then sent to the Scottish Government’s planning reporters to scrutinise, suffering months of delay. Yesterday, the mammoth judgement was finally published.
Despite huge opposition, the verdict insists all identified housing sites – many of which involve pushing into the greenbelt – should go ahead.
Additional sites at Edmonstone, the Wisp, north of Lang Loan, Gilmerton Station Road and Ravelrig Road in Balerno will also be included.
Elsewhere, the reporters criticised the controversial Garden District plans by former Rangers owner Sir David Murray for 1320 homes on greenbelt land at Gogarburn.
But as the proposals have already been approved by the council they seem likely to go ahead.
The outcome has been greeted with anguish among residents in Cammo, who believed their site could be removed from the LDP if the Garden District was given planning permission. Voting through the LDP last year, councillors made a recommendation in favour of the Garden District, insisting it could absorb a large chunk of the city’s housing growth and relieve pressure elsewhere.
A spokeswoman for Cammo Residents Association said they were “devastated” Cammo Fields remains in the LDP.
She added: “Our case that building on the fields is unsustainable and unacceptable has received widespread support. Even the city council agreed with our arguments and recommended that if permission was given to build east of Millburn Tower [the Garden District], Cammo should be removed from the LDP.
“We will continue to make our case and demand our concerns about traffic congestion, air pollution and school and health facilities are fully addressed.”
Jestyn Davies, managing director of Murray Estates – which is behind the Garden District plans – said there were “no surprises” in the reporters’ findings. He added: “The reporters are very specific in confirming that there is a significant shortfall in the council’s five year housing supply, which the Scottish Government has recently confirmed is over 4700 homes.
“It is this shortfall that the council has sought to reduce through the approval of the Garden District proposals, and we firmly believe this report keeps the Garden District well placed to help bridge that gap in housing supply.”
Colin Keir, Edinburgh Western MSP until earlier this year, said surrounding communities would be “absolutely hammered” if housebuilding went ahead on Cammo and Maybury without drastic changes to transport infrastructure.
Andy Wightman, Greens housing spokesman and Lothian MSP, said the report appeared to endorse a “misguided” approach to addressing the city’s housing crisis. He said: “Edinburgh has thousands of empty homes, acres of brownfield sites and land banked by developers, some of whom are in offshore tax havens. Our focus should be on building homes that are affordable, accessible and connected to local services and transport.”
Meanwhile, one well-connected source said the short-term housing shortfall identified in the government’s conclusions would usher in an “open season” for developers as they rushed to plug the gap.
The Scottish Government’s recommendations will be discussed by councillors in early September, but these are “largely binding” and the modified LDP is expected to be brought into force by November at the latest.
Councillor Alex Lunn, vice-convener of the city’s planning committee, said the report showed Edinburgh had “considerable areas of growth” – leaving the door open for further investment and jobs.
Planning leader Ian Perry said: “One of the key issues for Edinburgh is a shortage of housing and I am pleased that, while there is short-term pressure on supply, the report states that overall there is sufficient land to deliver the housing the city needs.
“The council will work closely with landowners and developers to identify ways in which building programmes can be accelerated to address this short-term issue.”
No mincing of words during LDP spat
The Local Development Plan – the council’s city-wide planning blueprint – sets out where new homes can be built.
It was pushed through by the council in May last year amid huge controversy, with deputy leader Sandy Howat even branding it “mince”.
During a stormy meeting, the city’s then-economic development leader Frank Ross – now SNP leader – blasted the LDP as a “fantasy”, criticising Scottish Government housebuilding targets before voting against his party’s own policy.
Meanwhile, Conservative councillors attempted to have the whole issue reopened, striking out contentious areas and consulting the public on alternatives including the Garden District.
But their amendment was defeated after a stark warning from convener Ian Perry that any changes could further delay the plan until February 2017.
In the LDP’s absence, he argued, the city was subject to “planning by appeal” – with developers who have applications rejected able to appeal to the Scottish Government, which operates with a presumption in favour of housing.
Campaigners warned the move would pave the way for the destruction of precious greenbelt, as well as putting unacceptable pressure on infrastructure.
A first attempt at passing an LDP stalled in 2014 because SNP and Labour councillors couldn’t agree on sites, threatening to split the coalition.
And while the Scottish Government’s conclusions yesterday largely support the council’s blueprint, rest assured: the controversy won’t end here.