David Murray firm: City must build on greenbelt

An artist's impression of the Garden District
An artist's impression of the Garden District
Have your say

PROPERTY giants Murray Estates today insisted that Edinburgh simply cannot build the new homes that it needs unless it agrees to major development on the greenbelt.

The company, owned by Sir David Murray, wants to create a £1 billion Garden District development on land to the west of the city.

Sir David Murray. Picture:  Neil Hanna

Sir David Murray. Picture: Neil Hanna

Three thousand five hundred homes, a new high school, three primaries and a national garden attraction would be developed under the company’s plans for land beyond the bypass.

Jestyn Davies, managing director of ­Murray Estates, said he was convinced the project was essential to any hopes Edinburgh has of delivering its share of the 107,500 new homes which the Scottish Government believes are needed in South-East Scotland.

“This is a formidable task, and it is my belief that without the inclusion of the proposals for Edinburgh’s Garden District, Edinburgh will fail to meet its share, especially when sites for 9000 homes that were planned for north Edinburgh are no longer available,” he said.

The alternative is no easing in the housing crisis, he added, which has seen the price of the average home in the Capital remain at £212,000.

The greenbelt. Picture: contributed

The greenbelt. Picture: contributed

The warning comes ahead of a crunch meeting between Edinburgh and neighbouring local authorities which will decide how the allocation of land needed for building new home will be shared out across the region.Environmental campaingers are fighting to protect the greenbelt from what they say in total will amount to an “astonishing” level of development.

In recent years, much of the new land for development has been provided in the Lothians and Fife, but there is expected to be greater resistance to any such moves now as a result of the amount of building that has already taken place in communities surrounding Edinburgh.

Murray Estates controls 675 acres of land to the west of the Capital and has created a development blueprint following three years of discussions with local communities and other interested parties. It includesa 60-acre garden complex, named the Calyx, which would boast themed green areas, water features and research facilities as part of a £25 million concept.

Theproposed development also includes a business village which would see 1500 homes built in walking distance of Edinburgh Park and the International Business Gateway in the hope of attracting staff and their families to live there.

Another major development would create 1400 properties close to Heriot Watt.

Mr Davies added: “Allocating new sites for ­development is always tough, but simple arithmetic shows that Edinburgh simply cannot find the sites for all of these extra homes without our proposals for the Garden District.

“And even if the city does try to, it will be taking decisions that could seriously impact upon Edinburgh’s traditional suburban ‘village’ communities.”

“I challenge anyone to set out how else Edinburgh’s housing needs can be met without sacrificing the special qualities of our existing urban village communities,” he added.

The plans have attracted widespread objections from residents concerned at the impact on the area.

Meeting to decide greenbelt future

The fate of the city’s green belt is to be sealed at a crunch summit to map the shape of house-building in the ­region for years to come, the Evening News can reveal.

A total of 107,500 new homes need to be built across south-east Scotland by 2024 to meet growing demand, according to the Scottish Government, a target which will fuel an enormous surge in new home building.

Delegations from six local authorities – including Edinburgh – will meet at the end of the month to thrash out a regional plan for where new homes should be built.

And, amid a chronic housing shortage which has seen thousands of families priced out of the Capital, Edinburgh is expected to shoulder a significant proportion of the new properties, especially given that neighbouring areas have largely borne the brunt of housebuilding in recent years. With development space at a premium in thecity, following the collapse of so many projects on the Waterfront, developers are increasingly turning their attention to green space on the fringes of the Capital.

Among them is Murray Estates, the property firm of former Rangers owner Sir David Murray, which wants to build a £1 billion Garden District development on green belt land beyond the City Bypass in west Edinburgh. TThe Scottish Building Federation says construction has slumped in Edinburgh from more than 1900 properties in 2007 to 1097 last year and warned 6000 more homes must be built each year to meet demand.

That means the council delegations involved in the Strategic Planning Authority for Edinburgh and South East Scotland (SESplan) summit to be held in Livingston on September 30 clearly have some difficult choices.

For Edinburgh, the biggest decision is whether to give the go-ahead for large scale building on the greenbelt or to opt instead for more piecemeal development across the city which is likely to prove unpopular with the local communities affected.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, branded the scale of the “astonishing SESplan proposal “a charter for unparalleled growth that puts quantity ahead of quality”. She said: “Left unchallenged, tens of thousands of these new homes will be in Edinburgh, threatening green field sites within the city, over-running the green belt and swamping some of the settlements which lie within travelling distance of the Capital.

“The city region does need more homes but targeted at lower price ranges, using brownfield and derelict sites and bringing back into use our many empty homes.

“New building needs to be compact to make services like shops, health centres and public transport accessible and we need to start planning homes around communities, not car parking.”

Green belt campaigners believe planners have failed to strike the right balance between preserving green spaces for leisure, enjoyment and recreation with the demands of development and growth. A spokesman for the Edinburgh and Lothian Greenbelt Network pressure group said what’s lost will not come back.

He said: “Priority is given to development and the local authority has to abide by this. The directive comes from Scottish Government who sees growth as one way out of austerity. But the consequence is the continued loss of Edinburgh’s green belt and the amenities for communities.

“I don’t know quite how you resist this other than continually saying communities are concerned about the loss of this important amenity.

“The dilemma is that the edge of the city, where it adjoins the green belt, is the most accessible for the citizens to go and walk, enjoy healthy air and exercise, but at the same time this green field area is the easiest and cheapest to develop.”

Vaughan Hart, managing director of Scottish Building Federation, urged council planning departments to accelerate housebuilding.

Economists agree with him and it is clear – as the green shoots of recovery continue to grow – increasing numbers of developers will take the plunge and start work on new estates. Already a large number of medium sized developments are under way in Edinburgh.

Just last week, Barratt East Scotland announced plans to build 442 new homes throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians. The builder has started work on 180 new homes at Inchross Grange in Bathgate, 122 homes at The Kilns, Burdiehouse, and in Esbank 140 new homes will be built.

Other plans could be expected to actually ­impinge on green belt land include a controversial plan at Maybury, which would see 1400 homes erected.

Mr Hart said: “It’s clear from the latest official statistics that we’re still not building enough homes to meet demand. The performance of local authorities in approving major planning applications also leaves much to be desired. Edinburgh council performs better than many.

“However, the figures still show it takes an average of more than six weeks beyond the recommended four-month period to determine major planning applications.”

He added: “In short, we need to see improved efficiency and greater flexibility in planning policy if we are going to address the major housing crisis we are confronted with.” 
The Scottish Government spokesman said once a deal is thrashed out, local authorities will reveal the details to the public in local development plans.

The spokesman said: “Following the minister’s approval of SESplan in June 2013, the authorities are working together to prepare supplementary planning guidance to determine the distribution of the required housing land across the six planning authorities within the SESplan area.

“A meeting of the SESplan Joint Committee is to be held on September 30 to discuss the draft guidance.

“Once the distribution is agreed, the precise location of the land to be released will subsequently be determined by the individual authorities through their local development plans.

Bill Lindsay, enterprise, planning and ­protection service ­manager for SESplan, said: “The joint committee will be asked to approve supplementary guidance on housing land but it won’t specify where that will be.

“That’s a matter for each of the individual local planning authorities. Supplementary guidance then has to be ratified by each of the SESplan constituency councils before going out to consultation.”

Is it time to build on edinburgh’s greeN belt?

Yes, by Planning expert Robin Holder, of Holder Planning

“There’s a common misconception that the green belt is fixed and this is not so.

“What the Government says is that you have to review that on a regular basis, precisely to allow for necessary growth. All of the land around Edinburgh is green belt, there’s no other kind of land. What councils have to do to comply with government policy is assess the need for growth, particularly for housing and business use, and when they produce new plans on a ­regular basis they have to review those boundaries.

“Government policy specifically says that you must not draw the inner boundaries of the green belt too tightly because then that wouldn’t provide for growth. If you don’t release land for housing, then the houses won’t get built.

“If the houses aren’t built then there will continue to be a shortage of houses and that will ­impact on price. Edinburgh already has the highest house prices in ­Scotland and that means an exacerbation of affordable housing shortages because firstly, a suppression of supply of housing impacts on market price and secondly, the ­Government’s policy on affordable housing is ­premised around the delivery of ­market housing.”


By Greenbelt campaigner Duncan Campbell, of Edinburgh and Lothian Greenbelt Network

“Much more protection needs to be given to preserve the key areas of green belt for future generations.

“Edinburgh prides itself on its setting and its setting is green belt. Being a compact city all the spin for tourism is about this and yet we continue to not just nibble but take quite substantial chunks out of it.

“Look at the West Edinburgh planning framework around the airport – virtually all that land to the west of the Gogar roundabout is scheduled for an international business park plus housing north of the A8 corridor. All of that is scheduled, mainly by the Scottish Government, as development land for the next 20 or 30 years.

“If this continues apace it will diminish the amount of green space and we are fearful of that.

“There is a big debate that needs to go on. How big should Edinburgh be? Should it continue to grow ad infinitum and end up like the huge conurbations of London, Glasgow, the West Midlands?

“Is that what the citizens of Edinburgh want?

“I don’t think we have had that debate and I think it’s important we do.”