Edinburgh Greenbelt under threat amid housing plan

: City planners still have to find land for 8000 homes. Picture: Getty
: City planners still have to find land for 8000 homes. Picture: Getty
Have your say

GREEN-BELT land surrounding the Capital is today facing renewed threat of development as planners look to accommodate thousands of new homes within city limits.

Pressure is mounting to squeeze in about 30,000 properties by 2024 with land for almost 8000 homes still to be identified amid calls to unlock green space on the fringes of the city.

The housing targets, set by the Scottish Government, indicate that 107,500 new-builds are needed in the country’s south-east to cater for a burgeoning population in just over a decade.

Districts likely to shoulder the brunt of the housing targets include the western suburbs and south-east Edinburgh which could site more than 5000 homes under plans set to go before the Strategic Planning Authority for Edinburgh and South East Scotland (SESplan) on Monday.

The news comes just months after Edinburgh City Council unveiled a blueprint for up to 2000 homes on reclassified land at Maybury and Cammo, fuelling concern that Edinburgh’s countryside might again be in the cross-hairs.

It follows the unveiling of ambitious plans by Murray Estates to create 3500 homes on green-belt land in the west of the city.

The £1 billion Garden District masterplan, proposed by the property firm spearheaded by former Rangers owner Sir David Murray, has stoked controversy among green-belt protectionists but could become an option as city chiefs strive to accommodate the extra homes.

Jestyn Davies, managing director of Murray Estates, said the city’s chronic housing shortage combined with added pressure of building 30,000 properties makes his firm’s huge development bid a game-changer.

He said: “We firmly believe that the figures now being proposed substantiate our view, which is that Edinburgh cannot meet its housing targets unless the Garden District is allocated for development.

“Everyone wants to see economic growth in the city, but Edinburgh also needs to plan enough sites to avoid a shortfall in the supply of family housing.

“We will make a more detailed response when we have had time to go through all of the supporting information.’

Edinburgh Western MSP Colin Keir, a staunch opponent to green-belt development plans in his ward, insists there are sufficient brownfield sites within the Capital to exploit before more rural plots were considered.

He suggested redesignating commercial land at Edinburgh Park for residential use, citing vast acreage, accessible transport links and employment potential of the area. But while he warned against encroaching further into the green belt, he conceded that planners would have a “headache” meeting Scottish Government housing targets.

He said: “Let’s use what we’ve got before we start digging into the green belt, it comes down to that.

“If you are going to build all these houses in the green belt, we had better start thinking about having more than one tramline [to cater for them] and hope that the bus lanes will cope with the extra traffic.

“If you want a modern, vibrant city – a 21st-century Edinburgh – we’ve got to have more than a piecemeal approach. There is space in various areas around the city for development and it could be done sensitively without going into the green belt at this time.”

Councillor Nigel Bagshaw, Green planning spokesperson, echoed this view but added that expansion plans favoured “quantity over quality”.

He said: “What we are seeing here is the consequence of target-driven, top-down planning. SESPlan is drawn from Scottish Government rules on long-term land supply, which reflect the arguments made by developers and the use of past patterns of household growth.

“What’s missing is any real lever to ensure that developers actually use land that is allocated for housing rather than hoarding it, to keep land-prices up. So what we end up with is allocation of huge swathes of land which threatens to swamp the green belt and expand the city’s waistline without any debate about whether that is what we actually want.”

Balance is key to thriving Capital

BALANCE between growth and conservation is essential for Edinburgh to thrive, the Capital’s top planning chief claimed today.

Councillor Ian Perry, convener of the planning committee, said he held “concerns” that the move to expand the city could be at a cost to Edinburgh’s picturesque countryside.

He was speaking days ahead of crunch talks between six local authorities to thrash out a deal to meet future housing targets imposed at Holyrood.

Around 107,500 new homes will be required to meet growing demand in south-east Scotland by 2024. A meeting of council delegates is due to take place in Livingston on Monday. Each local authority will have the opportunity to pore over the agreement and suggest changes before they are expected to rubberstamp the proposals and incorporate them into their own Local Development Plan.

Cllr Ian Perr said: “We have been instructed by the Scottish Government to release more land for housing development in Edinburgh. We will be consulting with local communities to help us to decide how we can achieve this. Some of the additional housing land will be found in surrounding local authorities and I am grateful to my colleagues in these areas for working with us.

“We are all agreed that we need to build new houses. However, I have concerns that while the government’s requirements will increase the housing land supply, not enough emphasis is being given to the needs of existing communities and protecting Edinburgh’s green spaces. While the present process of strategic planning for our area is an improvement, it does not allow for flexibility to allow us to plan development in the longer term while being able to reflect market conditions and local circumstances.

“I will be meeting Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government minister responsible for planning, as well as house-builders to discuss how a long-term vision for the growth of the city can be achieved. I want a vision that not only satisfies our housing requirement but reflects our unique characteristics, the needs of our diverse communities and the importance of our green spaces.”