City Plan 2030: Edinburgh Council needs to be honest about implications of its deeply flawed housing strategy – John McLellan

Nobody doubts the sincerity with which Edinburgh Council’s SNP-Labour administration seeks to tackle poverty and climate change, but if good intentions are one thing, delivery is another entirely.

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 4:55 am
There is nothing wrong with defending the greenbelt, but that will have an effect on the housing supply (Picture: Scott Louden)

At the heart of the programme is the new City Plan 2030, the blueprint approved yesterday for all development in the next ten years and last week this column questioned the reliability of its projections.

Now independent experts have studied the numbers and the answer is essentially the same: City Plan 2030 is a work of fantasy worthy of Tolkein.

Readers will not have heard of Robin Holder, but there are few more knowledgeable in the planning world, his advice keenly sought by developers. In a highly unusual move, he emailed the administration leadership and all members of the planning committee with his analysis of the new plan. His verdict was devastating:

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The total number of new houses planned is 31 per cent short of the estimated requirements by 2032. The number of new affordable homes is less than half Edinburgh’s needs. The plan earmarks 91 new brownfield sites, but only nine are vacant. The most optimistic projection is that building on these sites could start four years from now, but big sites only deliver about 200 homes a year. The reliance on occupied sites means there is no possibility of delivering the 20,000 new homes the plan says will be built in the next ten years.

OK, Mr Holder’s might just be one pessimist against the administration’s wild optimism, but another consultant in this field I contacted was equally dismissive; City Plan 2030 is not only undeliverable but might actually make things worse.

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To avoid building on the greenbelt, the plan involves building houses where there were supposed to be businesses, 7,000 of them at the site formerly known as the International Business Gateway but under these plans should be renamed the International Airport Housing Estate. Another 3,000 are meant to go at the Bioquarter, so to preserve the greenbelt the administration is slashing the capacity for business growth.

Despite the 20-minute neighbourhood concept meant to underpin this strategy, the 7,000 new households around the airport will have to travel further to work.

Falling so far short on housing supply will drive up prices and therefore fail to deliver the primary demand made by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission to cut housing costs. Further, by once again relying on other Lothian councils and Fife to meet Edinburgh’s housing needs, it forces people to travel further for work and adds to congestion and emissions.

Maybe none of this is avoidable, but that’s not what City Plan 2030 claims and the Scottish government will probably reject the plan and grant planning appeals for sites the council says it doesn’t want because it will be the only way to meet housing projections.

I have no reason to doubt that those behind this plan truly believe it represents a realistic proposal, but it’s anything but. It’s too obvious to say it’s just a way of kicking difficult decisions to the other side of next May’s elections, although that’s the likely effect, so is something else afoot? Notable absentees from yesterday’s meeting suggest so.

There is nothing wrong with defending the greenbelt, but the council must be honest about the implications. City Plan 2030 fails that test, but maybe that’s the plan.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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