Despite Edinburgh Council's big plans, house prices in the city look set to get even more expensive – John McLellan

For a glimpse of the future shape of Edinburgh, the BioQuarter centred on the Royal Infirmary is as good as it gets, yet it also reveals a serious problem at the heart of the proposed blueprint.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 7th October 2021, 4:55 am
Edinburgh Council will be lucky to deliver half of the affordable homes needed, so price rises are set to accelerate as demand increases (Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Edinburgh Council will be lucky to deliver half of the affordable homes needed, so price rises are set to accelerate as demand increases (Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The BioQuarter’s ambition is considerable, with the potential for 3,600 high-quality jobs in a new district which has already generated around £2.7bn of economic benefit from its health-related activities.

Potentially hosting 250 companies, it aims to secure a bigger chunk of a global life sciences market worth £868bn which, according to a new report, will grow by up to ten per cent a year.

At the Conservative conference in Manchester this week, the talk from economic development experts, not just government figures, is of the need for specialist business clusters where experts can concentrate and pool their expertise.

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Life sciences is one of the key industries on which Scotland can build on an existing reputation to create a sustainable future beyond the old reliance on North Sea oil and gas.

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There is no question the BioQuarter is the kind of project Edinburgh needs and the plan produced by the partners ─ the council, NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise and Edinburgh University ─ envisages a place where people not only work but live and includes 400 new homes for sale and 200 affordable homes.

This is the aim for the first two phases, to be delivered in the next 10-15 years, with two further phases after that.

According to the new City Plan, some 2,500 new homes will be built at the BioQuarter, and it is just feasible that the additional 1900 places can be squeezed onto the two plots to be developed in the future. But those 1900 homes are needed to tackle the housing shortage, which is central to the policy aim of ending poverty by 2030.

Yet building might not start until 2036, contributing to what already looks like a supply far short of an already identified demand.

The minimum housing land supply agreed by the planning committee in May was for 48,125 homes over ten years, about 4,800 a year, but independent analysis estimates the new plan is for just over 4,000 a year. It will be a miracle if that is delivered, given the recent average is 2,500 a year, so the plan gets nowhere close to meeting the city’s needs.

Indeed, buried in the technical background is an acknowledgement that 42,900 affordable and 19,600 market homes are needed, and an acceptance that “it is not realistic to set a target which provides in full for the need for affordable housing”.

The council’s own numbers show it will be lucky to deliver half of the affordable homes needed, so the inevitable conclusion is that as the number of people looking for a home continues to increase, so too will price rises accelerate.

No-one questions the sense of the brownfield first approach taken by the plan ─ why build on green fields, if derelict or neglected land is available? ─ but nothing which has emerged in the fortnight since it was published counters the basic truth that it will not do what the administration wants, or which its own policies demand.

It should be renamed the Ostrich 2030 plan, because the SNP-Labour coalition is just burying its head in the sand.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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