Edinburgh can build thousands of new homes without trashing the greenbelt – Kevin Lang

Can you really have your cake and eat it? In my experience, the answer more often than not is a firm ‘no’.
Kevin Lang and colleagues protesting over plans to build on greenbelt land at CammoKevin Lang and colleagues protesting over plans to build on greenbelt land at Cammo
Kevin Lang and colleagues protesting over plans to build on greenbelt land at Cammo

With shrinking budgets and growing demand, local politics in particular tends to involve having to make difficult decisions and even tougher choices. So, when you get the chance to deliver on two important election promises and two key policy outcomes at the same time, it's best to grab it with both hands.

One of those chances came last week with the decision of the council's planning committee to green light the city’s new local development plan, badged City Plan 2030. This sets out how the city will grow and develop over the coming years, how land will be managed and how infrastructure could be funded through development contributions. In short, it’s a planning guru’s dream.

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This new plan delivers a very welcome handbrake turn on the city’s previous approach to development. The last development plan, rammed through by SNP councillors five years ago, involved covering thousands of acres of our precious greenbelt in concrete.

Despite huge opposition and concern, important and much-loved open green spaces such as in Cammo and Queensferry in my ward were re-zoned for housing. Worse still, there was precious little offering around managing the impacts of such major developments in terms of services and infrastructure. Even now, we are playing catch-up on how our schools, health services and transport systems can deal with these major housing developments on what was once green open space.

This new City Plan, which is now going to the Scottish Government for review, retains our remaining greenbelt protections. Despite all the pressure and all the lobbying from housing developers, I am proud my colleagues on the planning committee stayed strong and approved a plan that has protecting the greenbelt at its very heart. In fact, not a single greenbelt site in Edinburgh is proposed to be turned over for development.

But what about the need for more housing, I hear you (rightly) cry. Yes, we do need lots and lots of new homes, particularly homes for social rent. It is scandalous that many of the most vulnerable in our city are left waiting two, often three years, just to get a warm, safe and affordable place to call home. It’s why the Liberal Democrats had delivering an extra 10,000 affordable as one of our key commitments for Edinburgh during last May’s council election.

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That’s what so great about this new development plan. It identifies the brownfield land, including many unused derelict sites, where we can focus development and build thousands more homes. It shows how Edinburgh can meet its house-building targets by focusing investment on these under-utilised sites, including many which sit as a blight within communities. Even better is that the percentage of housing developments which must be affordable has been increased significantly too.

Thousands of more affordable homes and protect the greenbelt at the same time? Have your cake and eat it indeed.

Kevin Lang is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council

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