Edinburgh Council is prioritising housing over jobs, meaning city is being hollowed out – John McLellan

Doughnut cities are a well-known phenomenon, where people stop living in once-bustling centres and businesses leave too, leaving a hollow middle of decay and neglect.

Thursday, 16th December 2021, 4:55 am
Doughtnut cities are ones in which the centre has fallen into disrepair. Edinburgh's housing boom risks stripping the centre of businesses and jobs (Picture: Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
Doughtnut cities are ones in which the centre has fallen into disrepair. Edinburgh's housing boom risks stripping the centre of businesses and jobs (Picture: Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Now fears are growing that Edinburgh might be in danger of becoming a doughnut city of a different sort, where businesses leave before the people, a jam doughnut with the jam squeezed out because of council policy.

So what, you might say, but the jam is local employment, and as the authority desperately tries to find land for housing to meet a demand it can’t get close to supplying, the mixture of job opportunities is set to diminish as residential developments take up industrial sites.

New analysis by property consultants Ryden exposes the problem, with 56 such locations – not the little arts shops, artisan bakeries and cafes which illustrate artists’ impressions but grittier units such as trades supplies, engineering works and manufacturing – identified for housing.

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The Ryden study shows Edinburgh’s historic development along the Water of Leith and Union Canal created a ribbon of industrial activity, and as waterways make attractive backdrops for residential developments, they are prime targets for conversion.

It identifies 27 previously industrial sites which are now housing schemes, and the process is set to accelerate from the loss of around 50,000 square feet a year to 250,000 annually to 2030.

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These are not empty sites waiting for a use but active units where people work and the analysis suggests this could mean the displacement of around 10,000 jobs. The jobs won’t necessarily be lost, but where will these businesses go and how will the new residents access the services they provide?

Services will relocate to new industrial units on the periphery, probably outside the city boundary because of greenbelt policy and the result will be more travel to work and more vans delivering goods and services.

Want to look at some new bathroom suites? That showroom round the corner is now at Newbridge. Want your car serviced? The garage that used to be two streets away is now in Musselburgh. Need an electrician? The sparky is coming in from Livingston.

The knock-on effect could be the acceleration of gentrification, against which traditional Leith residents have long railed, because the vast majority of city jobs available will be in hospitality, small-scale retail and white-collar services. By September last year, the number of manufacturing jobs in Edinburgh was already down to just 14,000.

Not everyone is going to find a job at the Bioscience park or become a tech entrepreneur, but neither the new City Plan, the 20-minute neighbourhood approach nor the revised economy strategy give many clues about how displaced businesses will operate or mixed employment will be sustained.

In the unlikely event that every land-owner in Seafield agrees to sell up to make way for a seaside housing scheme, it’s means a lot of economic activity would be active elsewhere. And so would the jobs and services for the new seasiders.

Marry that up with the continued assault on large-scale retail by online shopping, and the permanence of working from home and the only jam in Edinburgh’s doughnut will be on the roads as council policy prioritises houses over jobs. It will be some time before plumbers and tilers take to electric cargo bikes.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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