Edinburgh Council's housing plans might work in cloud-cuckoo land but not here – John McLellan

Four years ago some readers might remember the SNP-Labour coalition made a promise to build 10,000 new affordable homes by next year and deliver a plan for a further 10,000 by 2027.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 4:55 am
Edinburgh needs more affordable housing (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Edinburgh needs more affordable housing (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

As it became clearer there was not a cat in hell’s chance of hitting the first target before the next council election we were told that no, there was never any pledge to build them, just to produce a plan, despite the fact that the solemn pledge to build 10,000 in five years was regularly repeated by administration leader Adam McVey.

It was obvious even before the pandemic that this promise was never going to be kept, with the completion rate slipping 2,500 behind the necessary rate by the beginning of 2020, then falling a further 2,000 off the expected target for 2020-21 as Covid took hold.

Yet as recently as May, there it was again in an official document which re-stated: “The council maintains its commitment made in 2017 to build at least 20,000 affordable homes by 2027.” Someone didn’t get the memo.

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While building 6,000 affordable homes is undoubtedly an achievement which deserves recognition, it’s still 4,000 off the first five-year plan and only sophistry and statistical selectivity keeps the administration clinging to the pretence that its promise has not been broken.

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Being economic with the actualité can be habit-forming, and it should surprise no-one if the new City Plan 2030 Choices proposal expected this week will eventually be added to the administration’s library of fantasy fiction.

It paints a picture of everyone living happily ever after in a city where there is more that enough land to build around 44,000 new homes without a single sod of Green Belt being cut. All that’s needed will be a wave of a magic hod, because it will take a book of spells of a similar size to deliver.

Apparently, there is so much available land that a target of building just under 37,000 homes should present no problems, but in March last year another council report calculated the established land supply was just 30,623, with only space for 22,646 on land without planning problems.

Those problems have not disappeared, so something is clearly amiss, and a clue is in Seafield where the new plan reckons 1,500 homes will go in the next nine years, despite the fact that a substantial chunk of the land is currently occupied by the retail park which the owner, Royal London Insurance, has repeatedly told officers will be staying as it is.

Similarly, no-one has told Lothian Buses where their new depot will be if the current one makes way for homes.

West Edinburgh has been chosen for the biggest growth because of its transport connections, which makes sense to an extent, but the existing links are at capacity and much hinges on Edinburgh Gateway railway station ceasing to be a white elephant, or new residents finding their world’s desires within a theoretical 20-minute neighbourhood public transport radius.

Planning convener Neil Gardiner said this week the council had “made sure there will be a generous supply of land to meet anticipated needs”, when it appears planners only made sure they identified sites they preferred and minimised the obstacles.

For its 2030 choices, the council has chosen clouds and cuckoos.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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