Edinburgh's greenbelt: Cammo housing scheme appeal highlights the danger of local decisions being overruled – Ian Swanson
Residents in the west of Edinburgh were delighted when they learned planning officials had recommended proposals for another 500 new homes on greenbelt land at Cammo should be refused.
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More than 1,000 people had signed a petition against the plans and local Lib Dem councillor Kevin Lang had condemned the proposed breach of greenbelt policy as “utter madness”.
But the campaigners' apparent victory was snatched from them when the developers, having learned of the recommendation, lodged a last-minute appeal, taking the decision away from councillors and handing it to the Scottish Government.
It seems ironic that an appeal on the grounds that the council had taken too long to decide the application should be lodged on the eve of the meeting when they were going to make the decision.
But the developers must believe they have a better chance with the government and its planning reporter than with the council.
The hearing, which the council had planned to allow both sides of the arguments to be aired, went ahead nevertheless, so councillors could take a view on the proposals and make a submission to the reporter.
And the view they took – against the proposals – was not only unanimous but scathing. Councillor Lang described it as a “slam dunk” case for refusal. Planning convener Neil Gardiner said the proposals were “contrary to so many planning policies”. And Green councillor Alex Staniforth suggested the developers’ failure to appear for the hearing was because “they clearly don't feel they can help their own case”.
But despite the committee’s clear stance, there are fears that the decision could still go the developers’ way and allow the homes to be built.
The government has acquired a reputation for being favourably disposed towards developers and their arguments, regardless of local opinion.
A report last year found that, in the five years to 2019/20, more than one in three planning appeals in Scotland resulted in locally made decisions being overturned by the Scottish Government.
The problem Edinburgh has at the moment is that its local development plan, which sets out what kind of development should be allowed in which areas, is out of date and the new one isn’t ready yet. Insiders say it was expected to come forward before the local elections in May, but now it is likely to be June before councillors are asked to approve it, and then it still as to go to the Scottish Government.
So the fear is that the Cammo developers will claim there is no clear policy and the council’s attempts to point to the existing greenbelt designation and the fact there are no plans to alter it will not be enough to persuade the reporter.
Cllr Lang says if that happens and the 500 homes are approved – on top of the 2,500 already built at Cammo and Maybury – it will be “open season” for developers to bid for more and more encroachment of the greenbelt and the council will be virtually powerless to stop it.
It may be all turns out well for the residents and the reporter shares the council’s view that the Cammo proposal is unacceptable.
But the point is the current system seems to make it too easy to overrule local decisions, informed by professionals and made by elected representatives.