Scottish Government should intervene in Edinburgh's housing and transport strategies. City council isn't up to the job – John McLellan

Perhaps I’ve not given Edinburgh Council’s SNP group enough credit for their masterful approach to housing and transport.
Motorists commuting into Edinburgh because they cannot afford a home in the city may soon face a congestion charge (Picture: Jon Savage)Motorists commuting into Edinburgh because they cannot afford a home in the city may soon face a congestion charge (Picture: Jon Savage)
Motorists commuting into Edinburgh because they cannot afford a home in the city may soon face a congestion charge (Picture: Jon Savage)

Not only are they forcing all those selfish people who irresponsibly want a good family home with a garden and space to park their car to live somewhere else, but they have devised a scheme to fleece them of more hard-earned cash without any chance to object.

That’s the implication of the SNP’s fiendishly cunning plan to levy a congestion charge on anyone driving into Edinburgh who doesn’t live here, the same people they intend to whack with their workplace parking levy.

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Reviving the congestion charge defeated in the 2005 referendum in their council election manifesto, while insisting no city resident will pay, means those it affects ─ people who live elsewhere ─ cannot vote against it.

Yet for years, the effect of planning and housing policies has been the growth of vast new communities in neighbouring council areas, while the continued failure to meet demand has pushed city prices inexorably higher and the transport network to breaking point.

And there’s more to come. The Edinburgh City Region Deal, proudly signed off by the city council, included 5,000 new houses in Winchburgh, and five other strategic sites all outside Edinburgh.

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But the construction of thousands of houses in Blindwells, Calderwood, Dunfermline, Shawfair, and Tweedbank was not accompanied by adequate investment in public transport, despite most employment opportunities being in Edinburgh.

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The Gateway railway station is deserted, the tram mostly serves thinly populated districts, and the single-track Borders rail link serving Shawfair and Tweedbank has just two services an hour.

Thanks to a West Lothian Council official, we now know that Transport Scotland blocked an attempt to make a new Winchburgh railway station a condition of planning permission for the houses.

Thousands of key workers with jobs here, particularly younger ones with families, now live just outside Edinburgh. But without adequate public transport, the car is the best way to get kids to school and arrive at work in time.

For commuting shift workers, like hospital staff, a car is essential, but the SNP manifesto makes no mention of exemptions for nurses or teachers. And they have obviously forgotten, or don’t care, that they will be taxing West Lothian families who drop off their children at Balerno High.

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Edinburgh Council’s contribution to sustainable transport is four park-and-ride sites, so queues of cars on Queensferry Road and the Bypass aren’t caused by selfish people who like their independence, but a failure to meet the yawning gap between supply and demand in both transport and housing.

The chance to be straight with the public was dodged with the dishonest City Plan 2030, which claimed to meet housing need while burying an admission in its technical information that it does anything but.

Instead, the SNP’s answer for failing to build enough houses is to sting those families forced out with a congestion charge, and only a vague promise of “more park and ride” as an alternative. The most likely result is higher Edinburgh property prices and lower-paid job vacancies being harder to fill.

The case for government intervention with regional transport and housing strategies is stronger than ever, because it’s clear that this Edinburgh Council isn’t up to the job of managing an expanding capital city.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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