Most people in Edinburgh know Balerno. Sitting beneath the Pentlands and adjacent to the Water of Leith, it exists in a spectacular setting. The village itself is almost circular, giving it a sort of compact nature. Added to this is its vibrant spirit, a thriving Farmers’ Market, a spectacular music festival, active parent councils, numerous volunteer groups and a team of dedicated individuals who make up the community council.
However, for many of its residents there is a feeling that it sits under a cloud. The mantra I frequently hear is “Balerno is under siege”. And the reason? It is constantly faced with large-scale housing planning applications in the green belt, which surrounds the village.
Last month we saw what was described to me by a constituent as “a traversty for local democracy”. I agree. Balerno now faces yet another struggle to stop unsympathetic housing development in the green belt following the decision by the Scottish Government Reporter to overturn the unanimous decision by the City of Edinburgh planning committee to reject proposed housing at land near Ravelrig Road. Gladman Development Ltd’s appeal against refusal for 120 units will now go ahead because of the chaos brought about by the city’s failed planning process, whereby decisions are often taken out of the hands of elected members to unelected civil servants.
As a member of the planning committee, I voted against this application and no sooner had that decision been taken Gladman chose to disregard the settled will of elected members by lodging an appeal. Now we have an unelected individual overturning that decision. In effect we now operate under a system of “planning by appeal”.
There are sites and communities across this city which have suffered from uncertainty from potential housing developments for several years. However, I do believe that Balerno has suffered the most, with various applications coming forward, unsettling local residents time and time again. One appeal can be dismissed only for a developer to come forward again with a slightly modified application, as we have seen with yet another application for Cockburn Crescent.
Rarely, are infrastructure implications taken into account; one only has to look at Lanark Road and Lanark Road West, which can barely cope with existing traffic, to realise that any further housing developments in Balerno will exacerbate the problem.
Ravelrig epitomises what is wrong with the planning system in wearing down local communities which lack the time and resource of developers, but residents should keep supporting the community council and Balerno Green Belt to ensure the most appropriate planning for our area.
Dominic Heslop is Tory councillor in the Pentland Hills ward