Gina Davidson: Has Sir David ever driven bypass at rush hour?

Sir David Murray's Garden District will have a massive impact on city bypass traffic. Picture: Greg MacveanSir David Murray's Garden District will have a massive impact on city bypass traffic. Picture: Greg Macvean
Sir David Murray's Garden District will have a massive impact on city bypass traffic. Picture: Greg Macvean
'˜THE land is not required for housing'.

The statement by city planners could not be more unequivocal. There is no need for swathes of new, undoubtedly expensive, housing to be built on greenbelt land just across the bypass to the west of Edinburgh Park.

And yet, this week, councillors on the planning committee – feeling they had to prove they could be decisive about something, anything – approved the first phase of Sir David Murray’s so-called Garden District.

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Is there a more inappropriate name for a development which will rip up acres of green fields to sow them with 1300 houses? And that’s just the start.

Look at the brochure for the development and there are countless photographs of the pleasant, undulating land which runs the boundary of the bypass . . . with a strange, malformed angel of death shape hovering over them all; the outline of the impending doom of 6000 houses.

The go-ahead was given by planning councillors despite environmental concerns, despite infrastructure concerns, despite the impact this will undoubtedly have on transport links.

Has Sir David ever driven on the city bypass heading west at rush hour? Has he heard the traffic reports about the congestion at Hermiston Gait? Does he realise that there are no trams on his side of the tracks or that St John’s Road in Corstorphine is already Scotland’s most polluted street?

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Maybe he has plans to turn this into Edinburgh’s most green development in the ecological sense of the word – car-free or only one per household?

But certainly the councillors who said yes to the scheme know all the transport issues. They also know that if you don’t get the fine details on exactly what developers will provide in terms of infrastructure nailed down in triplicate, then there’s always wriggle room for promises to be forgotten.

Suggesting that vital issues like transport infrastructure can be dealt with later is surely just irresponsible. Especially when you’re a local authority with a poor track record in legal contracts (tram anyone?) and which is also dealing with a schools’ building crisis because the contractors were left to supervise their own work.

I can imagine that it’s difficult to say no to Sir David Murray. He’s incredibly determined. This plan, in various forms, has been hanging around the council for years. Has his stamina worn down the councillors?

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He’s also a man who seems to be able to sail on peacefully while stormy waters rage behind him. The fact that he still owns this land when his former company Murray International Holdings folded owing a reported £346.6m is, to those of us who are not financiers, legal experts and multi-millionaires, astonishing.

In a perfectly legal move the Murray family approached MIH before it went under and bought the estates business arm. A new company was set up for this purpose – Project Snowdon Acquisitions Ltd.

Ten days after the deal went through Sir David joined the board of the new company and last year Project Snowdon Acquisitions Ltd went on to change its name to Murray Estates Developments Ltd. It’s now part of the greater Murray Group. All change, no change.

So given that they have gone against planners’ advice, gone against the rather basic fact that there are other brownfield sites available for development in Edinburgh and that these new houses will be unlikely to ease the heated housing market or take the pressure off other areas of green belt land – oh, and that they’ve left transport issues in the air – it seems that the planning committee has constructed its own Garden District folly. Well done.

Scandal-hit MPs had it all to lose

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ON the subject of the more things change the more they stay the same, it seems that it’s the SNP’s turn to embroil itself in sexual scandal.

I’m sure Shona Robison, wife of Stewart Hosie, and Jane MacNeil, ex-wife of Angus MacNeil, were both devastated when they learned of their husbands’ alleged affairs with political journalist Serena Cowdy – the latter’s last year, the former’s more recent.

But I wonder if they rushed to blame her in the way some SNP supporters and “social commentators” have? While she is obviously not without fault, it was the men who had marriages to protect.

Moderator has raised the Barr

THE Rev Dr Russell Barr, Cramond’s parish minister, is to become the new Moderator of the Church of Scotland and has pledged to tackle homelessness as his number one priority.

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It’s certainly a huge issue in Edinburgh when more than 4000 homeless applications were made to the council in the last two years.

The bank crash and the resulting unemployment rise is at the root of the latest surge in homelessness, but social exclusion has been a blight which the city has never yet managed to tackle.

I hope Rev Barr is able to bring some of the drive and initiative that lies behind his successful Fresh Start project – which gives starter packs of household essentials when homeless people finally get a place to live – to his new role and shed some new light on how we help those less fortunate.

Lessons to learn

GOOD news that an independent inquiry into the schools fiasco is to take place. Just not sure why it has to wait until “after the holidays”. After all, it wasn’t the teachers or pupils who built the schools in question.