John McLellan: Turbulence ahead for airport complex plan

Gordon Dewar wants to use the airport's crosswinid runway for a commercial development. Picture: Jane Barlow
Gordon Dewar wants to use the airport's crosswinid runway for a commercial development. Picture: Jane Barlow
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No costs, no ground plans and only a few line drawings; details are so scant about Edinburgh Airport’s new bold plan to sacrifice its second runway for a new commercial complex that it’s hard to know what to make of it all.

Is it a genuine attempt to provide the city with a new commercial district because the International Business Gateway (IBG) masterplan around the tram line is taking so long to get off the ground? Or is it because the IBG will fly once the City Deal is established this year, and the airport sees time running out to maximise the potential of its land-holding? Or perhaps it’s just a way of getting a new access road through the planning process at a time when the ruling council groups are increasingly anti-car? More cynically, is it just a wheeze to fatten up the book value of an asset before it is put up for sale? Maybe it’s a combination of all four.

An artist's impression of the development planned at Edinburgh Airport

An artist's impression of the development planned at Edinburgh Airport

All that’s known publicly is that the site is between 86 and 111 acres and is currently occupied by the little-used crosswind runway which stretches almost to the new Edinburgh Gateway station at Gogar. It’s where rail travellers could see large American military aircraft parked up during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It could feature offices, warehouses and what airport chief executive Gordon Dewar describes as a “relatively modest” number of houses, with the site accessed by a new road. Construction could start next year if planning permission is granted, he says.

This is where different council functions might once again find themselves in conflict. If, as Dewar claims, his plans are competition to the IBG in which the council is a key player, then it will not necessarily be in the council’s interest to let the plan go forward.

But in planning terms the grounds for refusal might already be limited because under the local development plan the runway site is designated as an area of economic activity and according to the LDP there is no difference in planning terms between the IBG site and this one.

In any case, the airport does not usually need permission from the council for building on its land, which is why it was able to throw up the new security hall and shopping area in a matter of months, but it will need permission to create the new access road and alter the existing highway.

However, the new road will not just provide access to the Crosswind site but the airport terminal itself, so it will be argued that it is also a relief for the already choked main access road from the A8, but with many additional benefits. The anti-car (indeed anti-air travel) argument will be that a relief road is all it is, with few additional benefits.

As for the houses, again it’s unclear what kind of houses or indeed who would want to live right underneath the flightpath, and in the past the airport has seen homes as an obstacle to development, not part of a masterplan. For “relatively modest” you could read hardly any at all, unless an affordable scheme is included as a sweetener to the council.

There are a lot of questions for Gordon Dewar to answer before Ground Control gives this permission for take-off.

Let’s see that coalition manifesto

Edinburgh Council chief executive Andrew Kerr, pictured, has just posted the first entry for his new blog, and if he keeps it up it will surely become essential reading for anyone wanting to find out what’s going on inside the City Chambers.

For example, amidst a Scottish Government meeting, union talks and Royal Week engagements, he reveals that he and the council’s leadership team had an away day which they spent “planning our next five years and looking at how we’ll deliver the council coalition manifesto”.

Sadly, he didn’t go into details about what this manifesto contains, or indeed where they went away to, but it’s good to know such a document actually exists. Presumably it’s the agreement between the SNP and Labour leaders when they struck their coalition deal back in May, and which at the full council meeting two weeks ago they promised not only to publish, but personally autograph.

So far we’ve not seen a syllable, which is in contrast to the Labour-SNP deal after the 2012 election, which was published within days of the agreement being struck.

I wouldn’t be so unkind as to suggest that it takes the new leaders over a fortnight to write their own names, but if there is a document which details the administration’s intentions over the next five years shouldn’t it be shared with the rest of us?

Pet projects on the wrong track

The long-awaited Edinburgh City Region Deal which could bring £2bn of investment to South-East Scotland is very close to being signed with the UK and Scottish Governments, given hurried arrangements being made for briefings this week, but last minute accusations of heel-dragging do little to instil confidence.

What it contains is known only to a select few, although the suspicion remains that what has been put forward by the six councils will represent a lot of money being thrown at pet projects which have been sitting on the shelves waiting for cash to get them started, like the tram line to Newhaven. Don’t be surprised if it all seems a bit familiar.

I hope I’m wrong and it does turn out to the be the step-change for the South-east Scotland economy we have been promised.

So much for the cock of the walk

There is a saying about people being brought down to size: “Today cock of the walk, tomorrow a feather duster”, which just about sums up two of my appointments last week.

On Monday I was at Holyroodhouse for the Ceremony of the Keys and it was a privilege to be introduced to Her Majesty the Queen. Then the next night on the other side of the park I was trying to mediate in a neighbourhood complaint about someone who has recently acquired a noisy pet which is kept in the back garden . . . a cockerel.