At THE Edinburgh election count last Friday, there was an easy way to bring joyful SNP councillors down to earth: remind them they had to sort out the Local Development Plan in a week’s time.
North & Leith’s new MP, Deidre Brock, now standing down as a councillor and member of the planning committee, might have been there to witness yesterday’s shenanigans, but the fall-out of the planning committee’s decision to press ahead with the LDP will be a good bullet to dodge. Others are not so lucky.
The decision to pass the LDP virtually unaltered means plans now under consideration by communities minster Alex Neil, in particular the bitterly opposed plan for 670 houses at Cammo, can be approved without further delay.
By the end of last week, senior councillors thought they had a deal to include parts of the new Garden District in West Edinburgh and remove other contentious developments, but that hit the buffers because Neil’s department saw a danger that, instead of getting on with building much-needed houses, the new sites would become mired in objections while the old ones were mothballed.
Significant variation to the LDP would have meant the whole going back out to consultation, which could have put city development in limbo for another two years, which is an extraordinary state of affairs. It’s already taken four years.
So, understandably, the Scottish Government took the view that enough time had been spent talking and the starting gun should be fired for the projects sitting in the starting blocks.
Now the election is out of the way, and having just overturned the council decision to reject an estate of 170 homes at Old Dalkeith Road, local SNP figures expect Neil to give the go-ahead at Cammo and for another 72 homes on The Wisp.
It will be for new Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson to explain to her constituents why Cammo will go ahead after she campaigned against it, while not breaking the rules about criticising the party. Good luck with that, Michelle.
So, too, will economic development chief Frank Ross be called to account for voting against his group decision, but full marks to him for his independence of mind.
The new agreement thrashed out by the city’s coalition partners means that virtually all the city-wide plan that had previously gone out to consultation has been adopted, but there will be recommended tweaks here and there to recognise local concerns.
In particular, it is proposed the hugely contentious plan for Brunstane be reduced by a third, but the new plan for more than 400 homes will still dismay Newcraighall residents. Again, even if councillors throw it out, the minister would in all likelihood approve it on appeal and put new MPs Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) and George Kerevan (East Lothian) in the same position as their Edinburgh West colleague.
The Garden District between the A8 and M8 west of the by-pass is out for now, but as the agreed plan will still be short of the housing target (32,000 new homes by 2024), its day will come.
The implications of last week’s SNP landslide for housing policy are considerable because, until now, much of the behind-the-scenes horse-trading has involved Labour and SNP haggling over what they would regard as their own patches. If anything was going to go in what was previously regarded as good Labour territory at Brunstane, they were damn well going to build at Cammo. And vice-versa.
Now there is no such thing as guaranteed Labour fiefdoms, although there is a belief that last-man-standing Ian Murray’s victory in Edinburgh South was not just down to tactically voting Tories and that there is a solid bedrock of support in places such as Southhouse and Burdiehouse.
So as housing policy is being dictated by the SNP centrally, it could be in Labour’s interest to fight developments tooth and nail and let the SNP take the blame when Neil gives the go-ahead. Except there are two more years of the Labour-SNP coalition in the City Chambers to go and, as lead partner, it’s not in Labour’s interest to bring the agreement to an end and try to run the city on a minority basis. After Better Together, no-one in the Labour Party is in any hurry to do a deal with the Conservatives.
Senior party figures accept there is a temptation to bring the relationship to a head over housing, but the prevailing view is there is more electoral advantage to be gained by maintaining stability than engineering the collapse of an administration they lead. They also understand the need for more houses and would rather be in a position to exert what influence they can to limit the impact on communities rather than walk away.
But no-one summed up the housing system better than new SNP leader Sandy Howat – the LDP was mince, he said, and then voted it through. It wasn’t Edinburgh’s finest day.
• The four years it has taken to agree the LDP is a clear an illustration of why Scotland’s planning system is in urgent need of reform.
Taking so long to produce a blueprint for the future has meant it has been almost impossible for civic leaders to set their decisions in a proper strategic context and the result has been almost a piecemeal approach as applications come in.
The delays serve no-one well. A capital city can’t be on hold for four years.
Two weeks ago is a long time in politics . .
Two weeks ago I made a number of calls about the General Election, so how did I do? In the spirit of openness, or self-flagellation, here’s my night of shockers:
1: “A week today you’ll know the result but not the outcome”
Wrong: By 4am we knew there was an going to be an overall majority for the Conservatives and the almost complete eradication of Scottish Labour
2: “The resignation of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader. Even if he holds East Renfrewshire, the man who did so much to rubbish Johan Lamont and proved powerless to change Labour’s fortunes can’t possibly stay on when all the action moves to Holyrood.”
Still might be right: This weekend’s national executive meeting will decide Murphy’s future. But all that’s keeping him in post is Kezia Dugdale’s relative inexperience.
3: “Neil Findlay MSP launches a new leadership bid but Kez Dugdale sees him off. The embarrassment of Ed Balls’ slap-down of Murphy will not have been forgotten and Scottish Labour establishes greater autonomy from London.”
Nearly right: Findlay has quit his position in disgust but not launched a leadership bid . . . yet. And who was Ed Balls again?
4: “Even if there are no Conservative MPs, Ruth Davidson will not be forced to quit but the simmering campaign to break the Scottish party away from London will be reignited, fuelled by the late London Conservative campaign which ignored the Scottish perspective.”
Right so far: There was a Tory MP and there is no way Ruth is quitting. Too early for the second bit, but the Federalist camp is on manoeuvres.
5: “The SNP finds party management more difficult as it seeks to balance a new intake of motivated left-leaning MPs with the consensual approach of the previous administrations.”
Watch this space: Making Alex Salmond foreign affairs spokesman keeps him out of domestic politics and trouble . . .
but look out for the expenses.
6: “The next year will be spent on more constitutional wrangling.”
It’s started already.
7: “Willie Rennie stays on as Lib Dem leader but steps down in 2016.”
He’s still there.
8: “Scotland Office minister David Mundell has a fight on his hands against ex-nurse Emma Harper in Dumfriesshire but could still squeeze in.”
No monopoly on common sense
How outrageous of the cash-strapped city council to pass up the opportunity to lose £8m by selling Boroughmuir High School to an arts charity instead of to housebuilder Cala. What on earth got into the minds of the politicians when they decided people in city centre tenements with two cars should be inconvenienced by more flats being built in their area? Don’t they realise that rather than accepting Cala’s £14m bid for the old school, they should instead have been listening to people in places like Craigmillar, Muirhouse and Wester Hailes who are simply desperate for an arts venue in Bruntsfield? After all, the £30m
it’s costing to build the new
school actually comes from sets of Edinburgh Monopoly . . .
Hooray, got one right!