John McLellan: Who will build city homes?

As many bricks need to go down as words that have been written on housebuilding. Picture: Getty
As many bricks need to go down as words that have been written on housebuilding. Picture: Getty
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It could be one of Edinburgh’s most bitter disputes in recent times; Caltongate and Craighouse will be minor disagreements compared to what might be about to unfold across West Edinburgh.

At stake are open spaces in Cammo, South Queensferry, Currie and Ratho, and it’s all because the city is now short of space to build houses to meet Scottish Government targets for the next 20 years.

Planning the future of housing in the city is not going to be easy but what is certain is that some people will be very annoyed no matter what solutions are found.

The clearest sign of significant problems is the postponement of yesterday’s planning committee because of the inability, so far, of the city’s Labour and SNP coalition partners to reach agreement.

On one side, the SNP doesn’t want to risk new-found strength in West Edinburgh by allowing dense development around Cammo, Maybury and Currie, while Labour councillors feel they have already made concessions by accepting housebuilding in south-east districts like Brunstane and Burdiehouse.

At the heart of the problem lies the local development plan which will underpin all planning decisions in the coming years and which needs to be agreed in the very near future or the entire planning process could hit a brick wall.

West Edinburgh is the battleground – a quarter of all responses in the recent strategic development planning authority consultation for south-east Scotland related to west Edinburgh.

Not surprisingly, the people of Cammo don’t want flats where they have open views, and the same goes for Maybury. There are issues about transport there, too. Neither do Currie people want their open spaces compromised.

Transport problems really kick in at South Queensferry, where the bus service has long been a bone of contention. The irony here is that a significant boost to the population as envisaged in the proposed local development plan might produce a number of passengers needed to justify public transport problems, but then that in turn increases the pressure anywhere near Queensferry Road and Barnton. In other words, Cammo.

Everywhere you look across the city, similar issues emerge. Build lots more houses at Mortonhall and Burdiehouse, and pressure mounts along Liberton Road and around Cameron Toll. With the south-east wedge and Shawfair funnelling movement along Old Dalkeith Road, in ten years Cameron Toll will make Trafalgar Square look tranquil.

And war is looming in Currie/Balerno over plans for the Newmills area.

Then there is Leith. At least one issue has been resolved in that Forth Ports has made it absolutely clear there will be no more houses at Britannia Quay. That Forth Ports is committed to the commercial development of the site should not be seen as a problem, because the city needs healthy, expanding businesses every bit as much as it needs new homes.

The increasingly difficult conditions for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea are an opportunity for Leith harbour because the growing need for service vessels means more demand for port services.

Additionally, Forth Ports’ cruise liner business is expanding. Only last month, Cunard’s Queen Victoria docked at the new anchorage just off Newhaven bringing 1800 cash-heavy visitors to the city in one day. More of this is on the way.

What is a problem is where the hundreds of homes earmarked by the council for Britannia Quay will go because the numbers were included in their projections. By 2019 Edinburgh is expected to have created 22,300 homes and a further 7,210 by 2024.

Across the whole of south-east Scotland the numbers are 74,835 and 32,710, and by 2032 it is expected that 155,544 new homes will have been built across the region from Fife down to the Border.

In Edinburgh, by far the biggest growth area will be single people living on their own, be they young single working people, divorcees or, increasingly, the elderly whose spouses have died.

From 2006 till 2030, the number of single adult households is expected to soar from 85,000 to 130,000.

To work out where these all people are going to go, the council has mapped out the city to identify every possible opportunity for development, from small patches of land where half a dozen flats could be built, right up to whole new estates like the 1330 homes earmarked for Brunstane. There are 302 locations in all, so if there are brownfield sites not on their radar they are hard to find.

Take the old blood transfusion centre at Ellen’s Glen Road in Liberton for example. In the last plan in March 2013 it was undesignated, as was the rough open ground nearby. When Malbet Park was built in the 1990s along with the conversion of the Mount Alvernia convent to flats, there was no plan to extend the scheme even though the spare land was available. Now it will be the site for 240 homes.

Even locations not up for grabs anytime soon have been pinpointed. Round our way, the survey identifies the bathroom showroom and tile warehouse on Temple Park Crescent as a possible site for 22 flats, even though it’s not up for sale and looks like it will remain a magnet for plumbers for many years to come.

The point is, the constant criticism that brownfield sites are being ignored while developers target green sites simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As the market recovers and demand increases, the brownfield sites will be developed.

Yet even if all the potential sites are developed, Edinburgh still falls short of its targets. Change the targets you might say, but then that begins to
put a limit on the growth of the city region and hampers the economic well-being on which, like it or not, we all depend.

The answer until now has been to let other districts bear the brunt, especially in Mid and West Lothian. The estimates show that the demand in Midlothian is more than outstripped by potential supply, but taking up that slack creates other problems, not least of which is transport and a failure to address price pressure in the city.

These problems are not going away and some hard decisions will need to be taken, starting next week at the planning committee, which will face years of localised wrangling if it attempts to tackle the housing shortage with a patchwork of small developments. The anger surrounding 160 or so new homes in Newcraighall is a good example.

So, maybe the West Edinburgh Garden District’s time has come. Defenders of the green belt will fight it, the bogeyman of Sir David Murray will be raised, but isn’t it better to have one major debate at the end of which anything up to 3,500 homes, new schools and transport solutions can be delivered?

Can pig pens and chicken coops in fields between a motorway and a dual carriageway, bisected by a railway line and next to a tram line, airport and business park, be sacrificed to save other communities from disruption?

It might just be the solution to break the political impasse in what is ultimately a political decision.


Judging by the army of citizen commentators piling in on the Evening News website about plans to change Edinburgh’s recycling collections, the council’s pilot scheme better be a good one.

The proposal to make householders use the big green bin for general recycling, scrap the red boxes and give us a slimline grey bin for all the stuff going to landfill seems simple enough, but it’ll be anything but.

A few green experts were quick to condemn those of us who do not fully embrace the planet-saving ethos of recycling, but while hardly a scientific sample, a significant number are going to be heartily sick of yet another change to their routine.

It’s hard to blame them. I’ve only just got used to the fortnightly malarkey, which in winter becomes anything but routine, but one big advantage of the new plan is the end to the daft open boxes for card and plastic (how often do those stupid blue covers disappear) which result in rubbish strewn across the street or stuck under parked cars on the not infrequent windy days we experience here.

It’s not surprising the city doesn’t want to lose £1m a year in landfill penalties if the recycling targets aren’t met because thanks to the council tax freeze it has nowhere to go to make up the difference.

However, what we know now is that all this separation stuff is largely nonsense – it now appears that the only reason we stick cans in with the bottles and not the cardboard and the plastic is volume management.

What I would like to know is how will they know if something not quite recyclable is at the bottom of your big green bin? I can’t see binmen rifling through to pick out errant items.

So, unless someone can prove otherwise, isn’t this just going to be pretty much the same garbage going to different locations? If it saves the city £1m a year it can’t be all bad, just as long as they empty them when they say they will … and don’t leave the bins half way down the street.

Breast health roadshow

A CAMPAIGN urging women to stay in the “breast of health” arrives in Edinburgh next week.

The Detect Cancer Early drive will visit Craigmillar on Monday and Tuesday to encourage women to attend a screening.

Dr Sue Payne, consultant in public health medicine at NHS Lothian, said: “Breast screening only takes ten minutes and can pick up tiny cancers that you can’t see or feel. The earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it is to treat.”

One in nine women in Scotland will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lives.

Steep road to Leith

Three cheers for plans to link the Union Canal with Leith with a cycleway, but £300,000 for the feasibility study seems a bit steep, especially when you consider that the route is about 90 per cent there already.

Hit the cycleway at the Russell Road bridges and you can pedal virtually all the way to Ocean Terminal along the old railway line to where it ends at Lindsay Road.

Getting from Russell Road to the Canal is a little more problematic, but it’s hardly an ordeal to nip up Ardmillan Terrace from Murieston Park and onto the canal from Harrison Road. Lick of paint for better cycle lanes, allow bikes to go up Murieston Road and the job’s done.

So can I have my £300,000 please, Councillor Hinds? Tell you what, Lesley, I’m a good citizen so I’ll just make that £100,000. Cushtie…

Wetherspoons better than empty building

The very mention of the name JD Wetherspoon is enough to set off the danger klaxon every time a pub licence application is made.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of cavernous drinking arenas like their Standing Order on George Street and the same goes for the main bar in The Dome. Give me the Café Royal any day.

I can safely say, I’ll be nowhere near the Revolution/Picture House or whatever the Lothian Road place will be called once JDW weaves its magic, but then again I’ve never set foot in the place anyway.

So I can understand the fuss about fire-gutted Kushis becoming the latest target for Weatherspooning, but because I don’t like alcohol barns isn’t necessarily a reason to agree the plan is inappropriate.

Whether it’s industrial quantities of curry washed down by BYOB booze, as Kushi’s provided, or a big pub I can’t see that the essence of the shopping street is threatened much more than before. Real Ale fans are supporters of Weatherspooons so it’s not just another fizzy lager and Jaegerbomb stag venue. What is important is that the building is not left empty any longer than necessary.