Nigel Bagshaw: Who decides future shape of Edinburgh?

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Last Wednesday, with little obvious fanfare, councillors on the City Council’s Planning Committee signed off a process with profound and long-lasting consequences for the city and the area around it.

It was supplementary guidance to the Strategic Development Plan for the city region, called SESplan. Hence the absence of fanfare.

In a nutshell the supplementary guidance meets the SESplan requirement to allocate yet more land for new housing, on top of land for tens of thousands of homes already allocated. Much of that land will fall to Edinburgh to provide, meaning further changes to the city’s own Local Development Plan (LDP) due to go live in 2015.

Edinburgh needs more homes: no question of that. But I have little confidence that a process led so obviously by the business needs of a few volume house-builders will actually deliver the kind of homes, in the kind of places and at the kind of the prices people need. As a way of addressing an acute shortage of affordable housing it is like asking Ryanair to provide more flights to ease congestion on inner city buses.

Simply expanding Edinburgh’s waistline will, I fear, impact negatively on access to green and open space, the quality of the local environment, local services, traffic volumes and congestion. So that is why I agree with the respected urban planning organisation, the Cockburn Association, in questioning how robust household projections are in truly determining the nature of housing demand. I also agree with those economists who show quite clearly that rising house prices have very little relationship to the overall allocation of housing land.

I question the prominence in the strategic planning process given to the views of Homes for Scotland, which is, after all, a private lobbying body charged with meeting its members’ commercial interests and, in turn, those of shareholders.

I despair at how a plea to use brownfield land first (a Labour manifesto promise) is little more than wishful thinking. In practice, there are no means of ensuring that developers focus their attention on derelict land or, indeed, vacant property before drawing on green spaces.

And finally, I am baffled by a process which allocates yet more land for new development when so much land is already allocated for housing but is lying hoarded or unused. Edinburgh’s planners and politicians are fully aware of the absurdity of this situation but so far have refused to highlight or challenge it publicly.

So, last Wednesday I asked the Planning Committee to reject further indiscriminate allocation of land. I argued that we owed it to everyone who shares my disquiet, including other councillors, to go back to the Scottish Government. I lost that vote 13:1.

Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw is on the City Council’s Planning Committee