Edinburgh Exodus: Infrastructure feeling the strain of population rise in the Lothians

GPs and schools under pressure as developments outstrip improvements.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 7:45 am
East Lothian's services are straining under the pressure of a population rise.

As rent and property prices continue to rise, more pressure is put on public services and infrastructure across the Lothians and the city region.

In Midlothian, the pressures on school provision are increasing. Despite a £2.2 million expansion of a primary school in Dalkeith, ten primaries in the area will have more children ready to start P1 in their catchment area than their intake capacity allows.

A report to Midlothian council revealed that Woodburn Primary School was expected to have around 102 P1 pupils taking its school roll to 583 in August and required additional classes and an extra activity hall.

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Schools are under pressure across the Lothians

A new primary school is planned for neighbouring Easthouses but is still three years away with councillors asked to approve the expansion of Woodburn for plans to be submitted as quickly as possible.

Pressures on GPs

Pressures are also being felt in East Lothian. with GP surgeries struggling to cope with the rise in demand, most keenly felt at the Riverside Medical Practice which was merged with Eskbridge in 2018.

The Musselburgh surgery was later named as one of the worst 20 GP surgeries across Edinburgh and Lothians as part of the annual NHS Health and Care Experience Survey earlier this year.

The Riverside Medical Practice has been under strain

Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said more services are being made available for those living in East Lothian where before they services would be accessed in Edinburgh.

She said: “NHS Lothian, like other health boards in Scotland, is experiencing rising levels of demand in some of our key services. Across the country, a huge amount of multi-agency work is underway to understand the contributing factors to this, and to provide long-term solutions.

“The East Lothian Community Hospital opened its doors to inpatients last week providing a range of services which East Lothian patients would previously have accessed in Edinburgh.

“In line with Scottish Government policy, we are also working closely with our four Health and Social Care Partnerships to help shift the balance of care from hospital to community, providing necessary services closer to home.

“Our out of hours services and GP surgeries are changing how they work, offering direct access and advice from a number of healthcare professionals such as advanced nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and mental health specialists.”

'We need more money'

As the population has increased, cross-party calls for more funding have come from politicians in the area.

Martin Whitfield, the Labour general election candidate and former MP for East Lothian said the problem is two fold; a lack of funding from the Scottish Government and infrastructure following the building of houses rather than already being in place.

He said: “At the end of the day it is those fundamental infrastructure parts that are missing because the funding is not coming through the Scottish Government into the NHS.

“Local authorities need more power to force developers to think about the infrastructure at the development stage.

“It is funding but it is the step before that. It is really about engagement with the local authority and developers with a more structured view.

“Developers should ask people how does it look, what do you want, is there enough school provision, transport links and if it doesn’t happen communities will feel imposed upon and new people moving here will not see the best of the community straight away because they are feeling let down.”

Mr Whitfield also highlighted issues with trains where commuters are left waiting on delayed or cancelled trains into Edinburgh.

He also raised the issue of the bus service, seen by Edinburgh City Council as the crucial link to the Lothians to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

He added: “Prestonpans are trying to get a direct bus into Edinburgh and it can’t be provided.

“The infrastructure has to be part of all the initial discussions with developers. We need to empower the local authority to be able to say that people do want to live her and that is because we have the infrastructure.

“We don’t want people wondering how do I get my shopping, where do I get my doctor’s appointment?”

'They are trying to squash an elephant into a telephone box'

Craig Hoy, Conservative candidate for East Lothian and a councillor on East Lothian Council, said more needs to be done to provide jobs as well as a place to live for those moving to the area as the Scottish Government pushes to build another 10,000 homes by 2028 in the area.

He said: “They are trying to squash an elephant into a telephone box, it is just not going to happen. Without significant investment there will be a significant impact on quality of life.

“We see all these new housing developments coming in but you are not seeing enough attention to projects that will create new jobs such as small and rural businesses.

“We should be doing a lot more through the city region deal to get in place these big infrastructure projects that will create jobs.”

He added that more funding should be provided to local government to help meet the needs of a rising population.

He said: “My biggest concern is not the affects of austerity. There was a slight reduction in the overall grant from Westminster to the Scottish Government but the amount of cuts that they passed on to local government was significantly more than that.

“Local government bears the brint of putting in place the provisions such as as rubbish collection and schools and long term care.

“The Scottish Government has not given a fair deal to East Lothian. Local government is being asked to do more with less money and the some services are going to have to give unless the Scottish Government reconsider their position on it.”

We wouldn't swap the commute for the city

One man who swapped the city for the country has said he would not change the commute for the city due to the increase in the quality of life and cheaper housing.

After living in Edinburgh for almost 20 years, the support worker for a mental health charity who wished to remain anonymous, moved to East Lothian in 2017.

He said: “Two years ago, we’d been renting a one bed flat just off Leith Walk until the landlord decided to give it over to a letting agent. We were given two month’s notice that our ‘mates rates’ low rent of £500 per month was to go up to the going rate of £900.

“We quickly moved to a much smaller 1 bed nearby for 1 year, which was £650 per month (mates rates again) but with the bins getting collected at midnight outside our bedroom window, anti-social neighbours and dodgy stair, we just thought ‘what are we doing?’.

A year later, they had moved to a rural two bedroom cottage in East Lothian.

He added: “Now we look onto a field with deer and pheasants, have complete silence, go swimming at weekends, drive five minutes for a barbecue on the beach, have excellent travel links being near the A1 and a train station, all for the same price as a 40sqm flat in Edinburgh.

“Getting home at 6:30pm is a lot different from getting home at 5pm, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”

Why might someone choose to move to East Lothian?

Property sales in East Lothian rose by 10 per cent in the third quarter of 2019 with total sales reaching £169 million according to Aberdein Considine’s property monitor.

The continued success of the Edinburgh property market with rising property prices has extended to the surrounding area.

This year average hous prices in East Lothian hit more than £250,000.

Robert Carroll, managing director at the estate agent Mov8, added that the area is suitable for buyers in varying circumstances, explaining why the area is seen as such an attractive place to move to.

He said: “It’s not difficult to see why East Lothian’s property market continues to thrive and why people flock to live in the area.

“It’s an area crammed-full of natural beauty and, for people who love the great outdoors, some of Scotland’s best beaches, coastlines and links golf courses can be found here. Its proximity to Scotland’s capital city makes it an ideal spot for anyone commuting into Edinburgh for work, yet provides an escape from the city when they are not working.

“The variety of types and values of housing stock mean that it’s an area suitable for buyers with different budgets and tastes.”

Diane Jennings, associate directore at Simpson and Marwich, added: “Quality of lifestyle and easy access to Edinburgh by road and rail combined with good schooling, sense of community and stunning countryside add to the appeal of living in the County.

“There are different affordability options with North Berwick and Gullane coming in a the higher end of pricing.

“Dunbar offers great affordability for family housing with a wide a variety of new and period properties with excellent schooling and train links to Edinburgh.

“Closer to the city, Tranent, Port Seton and Musselburgh are popular and sell well and quickly.”