Seafield beach could be opened as new Edinburgh destination amid green belt fears

Seafield beach could be opened up as a new tourist destination under the new city plan – amid concerns that building on green belt could become “inevitable”.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 6:35 am
The car showrooms at Seafield could be earmarked for housing to help open up Seafield beach as a destination, Picture: Google

Edinburgh City Council’s planning committee approved a “choices” document, which will go out to a public consultation at the end of the month to help form the new local development plan. Officials said it is “critically important” for as many people to take part as possible in the choices consultation.

The choices include allocating additional land for housing to be built on. The SNP-Labour administration insist that its “preferred option” is to pursue brownfield sites, those that have been previously developed, over releasing green belt. But the document warns that opening up the brownfield sites, many of which are owned by the private sector, “may require a significant compulsory purchase order (CPO) programme to ensure land comes forward”.

The authority estimates that it need to build 43,000 new homes – including its commitment to provide 20,000 affordable homes. Officials confirmed that either brownfield or green belt plans would provide enough homes – as well as a blended strategy.

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The council has identified dozens of brownfield sites including Redford Barracks, car showrooms at Seafield, industrial estates and hospitals that could be turned into locations for new housing.

Planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner said: “There’s great opportunities, like in Seafield, there’s a huge strip and it’s just car showrooms. They effectively turn their back on what is a beach that’s longer than Portobello beach.

“None of those use classes actually need to be next to a beach with an outstanding view of the Forth – they could be relocated elsewhere in the city. The land values for housing and other mixed uses could be such that you could see those sites being redeveloped and released.”

He added: “Portobello used to be a tourist destination for the west of Scotland and it’s a great suburb in its own right. How about a new Portobello along the Seafield Road, linking Leith and Portobello?

“Obviously CPO is an option but I think engagement is another option. A lot of the 800 houses that come forward every year on brownfield land have not come through public intervention, they have come through the land value of housing and mixed use being higher, so the market can drive that change.”

But opposition councillors have warned that green belt may become released once the Scottish Government consider the final plan and make recommendations.

Liberal Democrat planning spokesperson, Cllr Hal Osler, said: “It sounds fantastic to say brownfield but have we considered where these brownfield sites are? A lot are in the city centre. Is it wise to add to that infrastructure that’s already bursting to the seams?

“I strongly support for us not to release greenbelt but we have to be realistic about it. If the Scottish Government say we need more housing and they say we need to use greenbelt for that, we will end up being held and handcuffed into something we don’t want to to – it’s inevitable.”

Councillors also raised concerns that there’s no indication in the choices document about how they will be delivered.

Conservative planning spokesperson, Cllr Joanna Mowat, said: “More than any other plan, there has to be a focus on deliverability. I’m quite happy for this document to go out – there are bits of it I agree with.

“My concern, when reading this, is about deliverability and the CPO, potentially, of 258 hectares of land.”

Green councillors have welcomed the proposals and urged people to take part in the public consultation.

Cllr Chas Booth said: ” There is a lot to welcome in the choices document but the big test will be following it through to the final plan.

“While the intention to protect the green belt from future development is very welcome, I’d want to see far stronger safeguards in place.”

The eight-week consultation will begin on January 30 and coincide with a similar conversation with the public on the draft city mobility plan – which will overhaul how people are goods move around the city.