Government minister lays into council over housing plan

Artist's impression of the proposed Garden District.''EMA Architecture + Design Limited
Artist's impression of the proposed Garden District.''EMA Architecture + Design Limited
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A government minister has slammed Edinburgh’s city-wide housing blueprint, ­expressing his “dismay” at a massive shortfall in homes, a lack of infrastructure and a failure of leadership.

Kevin Stewart, minister for local government and housing, heavily criticised the council’s local development plan (LDP), but said the government would not intervene.

In an unprecedented letter, he said “substantial concerns” have been raised about “insufficient infrastructure” to support future development.

And he blasted the fact that the plan has been in preparation since 2011, but is only just being adopted now – with a shortfall of 7000 homes remaining.

In his letter to Edinburgh Council’s chief executive, Andrew Kerr, Mr Stewart added: “As I am sure you will agree, these homes are needed.”

But council leaders hit back and insisted Edinburgh does have sufficient land to meet its housing needs over the next 20 years.

They blamed the construction industry for not building homes quickly enough, creating a five-year housing shortfall.

The LDP paves the way for tens of thousands of homes to be built across the Capital in the coming years, many of them on greenbelt land.

It was passed by councillors last year amid huge controversy, before being sent to the Scottish Government’s planning reporters to scrutinise.

Mr Stewart’s letter confirms the government will not intervene and that the plan can go ahead, but insists “this decision has not been made lightly”.

And he strongly criticises councillors for making a last-minute recommendation in favour of building houses on greenbelt land at Gogarburn – the so-called Garden District – despite this site not being included in the LDP.

He said: “It is unacceptable that uncertainty is introduced by council motions and late support for changes which are significantly different to the published proposed plan.

“This effectively passes responsibility to others and falls short of providing a fair and transparent planning service to members of the public who have engaged in the process in good faith.”

One well-connected source said it was “as brutal a commentary” as he had ever seen directed at the council, while other figures in the development industry described the letter as “unprecedented”.

We previously told of fears that the housing shortfall identified in the government’s conclusions would usher in an “open season” for developers as they rushed to plug the gap.

Responding directly to criticism of last-minute recommendations, Ian Perry, the city’s planning leader, said councillors “reserve the right to suggest any changes to any report written by officials at any time”.

He added: “To deny otherwise would be to undermine local democracy and an individual councillor’s ability to respond to the concerns of their local communities who were affected by the proposals in the LDP.

“We welcome confirmation from the Scottish Government that Edinburgh’s LDP can now be formally adopted, providing more certainty for residents and developers.”

He said six housing associations have pledged to match council plans to build 8000 homes.