A MAJOR housing development set to transform greenbelt land on the outskirts of the Capital has been given the go-ahead by councillors.
Plans for the first phase of the so-called Garden District will see 1320 homes and a new primary school built between the City Bypass and Gogar Station Road in west Edinburgh.
Developer Murray Estates – owned by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray – said the ambitious scheme would create a “world class extension to the nation’s capital”.
But critics blasted it as an unwelcome intrusion into valued greenbelt land, and insisted that those who voted it through should “hang their heads in shame”.
Councillors overwhelmingly backed the developers’ vision following a mammoth, five-and-a-half-hour planning meeting – despite their own officials recommending refusal.
The proposals are the first part of Murray Estates’ wider, £1 billion “Garden District” plans, which could eventually see 6000 homes built in the west of Edinburgh, as well as a 60-acre “national garden”.
Following yesterday’s decision, phase one will go before the full council next month to be ratified, and then will be referred to the Scottish Government for final approval.
Councillors on the city’s planning committee hope that by giving it the green light, they will send a strong message in favour of the scheme.
They stressed the masterplan was at an early stage and could be altered to improve remaining transport issues at a later date.
In a fiery statement in support of the proposals, the SNP’s Sandy Howat said it was time for the planning committee to take control of the city’s future, adding: “We need to build in the right places.”
He slammed aspects of the council officials’ critical report as “fundamentally dishonest”, and dismissed their suggestion that to vote the proposals through would be “premature” while the local development plan (LDP) was still in limbo.
The LDP – the council’s city-wide housing blueprint – was signed off by councillors last year but is still being scrutinised by the Scottish Government’s planning reporter. It is expected to be rubber-stamped in the coming weeks.
Phase one of the Garden District was not included in the document, but a council motion made a recommendation in favour of it. City leaders now hope that by pushing the plans forward, they can reduce the pressure to build homes in more contentious areas.
Cllr Howat said: “To make the reporter see sense, to make the government ministers see sense, we need to give a very strong message.”
Meanwhile, Tory councillor Joanna Mowat insisted the Garden District plans were “one of the most considered” applications ever to go before the committee, adding: “I have no hesitation in supporting this today.”
But the critics would not be won over, arguing the scheme would “destroy” a scenic slice of countryside – despite Murray Estates including vast swathes of parkland in its blueprints.
Fiona Johnston, a resident of the nearby B-listed Kellerstain House, told the committee that greenbelt land was “very, very precious”.
She said: “We should be thinking about enhancing our environment and protecting areas of beauty, because once you build, it’s there for the next hundred years.
“Why are we even considering doing this when it’s already been noted that there are sufficient sites within the city to meet our housing requirements?
“[This is] likely to create an artificial, soulless development. We don’t have so many beautiful places in our city that we can easily destroy them. What kind of city are we giving to our children?”
Objections also flew in from cycling organisations, which argued the proposals would put those who cycle along Gogar Station Road in “serious risk”, making it a “much more hostile cycling experience”.
And representatives from Royal Bank of Scotland, whose Gogarburn HQ lies nearby, raised concerns about the impact on roads and transport.
However, in an unusual move, Balerno and Cramond and Barnton community councils both wrote in support of the scheme, insisting it was “well planned and well integrated”, and preferable to “highly contentious” plans to build houses on Cammo Fields.
In the end, councillors gave their backing by ten votes to one. Only Green councillor Steve Burgess voted against.
The decision follows a period of delay after Murray Estates lodged a complaint with the council accusing planning officials of being “highly misleading” in their report recommending refusal.
Speaking after the meeting, Jestyn Davies, managing director of Murray Estates, said: “Obviously, we are delighted to have secured overwhelming support from the committee today.
“We believe that this will be a world class extension to the nation’s capital, and this will become one of the city’s most successful housing developments.
“We look forward to making the case for the proposals to all members of the council in due course.”
Greens planning spokesman Councillor Nigel Bagshaw condemned the proposals as “greenbelt-wrecking” suburban sprawl.
He said: “Sticking the adjective ‘garden’ in front of a development neither makes it green nor in the city’s best interest.
“Edinburgh needs more housing – affordable housing in compact and well-serviced neighbourhoods, making use of existing brownfield sites. It absolutely does not need developments like this – suburban sprawl, greenbelt-wrecking and with poor links to transport, walking and cycling.
“The planning committee members who backed this scheme should hang their heads in shame.”