ALMOST 2500 homes are being lined up for land around Portobello – ushering in a rush of development that will transform the local community forever.
Developers have recently lodged planning applications for a raft of sites dotted around the coastal suburb, in a bid to cash in on Edinburgh’s daunting house-building targets.
It’s a move that will reshape the city’s boundaries and put untold pressure on public infrastructure at a time when many services are already struggling.
But with the Scottish Government estimating more than 25,000 extra homes are needed by 2026, many see it as an inevitable result of the Capital’s booming population.
A total of 618,978 people will live in Edinburgh by 2037, compared with 498,810 last year, statistics predict. That’s a rise of more than 120,000 in just over 20 years.
New Brunstane, just over a mile-and-a-half from the heart of Portobello, is the biggest single house-building site pegged for the east of Edinburgh.
Proposals for more than 1300 homes across 48-hectares of farmland wedged between Brunstane Burn and Newcraighall Road were submitted to the council last month.
And last week the News told how Barratt Homes had announced plans for 500 homes at Baileyfield South, on the site of the current Standard Life buildings, just off Portobello High Street.
Consent has already been given for 200 houses and a supermarket on a neighbouring plot, despite concerns over the rising pressure on schools, doctors’ surgeries and roads.
Meanwhile, construction is under way for hundreds of homes at Newcraighall, just a couple of miles to the south-east.
Community figures say local reaction to the plans is “a bit mixed”.
Everyone understands the need for more housing, they say – but fears remain over the impact on infrastructure.
And such fears are understandable. Rising school rolls and crumbling roads are not the only problems large-scale development throws up.
Just under half of all GP surgeries in east Edinburgh are already turning patients away because they cannot cope with demand, NHS figures show.
Six out of the 13 practices in the area currently operate “restricted” lists – meaning they only accept new patients under certain circumstances.
Unless something urgent is done to tackle this problem, it is only reasonable to assume an influx of new residents will make it worse.
Sean Watters, secretary of Portobello community council, said there was “obviously” concern about the impact of local housebuilding.
“On the one hand, people are struggling for housing,” he said.
“There are people having to move away from Portobello because they can’t afford anything, so in that respect people welcome and see the need for housing, particularly affordable housing.
“But there’s also a lot of concern about traffic infrastructure, congestion and GP surgeries.
“That’s a lot of housing to put in the area. There’s going to be a lot more pressure and I suppose it’s a question of how they sort that out.”
He said one positive outcome of development could be extra social housing.
EDI, the arms-length council company fronting plans for New Brunstane, has pledged a quarter of the homes it builds on the site will be affordable.
“Personally I think the big thing is affordable housing,” said Mr Watters.
“There’s really a shortage of social housing in Portobello. I looked a few years ago at the statistics online and it was very low – something like nine per cent.
“Plenty of people need housing – they just can’t afford to get it at the moment.
“Prices have rocketed and people are being priced out of the place they grew up in.”
Mr Watters argued Portobello High School would be well-placed to deal with an influx of extra pupils, due to the high proportion that currently come from outwith the catchment area.
However, families moving into the New Brunstane development will actually full under the reach of Castlebrae Community High – a secondary that was threatened with closure four years ago amid falling rolls and poor exam results.
A £27 million replacement school – with space for around 600 pupils – is earmarked as part of the wider, council-backed regeneration of Craigmillar.
Outside of education, it is understood provision for a new doctors’ surgery could form part of the New Brunstane masterplan, which also includes blueprints for a new primary school.
But a David versus Goliath-style battle is currently breaking out over the future of the site.
Community campaigners are preparing to launch legal action in a bid to halt the scheme, and claim they have reason to believe their case is worth pursuing all the way to court.
They insist the overarching South-East Scotland Plan (SESplan) “clearly designates” Brunstane Farm as green belt, meaning any development would be “breaking the law”.
They have already engaged a solicitor to represent them and have raised almost £4000 through crowdfunding, smashing their original target of £3500.
But they are now seeking around £8000 – enough money to buy the advice of a leading QC.
Local Martin Kelly said: “We have already given the lawyers the green light.
“They will be putting together the papers to send to the advocate.
“We’re reasonably confident we will have enough to pay for a QC to look at it for us.”
Mr Kelly said a traffic consultant who had been hired by campaigners to examine the New Brunstane plans had previously raised concerns over the impact on roads and access routes.
Congestion on Milton Link Junction – already notorious among locals – was of particular concern.
“Obviously, we think with this number of extra people, something is going to have to be done if services are at full capacity,” he added.
However, given New Brunstane is identified as a suitable site for house-building in the council’s local development plan (LDP) – its city-wide planning blueprint – campaigners could have a long fight on their hands if they want to stop construction going ahead.
New Brunstane is the first of the major LDP sites to be advanced, and in its wake will follow a slew of other applications for sites across Edinburgh.
The scale of what is planned will see tens of thousands of new homes built on greenbelt land bordering all corners of the city.
And while council bosses argue such mass development is necessary, they insist they are in no way complacent about the challenges it throws up.
Councillor Ian Perry, the city’s planning leader, said: “Funding all the necessary infrastructure – including roads and schools – to support Edinburgh’s growth is a major challenge as the costs are considerable.
“We are working closely with the development industry to find ways in which we can identify funding.
“We are also developing a detailed action programme to support the local development plan, which will identify how we plan to meet the costs associated with all of the development across Edinburgh.”
Foundations for property right across the Capital
Portobello isn’t the only part of Edinburgh preparing for an onslaught of new housing.
Up to 6000 homes are being lined up for the south-east of the Capital – across an area covering just five square miles.
The Save Our South East Wedge (SOSEW) campaign group say there are 13 separate schemes quietly advancing in the area – with seven already given the go-ahead.
In April, a major development of 633 homes at Broomhills was pushed through despite a series of objections from local groups,.
Meanwhile, 61 houses on land south-east of Gilmerton Dykes Road were given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government following an appeal by the developer.
Reverend Cammy Mackenzie, vice-chair of Gilmerton Inch community council and a member of the SOSEW campaign group, previously told the Evening News that his area was being “buried” under major planning applications.
In the west of Edinburgh, ambitious plans for 1320 new homes on greenbelt land off the City Bypass were approved by the council in June, but are now being considered by the Scottish Government.
The scheme is the first phase of former Rangers owner Sir David Murray’s long-awaited Garden District, which could eventually see 6000 houses built in the area.