Plans have been unveiled to develop the site of the airport’s disused “crosswind” runway – the original RAF Turnhouse runway – as a “digital quarter” intended to attract major technology companies from around the world as well as encourage home-grown businesses.
As well as offices and commercial buildings, there would also be several hundred homes and leisure facilities.
The hope is that companies will see Edinburgh as a good location because of the talent pool from the city’s universities, the attractive lifestyle for high-flying young executives and easy transport access both for exploring Scotland and flying to international destinations.
The developers say a lack of suitable office space means Edinburgh has not been seen as a top location for tech companies.
But they hope the new 150-acre “Crosswind” site will create a cluster of technology firms, resulting in up to 3000 direct jobs and a further 1000 indirect ones.
Developers say the aim is not to create just an industrial or business park, but rather a community where people want to live and work.
The housing proposed is likely to be affordable one and two-bedroom flats, possibly mainly for rent.
John Watson, chief executive of Crosswind Developments, said the site offered a unique opportunity.
“Edinburgh and Scotland should be ideal locations for global technology jobs, but without a dedicated approach to creating the kind of environment technology companies are looking for, it’s much harder to bring that investment here,” he said.
“These companies want modern, state-of-the-art offices, world-class connectivity, an environment that is attractive to its workforce with easy access to global connections. A pool of high-quality graduates is another important factor.
“Crosswind is, perhaps, one of the best connected, undeveloped sites in Scotland with immediate access to air, rail and road transport. It will have a focus on the kind of housing, working space and leisure facilities that people demand.
“Working with others, we believe we can make this one of the most attractive locations in the world for these companies, while also nurturing home grown start-ups.”
He said that although many global technology firms base themselves in big cities like New York, San Francisco and London, smaller centres like Amsterdam, Dublin and Berlin were becoming popular because they offered shorter commutes, easier access to amenities and a better work/life balance.
“This is a fantastic opportunity not just for Edinburgh, but the whole of Scotland,” Mr Watson said. “Our relationship with Edinburgh Airport will help us develop strong UK and international connections and gives the site a unique advantage.”
Mr Watson was highlighting the opportunities of Crosswind at MIPIM, the world’s largest event for property developers and investors in Cannes, which is also being attended by council leader Adam McVey, deputy Cammy Day and chief executive Andrew Kerr to promote other sites in the Capital, including the Waterfront, Bioquarter and Granton gasholder.
The runway where the new tech city will be built was formally closed last year. It had first opened in 1916 at what was then known as Turnhouse aerodrome and was a key military base during the First World War.
It was used by Spitfires in the Second World War and then by Edinburgh University Air Squadron during the 1950s and 1960s. The airport’s existing runway opened in 1977 and the old one was seldom used.
The Crosswind site is close to the long talked-about International Business Gateway development, but the Crosswind backers claim there is enough demand for both to flourish.
The start of construction work on the Crosswind site is likely to be about two years away. More detailed plans and a consultation with the community are expected later this year.
Airport owners Global Infrastructure Partners have set up a separate company, Crosswind Developments, to carry out the project.
Former Chancellor and ex-Edinburgh MP Alistair Darling is chair of the board. Other members include Lesley Sawers, the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland, who has more than 30 years’ experience at a senior level in both the public and private sectors, as well as Andrew Sutherland, joint managing director of Miller Developments; and investment specialist Andrew Gillespie-Smith.
Tech entrepreneur David Farquhar, chief executive of Intelligent Growth Solutions, said Crosswind could tick the boxes for many digital organisations.
“From the small start-ups to large corporations, the opportunity to be based at a highly accessible hub in a country that offers a highly educated population and a life/work balance gives Scotland the sort of potential ‘unfair advantage’ to make us far more competitive globally,” he said.