Local Development Plan: twists and turns

The Local Development Plan for Edinburgh was supposed to be debated by Planning Committee this week but has been delayed until June. Nigel Bagshaw explains.

The Local Development Plan (LDP) for Edinburgh matters. It frames the way land is allocated in the city for the next 10 years and beyond – for homes, for workplaces and for green space. Hence it forms the backdrop to the big-picture decisions which the council has to make about planning applications.

Its origins go back 3 years to a Main Issues Report in 2011 and it was, in its latest stage, due to go to Planning Committee this week (15 May), prior to a 10-week period for public views and eventual adoption in late 2015.

However, the delay reflects the scale of disquiet about the plan as it evolves, with many people only now really cottoning on to what it means for the city. Fundamentally, it is about the growth of the city and the wider city region. Across the South East Scotland areas as a whole, it is estimated that over 100,000 new homes will be needed through to 2024, with Edinburgh carrying over a quarter of that growth. That means, it is argued, that existing housing land is not enough and that new green sites need to be allocated, most notably to the west and south west of the city and then again over on the eastern side.

I am far from convinced and once these green sites are lost, they are lost forever.

1. Does anyone genuinely believe that 107,000 new homes are required in South East Scotland over the next 10 years? It has taken 300 years to reach the 500,000 households or so, we have at present, and and houses are currently being completed at a rate of 3,000-4,000 a year (and have always been way under projected levels even during the so-called ‘boom’). If there were compelling reasons to develop sites like Cammo and Curriemuirend for the future housing needs of the city, then there might be an argument for such drastic change – but the fact remains that there are not.

2. Are we demanding enough on densities? New development at the edge of the city will typically be at suburban densities of 25-30 homes per hectare, which make modern infrastructure like district heating and well-supported public transport much more difficult to provide effectively.

3. What about empty homes? Edinburgh has 2,000 homes empty for more than 6 months. The LDP assumes that level of long-term vacancy continuing despite a council empty homes task group which could be focusing on bringing that number down.

4. Are we working brownfield land hard enough? If so, why has a site in Oxgangs been sold for yet another supermarket rather than housing? Why, at the Fruitmarket in Chesser, did planning committee overturn officers’ recommendations and allow a retail park to be built on half of the site when it was earmarked for housing? What about the Waterfront and the regeneration of Craigmillar? And so on and so forth.

As long as questions like these persist I cannot see the case for losing large parts of the greenbelt. There are those who argue that to restrict housing land is to force up house prices but this is simply not true. Since almost all housing supply is in the second hand market, prices are affected very little by new supply and housing affordability is much more a consequence of credit, taxation and subsidy.

So, yes to Edinburgh providing more affordable homes – but homes in compact, sustainable neighbourhoods, built around cycling, walking and public transport, where local shops and services can thrive. The LDP, for me, does not deliver that.