Edinburgh’s Local Development Plan

The City Council’s new Local Development Plan poses enormous challenges for Edinburgh and the wider city-region writes Green Planning Spokesperson Cllr Nigel Bagshaw

Most of the time we all see planning decisions through individual development proposals, particularly those which affect our immediate neighbourhood. But, as anyone who has been through consultation on an individual planning application will know, the policy context in which these applications sit is vital. That context is changing and with dramatic implications for the city and the surrounding area.

Together with 5 other councils in the area the council has been preparing a Strategic Development Plan for the wider region. This has been consulted on and is expected to be approved by the Scottish Government some time from late summer onwards. The Local Development Plan (LDP) is, in effect, the detailed translation of the SDP within Edinburgh specifically. The LDP gives much more detail, with suggested allocation of specific sites for industry, new housing and so on.

The LDP is not expected to go “live” until summer 2015 but the latest stage is being presented to a special meeting of the City Council Planning Committee for approval on 19 March 2013. It is then planned to go out for “representations” to be made between early May and mid June, before going to the Scottish Government for examination.

All of these timescales are subject to change but the overall direction of travel is clear and there will be both a new SDP and a new LDP covering Edinburgh in the near future. These are required under the 2006 Planning Act and these are the first plans of its kind under that legislation.

So why does this matter? Well, Edinburgh is a growing city, with a projected need for 30,000 new homes through to 2024. To accommodate that growth, the LDP, as it stands, proposes allocating lots more land for new housing, especially in the west and south of the city: for example, up to 2,000 in the Maybury Cammo area or in Currie and Juniper Green. Some of this land is on greenfield sites, greenbelt land or what has been, until now, greenbelt land.

The City Council has a far from free hand here. The Scottish Government requires planning authorities to identify a 5 year supply of effective’ housing land and if it does not do so, it is open to legal challenges by developers which would inevitably lead to piecemeal development outwith any strategy. The LDP at present also argues that there is simply not enough brownfield land to accommodate the sheer scale of household growth, hence the need to eat into the greenbelt. This pressure will increase in the long term since the effective 5-year supply must be maintained over time.

So there are huge constraints. But it also important to ask some searching questions. Have we really exhausted all of the potential of brownfield sites – for example, the stalled plans at Waterfront and Craigmillar? Will the Labour Planning Convenor, Ian Perry stick to the “brownfield-first” approach set out in his party’s local manifesto – “We want to assist family and ?rst-time buyers. So, starting with Edinburgh’s plentiful supply of brown?eld sites, we will work with house-builders to provide land to build on in return for guaranteed high quality and fast delivery to market. We will seek to revoke planning permissions where builders just hoard the land and don’t build the homes they promised”?

What more can be done to make use of the capital’s long term empty properties? How can we reduce the amount of land required by reducing the space made available for car parking?

It is argued that failure to allocate enough land for new housing will result in rising house prices, pricing yet more people out of an already expensive housing market. That would indeed be a concern – if it were true. But the vast majority of house sales take place in the second-hand market. The rate of flow of new-builds has only a marginal impact on price. If house prices are a concern – and they should be – much more radical measures, like the Greens’ Land Value Tax policy, are needed.

Do we understand enough about shifts in housing and living aspirations over the next two decades? If it is true that developers recognise the challenge of moving away from soulless suburban estates to what is called “place-making” does that not mean more compact development, less designed around cars and with a focus on shared space and public transport? The proof of the rhetorical pudding will be in the building.

And perhaps most fundamentally of all, we need to be asking about growth. It has been suggested that Edinburgh’s population will reach 600,000 by 2033. Rather than asking whether that growth is sustainable and desirable, I have long suspected that a segment of civic leaders in the capital will never rest easy until the population of the city outstrips that of Glasgow. I hope I am wrong but we really do need to be asking at what point growth stops and quality of life suffers.

So it is clear that the LDP is no dry technical treatise – but a tool to stare at some core questions about the city and its future.