Shouldn’t planning be about people?

On Monday night I was invited to a meeting held by people living in Burdiehouse to discuss plans for a new development of 600 houses to be built on greenbelt land behind Burdiehouse Road. This proposal was to be added to the local development plan, as the council felt that the current plans were not ambitious enough to meet the predicted housing demands on Edinburgh in the next 50 years.

People in the area had been made aware of the plans only a week before, with the council issuing notices to only 10% of the people likely to be affected (the legal minimum). Luckily some of those notices fell into the right hands, and neighbours got together to organise a public meeting.

The proposed site of 600 new houses behind Burdiehouse Road

I was incredibly impressed with the turn out – over 40 people responded to the door-knocking done by a handful of volunteers and turned up on a cold monday night to discuss the proposals. The strength of feeling was apparent straight away – not only about the specific problems with the plans (more on that later) but also about the almost complete lack of consultation about these plans. They had been presented as a fait accompli, and with a tiny window of time for people to respond (the deadline is June 14th).

Regardless of your views on the need and direction of housing development in Edinburgh (and you can read Cllr Nigel Bagshaw’s excellent blog about it here), local people must be at the heart of decisions. In many cases people will welcome the proposals and see the developments as a chance to bring people, businesses and infrastructure to the area. Residents near the planned Burdiehouse development, however, are adamant that this proposal is not right for them.

Firstly, this development would necessitate a ‘reclassification’ of greenbelt land for development. On Wednesday I went along with Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for the Lothian region, to meet with George and Pat whose house backs directly onto the proposed development for the site. As you can see from the photos, it is a stunning location with views onto the Pentlands. Aesthetics aside, though, this is land which has been designated as greenbelt – land which is worth preserving. Edinburgh prides itself on being a green city; we cannot live up to that name if we sacrifice greenbelt land to developers without properly considering what it is we would be losing.

Alys and Alison with George and Pat in front of the proposed development site

The field in question also has a high water table, meaning that any developments would be at high risk of flooding. One resident I spoke to on Wednesday night showed me a letter from surveyors strongly warning her against building a small extension onto the very field which is now earmarked for 600 new-builds, citing danger of flooding as the reason. Traffic is also a reason for concern, with the proposed development close to Kaimes Crossroads – already overloaded and (as anyone who has travelled on it during rush hour can confirm) prone to huge tailbacks. Then there are issues of over-capacity schools, local infrastructure and noise, air and light pollution – none of which seems to have been taken into consideration.

The residents affected by this proposal are organised – plans are in place to submit objections to the plans, and I am confident they will be successful. But the fight doesn’t stop there – a similar proposal in the north of the ward was rejected by the council after local opposition, only to be called in by the Scottish Government and approved. And what of other areas, where there aren’t those few key local activists, or the letters are received by people who don’t realise their significance, or who are simply on holiday? The council, and government, must recognise the importance of local people in these huge decisions which affect them. Whether it is housing developments in Burdiehouse, or golf courses in Aberdeenshire, people need to be given the information and time to protect their communities.