GREEN-belt land is to be freed for housing developments in Edinburgh, in one of the largest land releases in recent years.
Up to 4,800 properties are earmarked to be built, with the majority in the west of the city to take advantage of the new tram network.
City leaders expect the sites to be in huge demand from developers keen to build family homes and capitalise on the new transport route.
The move is likely to be controversial, as previous attempts to build on the green-belt have attracted protests from residents and environment groups.
However, Edinburgh City Council said failure to address housing shortages would lead to rising prices and force low-income families out of the city.
Planning leader Ian Perry said: “If we don’t allow these developments, house prices will rise and you will need a very high income to live in Edinburgh.
“Families could also be forced out of the city, as it would be too expensive to live here.”
The local authority is only releasing the land, next year, for private development.
The 2015-2020 Local Development Plan (LDP) for west Edinburgh identified new sites for between 2,250 and 3,200 houses, with between 1,800 and 2,500 on green-belt land. Suburbs where homes will be built include Edinburgh Park and Maybury and Cammo, east of Barnton.
Alison Kirkwood, principal planner at the city council, said the arrival of the tram network in summer 2014 would make the area more sought-after.
She said: “This is one of the best parts of Edinburgh to direct growth, and transport accessibility is very important. The Maybury site actually includes plans for a footbridge to link across to the new Edinburgh Gateway Station to provide connectivity to the trams.”
The same plan, released this week, also earmarks new sites in south-east Edinburgh for between 1,200 and 1,680 houses, all of which would be in the existing green belt, in Gilmerton and Greendykes near Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the life-sciences BioQuarter hub.
In recent years, as few as 1,100 green-belt homes have been approved in five years and, in 2011, developers – who believed they had effectively been frozen out of the planning process – successfully challenged the allocation in the courts.
Mr Perry added: “It is estimated that Edinburgh needs 16,000 new affordable homes in the city over the next ten years.”
David Marshall, a business analyst at Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, said demand for homes in the west of Edinburgh was expected to be high.
He said: “We would expect there to be considerable demand in that area after the tram project is completed.”
He added: “New-build availability has died down a lot and that, coupled with the fact that we have a great number of people coming to live here in Edinburgh, leads to a shortage.
“In the long term, if demand is not matched it will push house prices and even rents up, which is not good news for most of us.”