David Alexander comment: Can Edinburgh be home to sustainable expansion?

Edinburghs growing economy is increasing the population at a rate not known for perhaps 50 years, says Alexander. Picture: Contributed
Edinburghs growing economy is increasing the population at a rate not known for perhaps 50 years, says Alexander. Picture: Contributed
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Are those who object to new housing developments Nimbys or are concerns about issues like additional traffic and pressure on school places and GP surgeries genuine?

The long-standing question has raised its head once again with the decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to grant planning permission to a development on the sought-after west side of the capital. The 655-home development at Cammo Estate is a consortium project by Cala Homes and David Wilson Homes, set to include 164 affordable properties.

However the scheme was opposed by a local campaign group, supported by their constituency representatives, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Christine Jardine, over concerns that the already heavy traffic at the nearby Barnton and Maybury junctions will be made worse. In response the consortium claimed that improvements made through planning gain contributions will benefit the wider community and those commuting in or out of the city.

It pointed to the extent of publicly accessible green space – which will total over a third of the entire development and includes a seven-hectare park, and more than 700 new specimen trees, as a key site component. A half-kilometre, 20-metre wide green corridor at Maybury Avenue will feature a cycle and footpath detached from Maybury Road, while the development will also add new bus infrastructure.

The concern of local residents is understandable and both Mr Cole-Hamilton and Ms Jardine cannot be criticised for looking after their constituents’ interests. If this was happening in another part of Edinburgh then no doubt the local parliamentary representatives – of whatever political party – would act in the same manner.

However, the fact remains that Edinburgh’s growing economy is increasing the population at a rate not known for perhaps 50 years. And this increase is not just coming from our EU-partner countries; the demands of financial and hi-tech companies has created a situation where Edinburgh is a magnet for skilled workers from other parts of the UK. This contributes to rising demand for housing – coupled with an understandable desire among the existing population for a greater supply of family-type, low-rise accommodation which inevitably puts pressure on virgin land.

No one wants to see the countryside built on unnecessarily but unlike many cities of similar size, Edinburgh has a serious shortage of brownfield sites. The council estimates a population of 600,000 by 2030 and if more capital employees are unable to afford to live there due to a shortage of family accommodation then they will go to locations like Dalkeith or Dunfermline, which inevitably raises the prospect of more car journeys to and from the city.

By all means let us take the concerns of existing residents into account when considering applications for new-build but the needs of the city as a whole is surely equally important.

While the tearful resignation of Theresa May dominated the schedules last weekend, one of the secondary news leads was the revelation of the Westminster government’s intention to relax planning rules to make it easier for homeowners in England to build extensions. This has been in temporary operation for some time but is now being made permanent.

All well and good although I do take issue with the comment of housing minister, Kit Malthouse, that the move would relieve homeowners of going through the “arduous” process of selling up and buying a larger property.

An extension can, indeed, be the most suitable solution for a growing family living with squeezed accommodation but I question the theory that the alternative of trading up on the property market should be seen as “arduous”. For many, moving to a new home means not just as a change of accommodation but a new and positive chapter in life. True, the experience is rarely completely stress-free but on the whole this is more than compensated for by the sense of moving forward that results.

- David Alexander, MD of DJ Alexander