Mention Edinburgh’s New Town and most Scots know that you are referring to the area north of Princes Street, characterised by wide streets, elegant townhouses and green spaces.
But, almost two and half centuries later, it’s easy to forget how the New Town came into being, and how visionary and bold the plans were at that time.
Today, 15 minutes south of Edinburgh, we are creating another new community, one that is equally visionary. Its name is Shawfair and when completed it will be roughly the same size as Cupar, Dunblane or Linlithgow.
Shawfair’s “heart” will be an attractive town centre and railway station – elements missing in other new towns. Just three stops to Edinburgh on the new Borders Railway, Shawfair is also only 10-15 minutes’ drive from the coast and its fine beaches. The town centre will have shops, offices and community facilities and 4,000 new homes within acres of landscaped outdoor space, sports pitches and cycle paths. We want the people who choose to live and work in Shawfair to experience an immediate feeling of belonging, just as the residents of Edinburgh’s New Town must have felt all these years ago.
Why are we building Shawfair in this way? Firstly, because there’s a desperate shortage of housing in Edinburgh and Midlothian. This drives up prices and makes it difficult for first time buyers to get on the housing ladder. Edinburgh consistently tops global polls as an attractive place to live, but what about those who can’t afford city prices or even those looking for a less urban location?
As well as larger properties, Shawfair will offer flats and smaller houses helping first time buyers – many of whom will qualify for the Help to Buy scheme – onto the housing ladder. There will be properties for affordable rent too. Secondly – and this is crucial – Shawfair is not just housing, but has been designed to provide essential amenities like schools and GP surgeries locally. Unlike some large scale developments, this a fundamental element of Shawfair.
So what does it take to create a new town with great infrastructure and amenities? Well, perseverance for one! The original plans for the land were formed around 15 years ago when Midlothian and Edinburgh councils joined forces with a private developer to push their vision for a new community. But these plans were shelved when the recession came along in 2008.
Shawfair LLP was formed in 2013 as a joint venture between Buccleuch Property and Mactaggart & Mickel Homes. The new and improved agreement involves a phased, privately-funded programme of works where revenues from earlier phases are reinvested to fund later stages.
But the proof of the pudding is will people want to move there? The answer seems to be yes. The homes are proving particularly popular with first-time buyers and families who work in the surrounding areas, for example the proximity of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh makes Shawfair an affordable and accessible option for hospital staff.
Meanwhile, we are progressing discussions with Midlothian Council for a new education campus that will become a community hub, with a health centre and sports facilities as well as educational facilities. We’re already working with the people of Danderhall, Newton Village and other communities to plan which facilities they would like in Shawfair and the surrounding area. We want local people to feel that Shawfair is theirs to shape and enjoy, now and for future generations.
Indeed, the first of those future generations have already set up home in Shawfair and the next stage of building more new housing is currently underway. There’s still a way to go to make the entire Shawfair vision a reality, but we are taking milestone steps forward in creating this exciting and vibrant new community.
Nick Waugh is director of Shawfair LLP.