SNP’s plan for Edinburgh’s future is as shambolic as Brexit – John McLellan

Without a joined-up plan for the South-East Scotland region, planning consultants will now be telling their developer clients to pile in, writes John McLellan.

Edinburgh may suffer without a joined-up plan for the development of the wider region (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Edinburgh may suffer without a joined-up plan for the development of the wider region (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

It was five years in the making, has been examined for nearly a year and runs to 400 pages, but it only took a two-page letter for the Scottish Government to throw the future shape of Greater Edinburgh into chaos.

For five years, planners have been poring over population projections, economic predictions, health and education estimates and everything which goes in to laying the groundwork for a booming region, but between the councils and the SNP Government they cannot agree the best way to do it.

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On Thursday, the administrations which form Sesplan, the strategic planning authority for South-East Scotland, were told by chief planner John McNairney their regional masterplan had been rejected, mainly because the proposals for transport were deemed inadequate.

“Concerns about the adequacy of the approach taken to the Transport Appraisal were repeatedly raised by the Scottish Government throughout the preparation ... These concerns have not been adequately addressed,” wrote Mr McNairney. “The plan does not properly acknowledge and address the region’s infrastructure constraints ... for delivering housing land across the area.”

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This is the same Scottish Government which agreed the £1.3bn Edinburgh Region City Deal with the councils, which is supposed to be the driving force behind growth, marrying up major housing, infrastructure and economy projects. So the Scottish Government has not only been in the middle of the planning process but has been instrumental in providing the building blocks too.

It was plain from the moment the City Deal projects were announced that rather than a grand plan it was more about councils grabbing what they could for their pet projects. For example, the Scottish Government helped sign off 5,000 new homes around Winchburgh in a scheme which pays little heed to where the occupants will work or how they get there.

It’s a bit rich for the Scottish Government to pin all the blame on councils when it is just as culpable for the mess and the minister responsible, Kevin Stewart, has some explaining to do. The SNP at both Holyrood and Westminster never misses an opportunity to condemn the UK government for mishandling Brexit as if the unpicking of a 40-year international alliance by a minority administration was ever going to be easy. But even with the SNP controlling both the main local authority and the National government, after five years it has failed to steer through a regional planning framework.

Without a joined-up plan for the region, Fife, East Lothian and Midlothian councils can carry on granting planning applications for new housing estates without concerning themselves too much about the implications for travel in Edinburgh. And Edinburgh can carry on making life difficult for developers who will get their schemes through on appeal because there is no agreed plan to guide them. Planning consultants will now be telling their clients to pile in.

Sesplan won’t get the attention Brexit commands, but it’s every bit as shambolic and the direct implications on the Edinburgh region every bit as serious.

Consider no-beal Brexit effect on Union

Local planning wasn’t high on the agenda on Craigentinny doorsteps this week and neither was next week’s European election, but if any of the No-Dealers at Nigel Farage’s Edinburgh event are tempted to believe Brexit will have little impact on the way previously strong Unionists view the UK they might want to think again.

The interest and turnout might be low on Thursday but, on the question of Scottish independence, the shift from a firm No two years ago to “Wait and See” was not uncommon. That could give heart to Nationalists were it not for “Wait and See” being equally applicable to holding another referendum any time soon. The clearest message is “get on with it”, as it is to have the streets properly repaired and weeded and bins emptied when promised.

BBC should help tackle Google and Facebook

BBC executives will be breathing a sigh of quiet satisfaction that nine million Radio Two listeners have stuck with its breakfast show since the defection of Chris Evans and his team to Virgin Radio at the start of the year.

The Evans’ brand of uber-enthusiasm and Top Gear blokiness has brought one million listeners to the ad-free show, but with significantly less music than Radio 2 there might be a limit to the number of listeners who want constant Evans prattle about cars and his wonderful kids. At least Evans’ replacement Zoe Ball has a strong play-list to break up her chummy cheeky-chapess schtick.

The best thing I hard on radio this week was Radio 3’s Royal Scottish National Orchestra Mahler concert from Glasgow, the kind of performance that wouldn’t be broadcast were it not for the BBC’s scale and public service obligation to provide coverage which might otherwise be commercially unviable.

In the fast-fracturing media landscape, the BBC is struggling to meet the need to be both popular and niche and until relatively recently did so by ramping up the fee paid by its captive audience of licence payers. But the money tree has stopped growing, unlike demand and political pressure, and in the live-streaming digital age the audience is no longer captive.

A lunch in Edinburgh this week for, in ghastly bureaucrat-speak, BBC stakeholders heard more about the threat posed by the UK government’s decision to hand responsibility for free licenses for over-75s to the Corporation, which if fully funded will cost £750m and hammer the programming budget.

The BBC is bemused that the rest of the media world isn’t swinging in behind their campaign, but no other media company was such a beneficiary of ex-Chancellor Gordon Brown’s largesse when he introduced the concession in 2001. No organisation would be happy at the prospect of either finding £750m or taking away a long-standing benefit for key customers and had Mr Brown given every over-75 a £150 news voucher to spend on their favourite publications then perhaps there would be more sympathy.

But he didn’t, and like everyone else in difficult and fast-changing media markets the BBC must make tough choices. Rather than attack the Government, the BBC would be better advised to back the campaign to challenge the all-consuming media monopolies like Google and Facebook which are sucking a lot more than £750m out of the UK’s £13bn digital advertising market.