Battle looms over Edinburgh's greenbelt as city leaders decide how to meet Capital's housing needs

A battle is looming over Edinburgh’s greenbelt as city leaders debate which sites to earmark for new housing developments to be built within the next decade.

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The Capital’s rising population and current housing shortage means ever-increasing pressure for new homes.

Proposals are due to go to the city council’s planning committee next week identifying which plots of land – “brownfield” areas in built-up parts of the city as well potentially as greenbelt sites on the edge – should be designated as appropriate for development.

Map showing potential development sitesMap showing potential development sites
Map showing potential development sites
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Environmental campaigners argue brownfield sites should be built on first before any encroachment onto greenbelt land.

But developers say some brownfield sites cannot be developed within the required timescale.

And they warn that if the council does not come up with a viable plan to meet the number of new homes eventually set by the Scottish Government it will result in a “free for all” where developers can effectively build almost wherever they want.

A report published by the council last year suggested that once sites already allocated or given planning permission were taken into account, the city would have to identify enough land for around 17,600 homes.

Kevin Lang and colleagues protesting earlier this month over proposals for 500 new homes on greenbelt land at CammoKevin Lang and colleagues protesting earlier this month over proposals for 500 new homes on greenbelt land at Cammo
Kevin Lang and colleagues protesting earlier this month over proposals for 500 new homes on greenbelt land at Cammo

The “Choices” report said the council’s preferred approach was to focus on brownfield sites and claimed there was enough such land to meet the Capital’s housing need without releasing new greenfield sites.

But it also identified five areas of greenbelt which could be earmarked for development if a different approach were adopted. These were in West Edinburgh, near Glasgow Road; Kirkliston; South-East Edinburgh, around Gilmerton; part of the so-called Garden District, east of Riccarton; and Calderwood, on the city’s western outskirts.

The Calderwood site has proved highly controversial because of its impact on the internationally-acclaimed Jupiter Artland sculpture park.

In response to the consultation on the Choices report, developers put forward other sites which they believed were suitable for housing, including he former Craigiehall barracks, South Riccarton, Hatton Village, Currievale and the two proposed developments next to Edinburgh Airport – the Crosswinds scheme and the International Business Gateway.

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Gary Smith, director of Hallam Land, who are promoting the Craigiehall site, said: “The next City Plan for Edinburgh is arguably the most important in a generation. As well as managing the continued growth of Edinburgh, it is doing so with the impact of climate change and lack of affordable housing at the top of the agenda.

"The economic and social impact of Covid-19 is likely to be felt for some time yet, and over the past year has led many to consider what they prioritise most in a home.

"With the council committed to delivering 20,000 affordable homes by 2027, many within the development industry are concerned too much emphasis is being placed on brownfield sites to deliver these much-needed homes, with the release of sustainable sites such as Craigiehall vital to achieving this target and meeting the current critical need.”

But Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang, whose Almond ward includes much of rural west Edinburgh, is firmly opposed to any of the greenbelt being released for housing.

He said: “The current administration made a promise to prioritise building on brownfield sites and that's the standard I will be holding them to.

“The official housing land audit showed our housebuilding target could more than easily be accommodated from brownfield sites, so I don't see any reason why a single acre of greenbelt should be turned over for further development.

“We've already lost hundreds of acres of greenbelt land despite community opposition and the focus must now be on a brownfield-led development plan.

“Developers will always find excuses to justify building on greenbelt land. I accept it’s often quicker and sometimes cheaper to build on the greenbelt rather than brownfield sites but we should be doing what is right for the city not what’s right for commercial developers.”

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He said allowing housing on the greenbelt would mean derelict plots of brownfield land sitting empty for years to come. “These are the areas where you can create new housing which is already part of existing communities.”

And Edinburgh Greens’ planning spokesman Chas Booth said: "The pandemic has brought the importance of our precious green spaces into sharp focus, so it's essential this new plan rules out any new building on the greenbelt.

"Instead, the focus must be on building genuinely affordable homes – in other words socially rented homes – on brownfield land within the city.

"If housebuilding is focused in areas where there are already schools, workplaces and doctor's surgeries, then we can also reduce the need to travel and therefore cut greenhouse gas emissions."Greens want to ensure this plan helps the city to tackle the climate emergency as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. So it's essential that all new buildings are super-energy efficient; that our communities are built with walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport at the fore, and that we prepare for the increased flooding and extreme weather events that climate change will bring. That's why we will judge this plan on how well it tackles the climate crisis."

Conservative planning spokesperson Joanna Mowat said agreeing a development blueprint for Edinburgh involved “a number of very difficult circles to square”.

“The City Plan is the statutory local development plan which we have to have so there is no ducking it, but it's always difficult.

“Building houses is always controversial but there is an affordability housing crisis and we know there is huge housing need in Edinburgh and this is about how we meet that.

“The biggest issue is always the pressure on infrastructure – schools, GP surgeries, moving people around and access to employment.

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"We’re planning the next ten years on the back of a global pandemic and there are studies which say Edinburgh is the city with the most people who can work from home, but all the employment land studies and housing need studies were done two or three years ago.”

Planning convener Neil Gardiner said the administration had made clear its preferred choice was for sustainable brownfield development.

“The proposed plan we put forward for members to consider at the planning committee on September 29 will align with Edinburgh’s sustainability needs and our target to become net carbon neutral by 2030. We’ve made sure that there will be a generous supply of land allocated in the plan to meet anticipated needs, as is best practice for development plans.

“Our proposed plan will creatively address the housing needs of all of our residents, providing good supply for affordable as well as wider market housing. I’d also like to make very clear that there’s a sufficient housing land supply from our current local development plan to allow for record levels of housing completions for the next nine years.”

How many homes could be built on the proposed sites?

Estimated numbers for the five greenbelt sites highlighted by the council:

South-East Edinburgh (Gilmerton): 6,000

West Edinburgh (Glasgow Road): 4,000

Kirkliston: 2,700

East of Riccarton: 4,000

Calderwood: 2,000

Greenbelt sites proposed by developers:

Craigiehall: 1,200

South Riccarton: 3,600

Hatton Village: 1,200

Currievale: 900

Crosswinds, Edinburgh Airport: 2,500

International Business Gateway: tbc

Key (over 500 units) brownfield sites highlighted by the council:

Seafield: 1,500

Edinburgh Airport decommissioned runway: 1,500

Turnhouse Road (SAICA site): 1,097

Carron Place: 1,064

Inch Nursery: 813

Redford Barracks: 800

Jane Street: 731

Liberton Hospital: 670

Crewe Road South: 668

Bath Road: 645

Royal Victoria Hospital: 605

Gorgie Road: 588

Turnhouse Road industrial: 568

Murrayburn Road: 535

South Fort Street: 512

Astley Ainslie Hospital: 500

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