Cllr Ian Perry: "How do we do right by our green space?"

Councillor Ian Perry, the city's Planning Convener, writes today (Monday 25 March) in the Evening News about the pressure on Edinburgh to expand and how the new Local Development Plan aims to control this.

"UNLIKE most other cities in the UK in this time of economic instability, Edinburgh is a growing city. The only other comparable city in Scotland is Aberdeen. This raises the question of how big should Edinburgh be?

"There are those who would argue that it is big enough already. However, I think there is a general consensus that growth brings enormous economic benefits and is something we need to strive to promote and encourage. Edinburgh already has one of the highest per capita incomes of all UK cities outside London.

"One consequence of growth is an increasing population which requires to be housed.  More houses have to be built to accommodate an expanding workforce. If we don't build new houses, prices and rents will continue to rise and people will be pushed out of the city. Indeed it can be argued that house prices are already too high with the average house being around £212,600. This is already out of the reach of many workers on lower and middle incomes.

"In the south east of Scotland an assessment of housing need has identified that land for a total of 155,600 new homes will be required up to 2032. As demand for housing increases there will be a continuing pressure to release more land for development. This leads to the question of how do we encourage growth but at the same time protect Edinburgh's unique environment, and in particular Edinburgh's Green Belt?

"We expect the vast majority of the new homes to be built on existing and future brownfield sites, such as at Leith or Granton. However, we still need to find some green field sites to meet the overall need for additional housing land.

"Edinburgh’s Local Development Plan, which has been recently published, identifies sites within the Green Belt which are most appropriate for development and can help to meet this need. This is based on whether the sites have good accessibility to public transport infrastructure, the impact on the landscape setting of the City and whether clear and defensible Green Belt boundaries can be formed. With most of the land in private ownership it is inevitable that proposals for housing development in the Green Belt would come forward anyway. The Local Development Plan is a tool that allows the Council to decide how it wants the city to grow and which proposals should be supported.

"It is a misconception in current circumstances that the Council could prevent every piece of Green Belt land from being released for housing. National policy requires planning authorities to provide a generous supply of land that is capable of being developed for housing within a five year period to meet assessed needs.

"To meet this requirement, allowing development on some land in Edinburgh’s Green Belt is necessary. If we don’t identify enough land where development is acceptable then the Scottish Government will. We would lose control at a local level to decide where this housing should go.

"I understand concerns that the present planning framework results in incremental releases of Green Belt land for development and if this continues then it will be slowly swallowed up. However, it may be time to review the whole process and to revisit the question of how we handle Edinburgh's growth and protect its green spaces.

"Is it really possible to square the circle and preserve sufficient green space to protect Edinburgh's unique environment as well as promoting economic growth? I would argue that you can and the new Local Development Plan is part of the process to ensure that we meet the city’s needs. It is clear that there are strongly held views on all sides of the debate, a debate that I very much welcome."

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