Edinburgh to unlock £1.3bn of infrastructure spending

As the Council prepares to launch its pioneering Strategy for Jobs on 12 September, a series of posts over the next few days will examine the strategy in more detail.

Today's post on our new Economic Strategy looks at the Council's plans to support infrastructure investment over the next five years.

The plan aims to create the right conditions for businesses to create employment and responds to a growing jobs gap - high population growth and the challenging global economy mean that by 2018 there could be up to 37,000 more jobseekers in the city than jobs.

Investing in physical development is one of four programmes of activity outlined by the City of Edinburgh Council in a flagship new five-year Economic Strategy for 2012-17 designed to address this jobs gap.

It builds on more than £5 billion of capital investment already underway in the Scottish Capital, including the city's £776m tram project; the £1 billion redevelopment of Edinburgh's Waterfront; the £850 million redevelopment of the St James Quarter retail district; and the £85m project to extend the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and develop Atria Edinburgh - the only speculative city centre office development outside London to offer more than 100,000 sq ft of Grade A office space by early 2013.

"The private sector will be delivering a number of these key projects so our role is very much about creating the conditions to make that happen," explained Councillor Tom Buchanan, Economic Development Convener at the City of Edinburgh Council . "The important point here is that investment in the city's physical development is vital in creating and sustaining jobs, for example through town centre regeneration that creates new facilities for businesses; better transport links that get people to work; the development of industry hubs to attract new investment; affordable housing and public realm projects that improve the attractiveness of Edinburgh as a place to live and work."

Key elements of the infrastructure programme include prioritising capital projects with the potential to make the biggest impact on job creation. This includes completing the first phase of Edinburgh 's controversial tram project from St Andrew Square in the city centre to the airport, and the development of business cases for further routes.

"The tram is crucially important because it's going to greatly improve the connectivity between the city centre and the airport and open up a number of new development opportunities in West Edinburgh," said Greg Ward, Head of Economic Development at the City of Edinburgh Council. "The building programme itself is creating a lot of jobs. It's also important to remember that the tram is an environmentally friendly, low carbon project and will help the city achieve its important sustainability targets."

The programme also sets out action plans to deliver a raft of regeneration and investment across Edinburgh's four priority investment zones - the City Centre, South East Edinburgh, the Waterfront and West Edinburgh. These include reviving stalled development projects such as Caltongate, a gap site in the city's historic old town with planning consent for a hotel, office complex, 30 shops and 160 homes; securing occupiers for serviced plots at BioQuarter, the £800m,100-acre life sciences development located alongside the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and The University of Edinburgh's world-renowned medical school; completing phase 1 of the Edinburgh Promenade, a 17km coastal route being developed as part of the regeneration of Edinburgh's Waterfront; and delivering the infrastructure for phase 1 of the Edinburgh International project, which will transform land around Edinburgh Airport into an international business and transport hub, potentially injecting £4.4 billion into Scotland's economy.

Town centre development and regeneration is another core element of the plan. This aims to build footfall in outlying local centres such as Tollcross, Leith Walk and Portobello. "We want to keep these places vibrant," Buchanan said. "The message is to enjoy the city centre but explore other areas and spread the economic impact." Examples include using 'Panda Power' banners and local branding to reinvigorate Corstorphine town centre following the arrival of giant pandas from China at Edinburgh Zoo, which is based nearby. An increased interest in local businesses has been reported as a result.

With budgets under pressure across the public and private sectors, a key element of the infrastructure action plan is to develop new ways to fund capital projects. Edinburgh is already embracing new funding models including Business Improvement Districts, public-private sector partnerships designed to improve local areas in line with business needs. For example, Essential Edinburgh, the Capital's central Business Improvement District, is leading the £300,000 redevelopment of the city's famous Rose Street . Other mechanisms include the creation of the first Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) scheme of its kind in the UK as part of the Waterfront regeneration project. Meanwhile, future options could include creation of a new 'urban fund' which would allow the City of Edinburgh Council to provide co-investment by leveraging its urban property portfolio.

A pioneering 'Whole Council' approach that mobilises every department of the Council in supporting jobs and investment will be key to the delivery of Edinburgh 's new Economic Strategy and its four programmes of activity. This includes joint projects across the Council's physical development and employability teams, such as initiatives to create construction jobs and training. National and local partners including Scottish Enterprise1, the EDI Group2, Waterfront Edinburgh3, Essential Edinburgh and private landowners and property developers will also be integral to this collaborative response.

Homes for Scotland, the home building industry representative body, whose member companies build 95% of new homes built in Scotland each year, believes the City of Edinburgh Council has been instrumental in supporting the city's home building sector.

"The home building industry fell off a cliff in 2007-08, and although we may have arrested decline, production in Scotland is still only half of where it was in 2006-07," said Allan Lundmark, Director of Planning at Homes for Scotland. "The level of demand for housing and owner occupancy in Scotland remains very strong and in two areas of Scotland we're seeing signs of recovery. One is the North-East around Aberdeen , which has been buoyed by the oil and gas industry. The only other part of Scotland where we're seeing a significant return in production is here in the city of Edinburgh. A lot of that is down to the City of Edinburgh Council and their determination to work with the industry to lever and facilitate investment. They should be commended for that."

A conference to launch Edinburgh 's new Economic Strategy 2012-17 will be held in Edinburgh on 12 September 2012. Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Spending and Lord Smith, Chair of the Green Investment Bank, will be guest speakers.

Tomorrow's post will look at how the new strategy will help support inward investment to Edinburgh.

1 Scottish Enterprise is the Scottish Government's main economic development agency.

2 An arms-length property development and investment company set up by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1988

3 An arms-length company set up by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2000 to oversee the purchase, decontamination and sale of Waterfront land for development

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