City digging itself out of a whole lot of trouble

As council prepares for scores of objections, it reveals revised rules for development of the Capital.

THE city council has announced a series of changes to Edinburgh's most important design blueprint as it prepares to hear scores of objections at a key public inquiry.

The city local plan lays down the rules governing how the city will be allowed to develop over the coming years.

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It was announced today that the local inquiry will get under way in late September, when developers are likely to press for the release of greenbelt land for housing.

It is thought the level of opposition – more than 650 objections covering 182 issues at the last count – means the arguments will be heard for several weeks.

Ahead of the inquiry, the council has made a number of key changes to the blueprint. These include:

• Withdrawing plans for housing on the site of the dilapidated Powderhall waste transfer site, which will now stay open until at least 2015.

• Axing proposals to create a park or civic space at a spot of unused land on Portobello Promenade, and, controversially, opening it up to housing.

• Reducing the minimum size for a communal garden at any new development from 30 square metres per dwelling to 10sq m.

• Warning that purpose-built student accommodation will not always be approved, should it be excessive in scale or likely to have a "disproportionate" impact on the community's character.

The local plan is designed to run until 2015, by which time more than 30,000 new homes should have been built in Edinburgh.

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It will help protect the skyline and key views across the city, as well as providing guidelines for major developments such as the Granton and Leith Waterfront schemes.

As expected, council officials have revised the document to remove plans for housing on greenbelt land at Edinburgh Zoo – which were kicked out by councillors – and on the entire Meadowbank site, which will now include new sport facilities.

A council spokeswoman said: "The planning committee referred the entire Edinburgh city local plan on to a public local inquiry to allow interested parties to have their objections considered.

"Following the inquiry, the government reporters will submit a report back to the council for its consideration. The council will then make its own decisions on how the local plan should be modified, if at all, taking into account the reporters' recommendations."

Housebuilders are all targeting particular sites on the edge of Edinburgh and hope to persuade the two government reporters that their sites are suitable for development.

The council has agreed in principle to building 400 homes on greenbelt land, but at stake is the argument over where the best place is to build them.

Planning expert Steven Black, associate director at Jones Lang LaSalle in Edinburgh, said: "The planning committee has responded to objections and removed housing allocations at Meadowbank and Edinburgh Zoo, however, there is a significant demand for suitable development sites in Edinburgh. Housebuilders across the UK see Edinburgh as an attractive location because the housing market has remained relatively stable.

"This means key greenfield sites within the city such as Meadowbank will remain under pressure despite the proposed changes to the local plan.

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"It is likely that there will be some additional release of greenbelt sites in the future and the local authority will have to balance the interests of environmental groups with the need for economic development and ensuring the future prosperity of the city."

But Mark Sydenham, spokesman for Friends of the Earth Edinburgh, said: "Given the amount of derelict land in Granton and Leith, building there makes much more sense.

"We will definitely support the council in its bid to keep greenbelt land."

A controversial giant waste depot planned for Portobello has been widely tipped as a potential replacement for the city's dilapidated facility at Powderhall.

In the local plan, 1.9 hectares of land at Powderhall is earmarked for around 100 new homes. But amid the uncertainty over the future of waste facilities, the transfer site will now stay open beyond the lifetime of the document.

In recent years, developers have proposed building terraced houses on derelict seafront land at Portobello, which was once home to a ghost train. The application was thrown out by the city council amid concerns that it would block views of a row of picturesque Georgian cottages.

The council was set to buy the land and turn it into a public amenity, but director of city development, Dave Anderson, today said the costs to the council would be too high.

"A certificate of appropriate alternative development has now been issued, which specifies that housing would be the appropriate use for the site if not required by the council for open space purposes. This in effect confers residential value," he said.

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"In these circumstances, it would not be advisable to proceed with an open space proposal, and this accordingly should be deleted from the plan."

Local Lib Dem councillor Stephen Hawkins said this will prove controversial.

"Nobody has picked up until now that the council is reneging on this," he said.

"I think there will be strong objection, certainly from many of the residents in the area."

In March, plans for a 22 million student flats development on McDonald Road were thrown out by councillors, amid concerns that it could upset the "delicate balance" of community relations.

The local plan now warns that applications must not be "prejudicial to the maintenance or development of a balanced residential character in the wider locality".

But Edinburgh University Students' Association president Josh MacAlister said: "On the accommodation issue, the city council is showing a real lack of leadership.

"There is a clear lack of student accommodation in the city, but instead of responding to that need, the council has listened to unfounded arguments from a vocal minority about the behavioural aspects in the community.

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"In fact, only seven per cent of complaints about antisocial behaviour come from homes of multiple occupancy.

"The idea of socially engineering a community through restricting purpose-built student accommodation, as suggested here, will have a huge impact on the local economy."

Changes to the open space requirement for new developments generally applies to flats where there are no private gardens.

Mr Anderson said: "After further assessment and taking into account recently published (guidance] by the Scottish Government, it is considered that a viable minimum standard should be in the order of 10sq m."

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