What Edinburgh needs from the Planning Bill

5th December 2017

With less than 19,000 completions last year (2,000 of which were in Edinburgh)the number of homes built across Scotland remains well short of the minimum of 23,000 per year called for by the 2015 Commission on Housing and Wellbeing.

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for housebuilders to acquire suitable land where people want to live.

And even when they do, they’re often blocked by a planning system that’s risk adverse.

In Edinburgh this year alone, the council has rejected plans to redevelop the old Boroughmuir High School site into almost 80 flats, turned down plans for 750 homes next to the ERI and ruled against 1400 new homes near Edinburgh Airport.

This is at time when the population in Edinburgh is forecast to grow by over 5,000 people a year and the number of households by over 3,000 per year, over the next 20 years.

The Planning Bill, expected later this year, cannot provide a solution for all our housing ills, but it could help to reform the system.

That doesn’t mean trampling over community concerns, but equally, it must address our housing demands. A balance must be struck.

Existing local authority housing plans consistently underestimate house building targets.

In Edinburgh the recent Local Development Plan was criticised by the Minister for a 7,000 shortfall in the land allocated for new housing up to 2029. Despite this omission it was still approved by the Scottish Government.

This approach is clearly failing everyone.

We need developers to be more involved in setting local plans, given their expertise and role in delivering new homes.

For example, the legislation could compel councils to set up working groups with local developers and other partners to tackle shared concerns about housing supply.

This might help to clear bottlenecks in as the system and deal with infrastructure requirements, up front.

This wouldn’t replace community engagement on specific developments but it might provide a view of what’s needed across the city

Given councils’ failure to meet the targets set out in their LDPs, they need to be incentivised to meet their share of the national house building target.

Additional finance could be released to each local authority when it achieves its agreed annual housebuilding target, an approach which builds on the New Homes Bonus model in England.

More could also be done by developers to engage with communities in the run up to a planning application to build local support.

This could include developers signing up to a consultation code of conduct. Rather than being viewed as a tick-box exercise, a robust pre-application process will help create a built environment that is sensitive to local needs.

In turn, developers are less likely to face lengthy appeals.

Ultimately we need a joined up approach with developers, local authorities, national government and communities working together.

Housing is about more than bricks and mortar. It is about everyone having a decent, affordable home in a thriving, safe community. The forthcoming Planning Bill could be the catalyst for housebuilding to become the engine of Scotland’s social and economic wellbeing.