Red warning for the Green Belt

POSTED ON April 8, 2022

What happened to urban green belts helping prevent unsustainable growth?

Various news sources contained the recent story this week that a £500m housing development in Edinburgh has been given final approval by the Scottish government.

The optimistically named “Redheughs Village” lies to the immediate west of the city bypass near Gogar in the west of the city and will have 1,350 new homes including 330 affordable homes and a 40-acre park together with a primary school, nursery and shops.

Edinburgh’s Green Belt has suffered yet another blow.  Ironically, the purpose of Green Belts is to prevent unsustainable growth in car-based commuting or suburbanisation of the countryside.  Despite the rhetoric of the developer or the rationalisation of the Scottish Government official who approved it, Redheughs is a typical private car-based housing scheme, poorly integrated into the city and its infrastructure.

There is every likelihood that similar schemes are expected to come forward in the next few years.  Why?  The development industry looks at the agricultural and open fields surrounding the city as a land-bank ripe for building.

The Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 4 requires the Edinburgh City Region to cater for 75,300 new houses over the next 10-year period with Edinburgh City required to find sites for 41,300 homes (double that of Glasgow).  The City Council’s new local development plan – City Plan 2030 – which is still to be formally adopted includes proposals for about 50,000 new homes.  It emphasises a “brownfield first” approach and, with some limited exceptions, proposes no new Green Belt releases.

All well and good but..! The housebuilding sector has already pushed back, arguing that Green Belt releases are essential to deliver the local and national planning objectives. Redheughs shows us how fragile the policy is in the face of such vested interests.

Low density, suburban sprawl continues to be the language of the mainstream housebuilder. It is far easier to build on an open field than on a constrained urban site, and it is more profitable too.  It is easy to camouflage the unsustainable nature of these peripheral housing schemes by talking about “20-minute neighbourhoods”, “car-free housing” and by offering new schools and parks.  No doubt, the houses will be well-made and well-insulated with carbon efficient heating systems.  However, making great, sustainable places is more than that.

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