Assessing Edinburgh’s City Deal

The article below originally appeared in the September issue of Housebuilder magazine.

Craig Harrow, head of Newgate Communications’ Scotland office, looks at Edinburgh’s long awaited City Deal. Is it ambitious enough to tackle the ‘crisis’ in housing in Scotland’s capital city?

Just like Edinburgh’s infamous trams you wait for a big announcement and two come along at once. We have been waiting for the City Deal to be signed off and, at the same time, a new coalition has been announced to run Edinburgh Council.

Recently in the City Chambers, a leading councillor described Edinburgh’s housing as being in “crisis”. Given this assessment there are some that have seen the investment outlined in the City Deal for the Capital as being far too modest in its ambition.

The City Deal investment of nearing £1billion is considered as being crucial to securing growth in the wider city region. But, to support that investment the Capital needs to ensure that it can house its citizens and the newcomers it will welcome as Edinburgh continues to thrive and develop.

Council Leader Adam McVey has stated that the City Deal gives the Council a £15m grant, plus the powers to borrow a further £248m for low cost rented homes. The city will lead with a new housing company to ensure the city delivers 20,000 affordable new homes over the term of the current administration.

Councillors are rightly concerned about the quality, variety and availability of housing stock across the capital yet, all too often they have in the past thwarted development and yielded to misguided NIMBY pressure.

The city has some way to go to meet its ambitious targets: the current stock of social housing is only 13 per cent compared with the Scottish average of 24%.

Edinburgh’s own elected members are starting to voice their concerns that targets are not ambitious enough. And, very often it is the same elected members who complain about the “onslaught” of residential planning applications. Councillors in the capital must focus on the task in hand and ensure that they are realistic in their approach to development control.

To deliver the real housing needs in the city, and accommodate its growth, will not be possible without having to make bold, and often radical decisions.

Creating the post of Convener of Housing and Economy in the capable hands of Cllr Gavin Barrie is a good first step as is the creation of the new housing company through the City Deal but there needs to be swift action to embrace new funding models, create collaborative approaches with the private sector and a realistic approach to planning otherwise the city will fail its ambitions and barely meet lofty targets.

 

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