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Is there a future for Edinburgh's Green Belt? by Duncan Campbell Convenor, Strategic Planning & Environment Committee, Cockburn Association

Posted on 10 Oct 2014 by Marion

In 1949, a Green Belt was proposed for Edinburgh by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Derek Plumstead in their Civic Survey and Plan for Edinburgh. They believed that surrounding Edinburgh with a protected, unspoilt area of countryside, together with wedges of open land penetrating far into the City, would be an important stratagem to safeguard the city’s spectacular setting and unique character. Informal, outdoor recreation for townspeople was also part of the aim of their Green Belt. Although it took some time for this concept to be accepted, the Abercrombie and Plumstead plan had to a large extent been adopted by 1999 through successive Structure Plans. This had a beneficial effect on the pattern of development of Edinburgh over the past 50 years.

 

However, independent surveys by the Colinton Amenity Association (1999) and the Cockburn Association (Edinburgh Civic Trust) have indicated that in the sensitive, inner part of the Green Belt, nearly 4000 acres had been lost to development since its proposal in 1949. Also in this area, over 8000 acres of land had suffered severe and detrimental visual impacts from development. They concluded that these losses, coupled with associated severe visual impacts, have significantly eroded the quality of parts of the Green Belt. Many communities bordering the Green Belt were concerned that if the same degree of attrition was allowed to continue, it could severely jeopardise an effective future for Edinburgh's Green Belt.

And this is exactly what has happened. The current economic strategy of the Scottish Government (SG) is to promote growth strongly and this direction in the National Planning Framework cascades down through the planning hierarchy to the detriment of environmental and quality of life issues in many areas. The Edinburgh City Region is particularly affected because it is regarded by the SG as a ‘key driver’ of the Scottish economy. This emphasis upon growth echoes similar concerns raised in the Scottish Environment LINK paper ‘Environment & Economy – Helping Scotland Flourish’ 2012 ( www.scotlink.org ).

A recent survey by landscape consultants indicated that the majority of the Edinburgh Green Belt is of high landscape quality and has only a limited capacity to accept development without damage. Despite this the current revision of the Local Development Plan is likely to require a further 9000 houses to be accommodated on Green Belt sites. To achieve this, Green Belt and other environment protection policies would have to be set aside.
Arguably the SG does not appear to be complying with the UK Shared Framework for Sustainable Development which requires a balanced approach to be taken, giving equal weights to all its elements. Neither does there appear to be any consideration given to the requirements of the European Landscape Convention. As both these documents contain quality of life elements, a key component of community empowerment, it would appear that this emerging policy in Scotland may also be compromised.

There is considerable frustration by individuals, community groups and others that their careful and measured representations about the difficulties of challenging the complex forecasts for more housing land and the consequent loss of Green Belt are not being listened to by the authorities. At the very least, the most sensitive areas should receive stronger protection.

But the juggernaut of growth rolls on! What, if anything, can be done about this? A way must be found to convince decision makers not only to listen to community concerns, but to act upon these as well