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Creative thinking required to achieve housing targets

The City of Edinburgh Council (CEC)’s announcement that it is set to approve a spend of £2.5 billion on affordable housing over the next ten years has been welcomed by UK law firm Shoosmiths – but it says there is some cause for concern.

The CEC’s strategy is thought to include plans for 5000 new council homes available as social rent and 5000 new homes forming part of regeneration projects for mid-market rent (so called because the rent is at a level lower than private rent but higher than council or social housing rent).

Complementing that, wearing its planning hat, the CEC has just published the main issues report (Choices for City Plan 2030) for its proposed new Local Development Plan. This sets out policies, options and proposals for development in Edinburgh between 2020 and 2030.

Fraser Mitchell, Shoosmiths planning partner, said that, from a residential development perspective, the CEC had indicated its aspiration to focus development on urban area brownfield land in preference to what it considered an unnecessary release of greenfield land.

“While this option would place future housing sites closer to existing infrastructure, it would also present significant challenges to delivering new housing that the city badly needs,” he added.

“The majority of the identified urban area brownfield land is not in CEC’s control, and there is no certainty that those who do control it will look to promote it for housing. This means that CEC may have to resort to acquiring this land through its compulsory purchase powers, which has the potential to create a significant delay to the delivery of housing units.

“Further, the proposals for future housing to be built to platinum building standards, provide green space as part of each development, and increase the onsite affordable housing requirement from 25% to 35% of housing units, are all likely to place more onerous requirements on developers. Given the balancing of interests and priorities that will have to form part of the preparation of the new Local Development Plan, I would encourage all stakeholders to actively engage with CEC and provide consultation responses to the main issues report before the deadline at the end of March.”

Underpinning these targets is the Scottish Government’s ambition - set out in the Housing to 2040 Consultation - that everyone in Scotland should live in high quality, energy efficient homes that are affordable and that meet their needs. The vision includes connected, well-designed places helping to create vibrant communities.

Energy efficiency is another significant driver and one which the Scottish Government is addressing through the various roads of The Energy Efficient Scotland route map to 2040.

And with 40% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions generated by real estate, the energy efficiency drive here will be closely tracked. CEC has the opportunity to set a new template for sustainable development and lead the way.

Janette Speed, head of real estate Shoosmiths Scotland, said: “Pulling all these strands together is going to require a significant effort on each stakeholder’s part in order to deliver this ambitious strategy. The challenges and tensions identified by Fraser are real and the interests not always 100% compatible despite the admirable aims behind the mission statements. As such it is going to take imagination, creativity and even more joined up thinking between the private and public sectors on every front including funding. 

“For example, our recent experience of the residential development market demonstrates the flexibility of mid-market rent structures as a robust delivery method of affordable housing in the central belt via private investment funds. It seems to me that CEC has the opportunity to set new standards across all these initiatives and lead the way on affordable sustainable development. It certainly is an exciting time for the city.”

Disclaimer

This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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