Q & A
Did you know that Edinburgh Council are currently considering a plan to build between 465 and 813 dwellings in the centre of Inch Park?
If you are like most local residents or users of Inch Park you will probably know absolutely nothing about these plans. This is because Edinburgh Council has not attempted to share the plans in any detail with the general public.
Where can I see a copy of the Council’s plans?
A detailed plan already exists, but the Council has decided not to share it with you. In fact you would really have to be Sherlock Holmes to be able to find it. We got out our magnifying glass and found details of the plan in a document called Cityplan 2030. It appears on the maps printed on pages 33-34 of the document (https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/26927/choices-for-city-plan-2030), but unfortunately is only shown there as a small brown smudge between Gilmerton Road and Old Dalkeith Road. No more detailed map or plan is currently available to the public.
We have delved further and uncovered additional information about the Council’s plan in other documents which are attached to Cityplan 2030. Detailed references to these appear in the more in-depth analysis of the proposal contained in the official objection made to the Council by Inch Community Centre Education Association (ICECA) and which is attached to this letter.
What is Cityplan 2030?
Cityplan 2030 is the broad policy plan outlying future planning options for the City of Edinburgh. Once it is approved it will set the standard by which Edinburgh Council will determine its future planning decisions. This means that if the proposal to use Inch Park for building housing is accepted and included within it, there will be a strong presumption in favour of building houses there (i.e. the Park will have effectively been “zoned” for housing). It will then be very hard indeed to oppose future applications by developers to build there.
I notice that the plans refer to building the houses in the Council’s plant nursery. What has the nursery got to do with Inch Park?
The nursery actually forms the very heart of Inch Park and is surrounded by the rest of the Park on all sides. Many of the trees you see growing in Inch Park are actually ones growing in the nursery. Many of the best views of the Park are ones which include the nursery. It is organically inseparable from the rest of the Park (indeed some 2/3 of the nursery was actually annexed from the Park itself in a “land grab” during the 1970s). If this area was to be covered by housing, the view would then be one of concrete instead of trees, and Inch Park as we know it would be lost for ever.
What is being done to stop the development?
The following local community organisations have come together to oppose this proposal:
We each presented our concerns directly to the Council. But the only voice which really counts is that of individual Edinburgh citizens. That is why we are asking YOU to please make your views known directly to the Council.
Bridgend Residents Association
Edinburgh South Community Football Club
Inch Community Association
Inch Community Education Centre Association
Inch Park Community Sports Club
The Liberton Association
Liberton High School Parents Council
Liberton Primary School Association
What kind of objections are local community organisations making to the proposal?
There are many serious objections to be made, but the ones which seem to us to be the most compelling are the following:
1. The development will have a massive negative impact on Inch Park
Inch Park is one of the most extensive and beautiful green spaces in the whole of Edinburgh, beloved by generations of Edinburgh citizens over the years. It is visited daily as a place of recreation, for walking, meetings, playing sports, to encounter nature or in order to escape from the stresses of urban life. Building hundreds of new houses in the middle of Inch Park will totally transform its character. And once the houses are there, they will be there for ever.
2. The development will seriously undermine the unique historical heritage value of Inch Park
At the centre of Inch Park is the magnificent Inch House, the home of the local community centre and an A-listed historical building with a 16th/17th century castellated tower house and adjoining walled gardens at its core. The gardens, which currently house much of the Council’s plant nursery, would be entirely obliterated by the proposed development and a mass of modern housing would be crammed practically against the walls of Inch House. This cannot be an appropriate or respectful use for such a culturally important site.
3. The development will put enormous stress on the local community infrastructure
The development is going to place enormous pressure on an already strained local infrastructure, particularly through generating increased traffic on the junctions around Cameron Toll and through increasing pressure on already overcrowded local schools. South-East Edinburgh has seen an explosion in population in recent years which is set to grow even more in immediate future. Squeezing another near 2000 new residents into the area is hardly going to lead to an improvement in the quality of life locally.
4. Building houses here will result in the loss of a priceless community resource for the future
If the Council no longer believes that it requires the nursery site for plant-growing purposes, there are surely more imaginative and appropriate ways the site can be utilised than to build a mass of new houses there, and ways which will also better preserve the character and integrity of the Park.
To begin with Inch Community Association is currently preparing an application to take over the ownership of Inch House under a Community Asset Transfer request, to develop its full potential as a community centre and to explore how it might also serve as a major cultural and heritage centre for the entire city of Edinburgh. This plan would also envisage restoring the historic walled gardens in all their ancient glory. Other organisations have also expressed an interest in developing parts of the site in a sympathetic manner to provide educational and learning resources which would be available to support local schools. There is also a strong argument to be made for returning part of the site at least to the rest of the Inch Park, from which it was annexed and fenced off in the 1970s.
A proper vision is needed for the whole of the Park, as was already pointed out many years ago (https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/23035/inch-park). There also requires to take place a discussion within the local community about how best to use the site, for which more time will be needed. This site must be reserved solely for community purposes, as was originally intended when it was first purchased in 1946. On no account should consideration be given to selling it off to private developers or for it to be otherwise privatised or lost from the public domain.
5. It will open the gates to further building encroachments on the Park
Since its creation after the Second World War as a recreational amenity for the public, Inch Park has suffered from a whole series of encroachments for new building developments (these are described in the attached “Inch Park Historical Perspective” by Bill Cook). All of these have caused significant damage to the Park and have served to degrade it. But none would constitute such a violent attack on the character of Park as a whole as the current proposal. The development wouldn’t come alone, new roads would have to be laid to give access to the new houses and other intrusive facilities constructed. Users of the remainder of Inch Park would also have to contend with the demands of up to 2000 new residents. The impact on the Park generated by the attendant car traffic can easily be imagined.
Moreover, if this development goes ahead, the green light will effectively have been given to future incremental building developments. If one part of this unique Park is zoned for housing, how would anyone be able to stop other parts from being zoned as well?
Should such a major planning decision really be going ahead in the time of Covid-19?
Surely at a time when the Covid-19 emergency has rendered the future entirely uncertain it is impossible now to plan in such detail as Cityplan 2030 is attempting to do. There has already been much discussion about how the surge in people working at home will lead to a fall in demand for office-space, leading potentially to many existing offices being converted into residential accommodation. If this were to happen, would we then actually need so many new houses? Who today can possibly answer this question? With so many unknown variables, surely the whole Cityplan 2030 exercise needs to be put on hold. Only when the pandemic is safely behind us, and we understand better what the new social, political and economic landscape is likely to be, can we start to construct a plan to answer Edinburgh’s developmental needs which will be fit for purpose.