Save Brunstane Green Belt is campaigning to stop Edinburgh Council from adopting a 'Local Plan' which approves the building of 1,330 houses on Brunstane Fields - the last remaining Green Belt land separating Edinburgh from Musselburgh and from the village of Newcraighall.
We've raised many objections to this development - including the damage it would do to the environment and the traffic congestion that it would cause (see below for further details). But these objections haven fallen on deaf ears - not least, we suspect, because Edinburgh Council owns the land and stands to make a large profit from its development. It seems that only legal action will now save Brunstane Fields from being lost, forever.
Our main legal argument against the development is that the Local Plan breaches a statutory requirement: the Local Plan must be "consistent" with the Regional (South-East Scotland) Development Plan - but the Regional Plan designates Brunstane Fields as Green Belt land.
The initial advice is that our legal arguments have merit. We've engaged a solicitor to represent us and we are now seeking to raise between £3,500 and £8,000 to pay for an opinion from a leading planning law Advocate on the strength of our case.
Our strategy is to persuade Edinburgh Council that it's proposed Local Plan is illegal and we'd like to be able to engage as heavyweight an Advocate as possible - but we need your support to be able to do that! Please help us to ensure that our community's voice is heard and that we can save Brunstane Fields and our local environment from a disastrous development.
Fig 1: View of the fields from Brunstane Crescent
What's proposed - and why?
The map below shows the proposed development. The Council has approved the building of around 600 houses at Newcraighall North and East - and construction already under way. This will triple the size of Newcraighall (Edinburgh's last remaining mining village) and radically alter its character. But the two fields at Brunstane - bisected by the East Coast Main Line - would continue to maintain the separation between Edinburgh and Musselburgh (centre-right on the map) and preserve the setting of the two historic houses (Brunstane House and Newhailes House). If Brunstane Fields were to be built on then that would effectively destroy this part of the Green Belt, forever; and result in the coalescence of Edinburgh and Musselburgh.
Fig 2: The proposed development that we're fighting.
Edinburgh Council initially considered and rejected a proposal to allow housing development at Brunstane Fields in the Development Plan for Edinburgh (the 'Local Plan'). But the Scottish Government instructed the Council to find more housing land than it had identified in its draft Local Plan; and, at the 11th hour, the Council amended the Local Plan to include Brunstane Fields as being suitable for 1,330 houses. This followed intensive lobbying by the landowner, EDI Ltd., a development company which is wholly owned by Edinburgh Council.
EDI originally bought Brunstane Fields with the intention that it should remain a green space; but it now stands to make many £millions (perhaps tens of £millions) from selling Brunstane Fields for housing development. Edinburgh Council is the public body responsible for taking planning decisions in the interests of the people of Edinburgh. But it is now in a position, effectively, to grant planning approval to itself - and generate for itself a large profit - over the objections of residents of Portobello, Joppa, Brunstane, Newcraighall and Musselburgh. The conflict of interest is blatant; only a legal challenge now stands in the way of this development.
What are our objections?
Our community lodged over 400 formal objections to this proposal and over 1,000 signed a petition against it. We recognise that there is a need for further housing in Edinburgh and that meeting this demand will impact on a number of communities. But this part of Edinburgh is already taking more than its fair share: through the 600 new houses at Newcraighall North and East as well as a number of housing developments in Portobello (just to the north of the map). Large housing developments are also being built in Musselburgh (which falls within East Lothian Council - Brunstane Fields sit on the border between Edinburgh and East Lothian). A further 1,330 houses - effectively a small town - at Brunstane would be a disaster for the area.
Brunstane Fields are the last piece of Green Belt land preventing the coalescence of Edinburgh, Musselburgh and Newcraighall village. Building on them would damage the local environment, harm biodiversity, spoil the setting of the historic Brunstane House and the Newhailes Estate, and greatly exacerbate the traffic congestion on key routes (including the A1, which runs to the west of the Fields). The projected increase in traffic on Newcraighall Road is around 60% - which more than twice the impact of any other housing site identified in the Local Plan. Building almost 2,000 new houses in this small space will create severe traffic congestion across the local area - with an attendant increase in air pollution and in the risk of accidents.
Fig 3: View of the fields towards historic Brunstane House
Edinburgh does need more housing. But there are many potential development sites for that have been excluded from the Local Plan without good reasons; and Brunstane Fields is, by far, the least appropriate site for housing in the Local Plan. In fact, Edinburgh's Local Plan is so poor that even the Deputy Leader of Edinburgh Council, Sandy Howat, has publicly derided it as "mince". We fail to see why we should lose our precious fields simply because the Council's planning officials have failed to put together a satisfactory Local Plan for Edinburgh.
Despite the many serious problems that this development would create, and taking no account the overwhelming local opposition to it, the proposal to build on Brunstane Fields was adopted by Edinburgh Council as part of its 'Local Plan'. This environmental jewel will now be lost, forever, unless our legal challenge is successful.
What is our legal argument?
In addition to the many problems with developing the site mentioned above, we've argued that the Council's proposal is illegal. We highlighted the Council's blatant conflict of interest - but it is difficult to get legal redress for this. The Council has also failed to undertake an adequate Strategic Environmental Assessment - a legal requirement - and this failure is noted by the Scottish Government's 'Examiner' in his Report on the Local Plan. The main issue is that shallow coal workings run under Brunstane Fields and there are many mine shafts (not all of which have been located). Stabilising the land may result in the release of harmful mine gases - and a large volume of polluted water - into the local environment (including the John Muir Way). The site is also frequented by a diverse range of wildlife - including pheasants, badgers and deer - but there is no adequate assessment of the (inevitable) impact on biodiversity and no plan to mitigate it.
However, our main argument is that the Local Plan breaches a statutory requirement. The law requires the Local Plan to be consistent with the Regional (South-East Scotland) Development Plan; but the South-East Scotland Plan designates Brunstane Fields as Green Belt land. So if Edinburgh Council were to adopt a Local Plan which redesignates Brunstane Fields (from Green Belt to 'suitable for housing') then that would be inconsistent with the South-East Scotland Plan and therefore illegal. It is this point that we'd like to take specialist legal advice on.
Fig 4: Some unimpressed local residents at the entrance to the fields at Brunstane House
What do we need the money for?
Initial advice indicates that our legal arguments have merit. We are now seeking funds to obtain an opinion from a leading planning law Advocate on the strength of our case. If the Advocate agrees that it would be illegal for Edinburgh Council to approve Brunstane Fields for development , our strategy is to obtain a written Opinion to this effect. We will then send this Opinion to Edinburgh Council with a view to persuading it to change its mind and remove Brunstane Fields from the 'Local Plan' before it gets final approval (in October or November). If our legal opinion doesn't have the desired effect then we'll be looking to raise further funds for a court challenge. It is, of course, possible that the Advocate may not think that our legal case is sufficiently strong - we'll let you know the outcome in any event.
We've engaged a solicitor to represent us and we've received cost estimates for obtaining a legal opinion from different planning Advocates. If we hit our initial target of £3,500 we'll be able to get an opinion from a (non-QC) planning specialist; if we reach £5,500 we can instruct a junior planning QC; and if we reach our stretch target of £8,000 then we can instruct a senior planning QC. If there are any funds that we don't use to pay for the Advocate's opinion then we'll use those funds for the appeal to the Court of Session that we plan to take against the Council if we are unsuccessful in persuading Edinburgh Council to change its mind and if we think that we have a strong enough case. Please note that your donation will only come off your card if and when we hit our initial target of £3,500.
We need your support!
As our strategy is to persuade Edinburgh Council that it's proposed plan is illegal, we'd like to be able to engage as heavyweight an Advocate as possible - but we need your support to be able to do that! Please help us to ensure that our community's voice is heard and that we can save Brunstane Fields and the local environment from a disastrous development.
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