Councillors discuss strain on local services while deciding latest SES plan

Aerial shot of Midlothian, by Bob Smith
Aerial shot of Midlothian, by Bob Smith

Midlothian councillors have refused to approve the latest Strategic Development Plan (SDP) for Edinburgh and South East Scotland (SES plan) after raising concerns that the pace of house building in Midlothian is too fast for local facilities – already at bursting point – to keep up with.

And now a seminar on the plan is to be held to discuss councillors’ concerns about infrastructure in the area.

The move came despite warnings from council officials a delay in ratifying the plan, which plots the region’s strategic vision for the next 20 years, could put its progress at risk.

Speaking at the full council meeting, Labour group leader Derek Milligan gave his party’s reasons for opposing the plan in its current state: “We supported the last development plan because we had the same warning as today, that failure to do so would risk the Scottish Government forcing it on us, and that the reporter’s unit could simply come in and allocate land for houses, effectively ignoring the public will.

“However, there are many issues that have been raised by the public. We have towns and villages in Midlothian where you can’t get registered with a doctor. We are struggling with teacher numbers, as are many councils.

“And we have major problems with public transport.

“Our big saviour, the Waverley Line came along as part of earlier plans to alleviate the roads’ issue.

“However, we have two trains an hour with two carriages, that are regularly full by the time they reach the stations in Midlothian, effectively putting local residents off using public transport and forcing them back into their cars.

“There is nothing that we have been told in this chamber at this moment in time about how we are going to deal with that. Or what steps are going to be taken to see a better rail service.

“And in some areas with massive populations we have seen big cutbacks on bus services – some have been halved or taken away all together.

“There is not enough in this plan to tell us how we are going to deal with public transport.”

And Cllr Milligan called on council officers to hold a seminar on the SES plan in a bid to find possible solutions to his infrastructure worries.

He said: “We aren’t going to vote this down. But we are going to move that we are not in a position at this stage to ratify this.

“We need to have hard and fast answers for the public out there on how we are going to deal with this.

“How are we in a position where we have a lack of development land to create employment, and we are still seeing folk flood into Edinburgh in cars?” he asked.

“We are not prepared to accept this just now. We ask for a seminar where council officers can come forward to show us how they are going to address these problems.

“At the moment we as members can’t go out to the population – who can’t get registered with doctors, can’t get public transport, and have new houses without broadband – to support this plan.

“We need to say, ‘stop just now’, take a breather and get more information on how we are dealing with the problems of road infrastructure, public transport infrastructure and soft infrastructure.”

The SES plan covers six council areas - City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, the Scottish Borders and the southern half of Fife. Due to be updated every five years, the latest version started in 2015 and has a target date of June 2018. The plan is scheduled to run for 20 years until 2038.

A key element of the plan is the amount of land required for housing development in the period 2018-2038. However, the target figure for Midlothian can be met on sites already in existing and emerging local development plans, thereby not requiring any additional land to be allocated in the district for that period.

Green councillor Ian Baxter called for more emphasis on public transport systems in Midlothian and affordable housing. And he had a warning about fracking: “I have one specific worry about ‘responsible resource extraction’. My concern specifically here is what responsibilities this lays on us in the event of any fracking applications that come forward?”

Midlothian Council’s head of communities and economy Ian Johnson warned that failure to ratify the SES plan could delay its progress. He said : “If one or more councils don’t ratify the plan it would be back to the strategic committee to consider how they wish to deal with that and come forward with a revised plan for further discussions with councils.”

However, the recommendations to accept the SES plan were defeated by nine votes to seven, with Labour’s request for a seminar approved by the same margin.