The Edinburgh City Region and a New Level of Bureaucracy
In his opening statement to the Waverley Railway Bill Committee in February 2005, the Chief Executive of Scottish Borders Council’s first sentence was this: “We believe that the Waverley Project’s time has come and that it will underpin the success of the Edinburgh City Region …”. Many see this as confirmation that the railway is more about solving Edinburgh’s (housing) problems than helping the Borders.
But what is the Edinburgh City Region?
Few people are aware that for strategic planning purposes, the Borders is now part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland Strategic Plan Authority, commonly known as the Edinburgh City Region. This new planning authority would be responsible for producing a strategic Plan for Edinburgh, the Lothians, part of Fife and the Borders. We would still be responsible for producing a Local Plan, but this would have to follow the strategy set by the Edinburgh City Region, including the number and broad location of houses, transport, retail and employment strategies.
Why add yet another level of planning authority, which is even less accessible and accountable than Scottish Borders Council, when perfectly good ways of cooperating at a strategic level already exist? Why have people whom we have not elected making the most fundamental decisions about the future development of our landscape?
There is a real danger that the real needs of the Borders will be side-lined by central-belt thinkers, and that the two members of Scottish Borders Council who sit on the new authority’s 12 member committee will have limited influence.
There is no strategic planning function, including proper engagement with our neighbours, which cannot be perfectly well performed by a Scottish Borders Council which retains control of its own structure planning.
This may not be true for other Councils more entwined with each other, but it is certainly true for the Borders. Geographically the Borders is a distinct area. Of all the Council areas in Scotland proposed for membership of a City Region, the Borders is the only one which does not abut a City Council.
Scottish Government Consultation
The analysis shows there were more responses from the Scottish Borders than from all the rest of Scotland put together, and 95% of those who responded from the Borders, including several Community Councils, are opposed to joining the Edinburgh City Region.
But Scottish Borders Council, which carried out ZERO consultation on this – they didn’t even alert Community Councils to the Government’s consultation – supported inclusion of the Borders.
The Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, has commented, “While a significant proportion of the responses received were from residents of the Scottish Borders opposed to inclusion within the SDPA, we are mindful that Scottish Borders Council itself supports inclusion.” This suggests Ministers might not have included the Borders, but were swayed by the recommendation of SBC.
The Government itself admits that membership of a City Region is not necessary. For example, Stirling Council is not proposed for City Region membership. Here is what the Minister, Stewart Stevenson, said about it: “Stirling is in a geographically interesting position. I would argue that it is probably the paramount transport hub of Scotland, as virtually everything goes through Stirling—goods are drawn to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee and so on, although perhaps not to Aberdeen. Stirling Council’s area is quite diverse, containing the town itself as well as huge rural areas a considerable distance to the north. The current situation with regard to Stirling is the result of a judgment call backed up by its not wishing to be part of the process. Of course, nothing in what we are doing stops any council collaborating with any other council on issues of mutual interest.”
Our point precisely. The Borders is no more related to Edinburgh than Stirling is to Glasgow. The Borders Party is quite clear: it is in our region’s best interest to continue to engage with Edinburgh but without surrendering control of our strategic planning to the Edinburgh City Region.
As a planner (from another authority) said “it’s all about how many houses and who gets them”. And it’s about houses for Edinburgh. Just when new thinking on sustainable planning and new technology should be helping us to get jobs out into more provincial areas, here we are considering how to truck even more people into Edinburgh from an ever wider area. That’s a bankrupt approach.
Those who fear the Borders will increasingly become a suburb of Edinburgh have good reason. Look at what has happened to parts of Fife. And this is far more likely to happen if we hand our structure planning to central-belt thinkers who, through no fault of their own, may not understand the unique strengths and needs of a region like the Borders.
How many problems, in planning terms, can Edinburgh solve for us, compared to those we will be asked to solve for Edinburgh?
Those who wanted to join the City region have come up with nothing better than the repeated plea that we are better in than out. We must be at the table. That’s not good enough. No Council should even consider giving up some of its most important powers without clear evidence of substantive benefits.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t co-operate with our neighbours. On the contrary, we believe that we should work with colleagues in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and also Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and further afield on important matters of mutual interest such as transport, renewable energy, tourism, broadband and economic development. We have proposed a ‘Border Forum’ that would be cross-party and cross-border, to promote the region. But it is quite possible to do this on a flexible basis without being bound by decisions that may not be in the interests of the Borders.
Find out more
Note tables 7 and 8 of the City Region Boundaries study. The Borders is significantly less related to Edinburgh than the other Councils proposed for membership of the Edinburgh City Region. Both Stirling and the Borders score straight threes (out of five) on the housing market area, retail catchment, and travel to work scales.
The Borders Party will continue to campaign to restore local control over strategic planning issues such as housing, transport and energy developments.
Tell us what you think
The Borders Party is fully committed to taking the views of Borderers into account, so please contact us and let us have your thoughts on how we can best serve the Borders.