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Big builders harming vision of Edinburgh waterfront

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October 25 2005

Edinburgh’s ambitions to create a second New Town through the massive waterfront regeneration programme may be compromised by the approach of some major building companies, according to the man overseeing the project.

Trevor Davies, the convener of Edinburgh’s planning committee, told a debate at the Scottish Design Show that working with mass housing companies was “very hard”. Responding to questions over the city’s stated ambition for the waterfront to become Edinburgh’s second New Town, Davies said: “We are, in the waterfront, building the largest planned development to happen since the 18th and 19th century when all of that New Town was built. We need to do that with today’s construction industry and that is very hard.”

Davies told the audience an anecdote of a meeting with one major housebuilder, whom he did not name, where the housebuilder said it would create a sense of community, of home, by hiring a uniformed concierge to arrange for residents’ ironing to be done. Davies said he did not think this would create a sense of community for residents.
He added: “[In the waterfront] we are trying to have a kind of thoughtfulness. We have to work with the Barratts and the Persimmons and the Wimpeys to deliver that vision and that makes it very hard.” He admitted that skills shortages in local authorities’ planning departments made the role of developing high-quality schemes very difficult but he said the private sector was also afflicted by that skills shortage.
Davies went on to lambast the Scottish Executive for placing “shackles” on local government, which was compromising its ability to shape the future of Edinburgh’s cityscape. Asked if he was optimistic that design would become more important in construction in the future, he said he wasn’t because Edinburgh Council was unable to offer strong civic leadership.

“You can’t imagine Florence without the Medicis. Birmingham would not have been a great industrial city without [Joseph] Chamberlain.”

He cited Barcelona as a third example of a city that enjoyed strong leadership. “In this country, civic leadership is emasculated, hobbled, shackled. We do not have the power that we need in order to exercise properly that civic leadership.

“Fundamentally, we do not have the power, which all the other European cities have, to either acquire land as part of development planning, or acquire a very large say in the development as a partner. Until we get that, we have no leverage. Until we get that, we can’t build the infrastructure – that’s roads and pavements and swimming pools and all the rest of it. We will not have the great cities that this country needs until the civic leadership of our great cities is freed to exercise the same kind of civic leadership that those great leaders did in the past.”

Davies said that municipal authorities in other European countries were able to buy land and enforce good practice in new buildings by being part of the development process.

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