You've heard of nimbys who don't want new housing anywhere near them. Now meet the opposite - a group of residents who lobbied the council for new homes

There is little to see in Newbridge, a village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, apart from a shop, a bowling club and a derelict factory site plumped in the middle of a housing estate. Ever since the closure of the Continental Tyre factory in 1999, this once thriving community has come to resemble a ghost town as young families drift away due to lack of housing and the closure of local facilities. “There was once a buzz in Newbridge,” says canteen worker Jackie Hogg, who has lived in the village all her life. “But now the place is completely dead.”

More housing please

However, the people of Newbridge are celebrating after going against the norm by campaigning successfully for the factory site to be replaced by a housing led development. After the original planning application by Ediston Properties was turned down by Edinburgh City Council in 2006, the residents formed the Newbridge Regeneration Working Group and compiled a detailed plan for the area. “It was very unusual,” says local councillor Norman Work. “Most people don’t want extra houses in their area. This was the total reverse.”

For Newbridge, however, new housing is a vital lifeline. After the closure of the tyre factory which shed 774 jobs, the area became increasingly isolated as people moved away. When the population dropped from 1,000 to a mere 600, the village was confronted with an ageing population, the threatened closure of the local primary school and a dearth of amenities such as a choice of shops, housing or recreational facilities.

But the purchase of the factory site by Ediston Properties in 2004 marked a turning point in the fortunes of Newbridge as the developer engaged with the community to find out what type of development they were in favour of. “The developer was open and honest. They came in with a blank piece of paper and changed their plans to suit us,” says Paul Douglas, chairman of the Newbridge Regeneration Working Group.

During the talks it became clear the residents opposed the use of the site for commercial or industrial uses which would attract commuting workers.

“Offices bring people from 9 to 5,” says Judy Wightman, resident and secretary of the group.“ It does not bring life to a community or support services.”

For Hogg, whose daughter has been forced to move out of the area with her two children because of the lack of affordable housing, a residential development was the obvious choice. “I know so many people, including my daughter who want to move back into the area but can’t because there are not enough houses. I think it is ridiculous having a site lying empty when there is such a demand.”

Council opposition

However, the group faced a long struggle convincing planning officials the site was suitable for housing because it was earmarked for industry, despite several plans to use it for commercial developments falling through. The site’s position on the flight path from Edinburgh Airport was a further barrier to planning permission. When the original application was turned down, it was a major blow to the residents. “There was a lot of doom and gloom in the village,” says Douglas.

After the rejection, consultant GVA Grimley were contracted by Ediston to conduct a public consultation with the residents and co-ordinate the regeneration plan with the group. “The council set a challenge to be answered. They wanted to see evidence that the people were ready for change,” says partner Richard Slipper.

Following consultation, the group devised a plan providing for 500 homes consisting of two bedroom flats and three and four bedroom family homes, 17% of which were affordable. The development also came with a care home, a community centre and improvements to the local school.

Political boost

The campaign received a further boost when it got the backing of Edinburgh West politician, Liberal Democrat Margaret Smith – a politician noted for her opposition to a number of developments in West Edinburgh.“ I went into bat for this developer which is an unusual place for me to be,” says Smith. “Before, I have opposed developments on greenfield sites but this was a brownfield. I wanted to know why it was resisted by the council.” She adds the planners’ concern about the site’s proximity to the airport were unfounded, given only 5% of the noise complaints received by BAA since 2006 were from Newbridge.

The battle intensified last year when Smith lodged an official complaint with the council accusing officials of contacting residents, including Sheila McCallum Rutherford, president of the Residents Association in nearby Ratho Station, to try and “whip up opposition” to the group’s regeneration plan. She also alleged the official’s report highlighted the sole objection of local manufacturing plant, Royalite Plastics, instead of the views of the residents which were overwhelmingly in favour. The council’s city development director, Andrew Holmes, described the allegations as “outrageous and totally unfounded”.

After two investigations into the incident, the application for the development was granted outline consent in October 2008, ensuring the survival of the local primary school. However, many remain critical about the planners’ initial attitudes to the development. “The planners had tunnel vision,” adds Rutherford.

However, Edinburgh City Council has defended its caution in considering the development. “In our dealings with elected representatives, the local community and business interests, we have tried to balance the opportunities for housing-led regeneration, the requirement to retain industrial land set out in the recently approved local plan and the issues that arise from building houses so close to the airport,” a spokesperson says.

Unusual campaign

Despite the difficulties in gaining planning approval, Slipper believes the residents’ campaign is an inspiration for other communities which believe they can have little input into the development of an area apart from resistance. “There is a view from some quarters that when there is a masterplan you turn up at a committee and shout rudely about it. But this is a step forward.”

Head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute, Rynd Smith, says the industry should be prepared to see more communities campaigning for residential development rather than opposing it. “It is by no means the norm yet but no planner or person involved in regeneration and should be surprised to see these issues raised in the community. In most local planning authorities there may well be scope for re-examining the land available for industry and changing it to housing.”

However, he warns that any plans to redesignate industrial land for housing will warrant careful consideration. “There are certain employment uses that need their own enclave and certainly it will not always be possible to integrate housing with existing industry.”

But for Hogg, the success of the residents’ campaign to bring housing to the industrial site has ensured the survival of the village she grew up in. “At the moment, you have to leave in order to do anything,” she says. “If this development fails to go through, Newbridge will be completely finished.”