Edinburgh’s rapid growth is sustainable and inclusive

Councillor Adam McVey, City of Edinburgh Council

Councillor Adam McVey, Leader, the City of Edinburgh Council, discusses how sustainability and inclusion are shaping Edinburgh’s development by setting net zero targets and reducing poverty in the city.

Edinburgh is a fast-growing Capital city. Our population is forecast to increase from 530,000 in 2021 to 558,000 by 2030, and again to 581,000 by 2040. This rapid growth is driving large-scale residential and commercial development.

The 2050 Edinburgh City Vision established Edinburgh’s aspirations as a fair city – where all citizens share in success, there are no barriers to achievement, and all citizens enjoy a good quality of life. Meanwhile, in response to the climate emergency, we have set the ambitious target of becoming a net-zero carbon city by 2030- a target also in synergy with poverty reduction in the City. These twin imperatives – sustainability and inclusion – are shaping the development of Edinburgh.

Measures to deliver an inclusive and sustainable city go hand-in-hand. For example, we are currently retrofitting thousands of existing social homes with replacement energy systems and improved insulation. In addition to reducing the carbon emissions of these homes, this will cut energy bills, helping alleviate fuel poverty. We are also delivering 20,000 new affordable homes to the same high standards by 2028. Our emerging City Plan – which will shape the future development of Edinburgh – will require all new buildings in Edinburgh to achieve zero carbon standards through a combination of energy efficiency design and micro-renewables.

Another area where Edinburgh is boosting sustainability and inclusion is transport, which accounts for over 20% of the city’s carbon emissions. We are currently delivering a £207 million extension of Edinburgh’s tram line, connecting the densely populated coastal neighbourhood of Leith with the city centre with older and disabled residents benefiting from free travel on trams.

Active travel is another priority area for intervention, and we are investing heavily in new cycle and walking routes. COVID-19 has catalysed the introduction of additional measures to support active travel, with our ambitious “Spaces for People” programme seeing roads closed, pavements widened, and paths created to make it easier and safer for people to walk, cycle, and wheel.

Sustainability and inclusion are at the heart of our flagship regeneration of the Granton Waterfront. One of the largest undertakings of its kind in Europe, the Granton Waterfront project will create a new coastal town on around 50 hectares of post-industrial land in north Edinburgh, comprising over 3,500 net zero carbon homes (at least 35% of them affordable); a primary school; a medical centre; commercial space; cycling and walking routes; enhanced sustainable transport connections; and a coastal park.

The principles of sustainability and inclusion are exemplified in forerunner projects within the Granton Waterfront such as Western Villages, Silverlea, Granton Station, and the Edinburgh Home Demonstrator.

Western Villages and Silverlea will jointly deliver around 600 net-zero carbon homes for sale and rent, including approximately 260 social rented homes. These developments are being designed to minimise energy demand. Heating will be provided by a major new air/water source heat pump farm, complemented by solar power. Significant new tree planting will further reduce the carbon impact of the developments via offsetting. The projects will deliver homes that are both affordable and sustainable while also championing low carbon transport and active travel.

Granton Station – a Victorian railway station, disused since the 1940s – is being reborn as a creative hub. We are comprehensively refurbishing the derelict building, bringing it back into use as flexible, affordable space for microbusinesses, with the existing boiler to be replaced with three air source heat pumps. The project will safeguard a historic building – making it fit-for-purpose and energy efficient – while creating new employment opportunities for residents.  To the rear of Granton Station is the Edinburgh Home Demonstrator, a pilot project that will deliver approximately 80 homes which will utilise zero emissions heating, be net zero carbon, and pilot a community carbon strategy.

Edinburgh is a successful city, and this success is driving population growth too as more people see opportunities for themselves and their families here. As we deliver the new homes, workspaces, and greenspaces needed to accommodate this growth, it is imperative that we ensure growth is sustainable and inclusive, ensuring that the success of the city can be shared by all citizens as well as future generations. The Council has a key role to play in attaining these goals. Through flagship developments such as our regeneration of the City’s Waterfront, delivering much-needed new affordable housing built to net-zero carbon standard – and our tram extension and growth of protected cycle lanes– we are leading by example and delivering the best future for Edinburgh.