The Last Blow For Penicuik?
It is that time again when the local authority gets to wheel out the idea wagon to try and secure a bright future for the region but this year our editor wishes they had just left it in the shed.
The next Midlothian Local Development Plan is coming over the Pentlands and as per usual the council have put out their “main issues” to public consultation but there could be a nasty surprise waiting for them as they propose to start the budget butchering of Southeast Scotland’s landscape.
Under the, somewhat expected, proposals, the first Development plan composed by the newly lead SNP/Independent coalition, aims to turn the A701 corridor into a retail and housing cattle market, in which the desperate council will auction off land to fulfil their government assigned retail and housing targets. However the problems arise when Midlothian’s renowned green belt is mentioned.
The stretches of land, in which one cannot build upon, are mentioned around 290 times in the new “Main Issues Report” however these are not accompanied with ‘safeguarded’ or ‘important’ but instead they are associated with removals or omissions. In truth it seems like this new report is purely about the reindustrialisation of a former mining heartland. There is some good though. We can be grateful that very few changes are actually planned for Penicuik, if you ignore the imminent housing developments in the north of the town. Most of the changes will occur in the north of the corridor with Straiton remaining at the centre of the council’s plans to create a booming economy. There is no surprise that the mammoth task of improving Penicuik’s local economy is not widely investigated, in fact according to a retail study undertaken on the behalf of MC our town actually scores quite well on the economy’o’meter. This of course was undertaken in 2011 and there have been many changes since then, including the closure of one of the most established clothe’s shops, M&Co.
So what does the report actually say? They stress that there is little need to alter Penicuik due to the currently planned housing developments which will achieve the quotas set by the overlords. They stress that there is need for Straiton to be expanded to the west which will allow for the creation of jobs; removal of a huge piece of the green belt. Finally they stress the need for a relief from the congestion that will arise from the new developments around the A701 corridor.
Shall we analyse each of them? I think we shall.
Penicuik will not be subjected to further land changes that would give scope for new development. I hear you rejoicing. Unfortunately we are no longer a Strategic Town Centre and as such we lose certain rights. The most important being that MC’s SHOP3 policy will be removed from Penicuik with a more flexible approach applied. Under this new flexi-policy retail units will be able to become eateries and financial institutions pretty much hassle free. That’s good right? Well it can be but Penicuik currently has a monoculture of businesses that serve to a customer that is either in need of items quick, or in need of items cheaply. This new policy, for that reason, may only lead to a rise in the number of takeaways etc. Moving on and these lack of changes also mean that growth in Penicuik could be solely reliant on the new housing, which will itself be supplying a new retail development. I think it is about time that LJR Properties succumbed to the pressure and relinquished their grab of the town’s precinct, it is the only way we can move on. Dare I say it but we’d have been in a better situation if the council still owned the properties!
Continuing on the economy and Midlothian Council’s focus on developing Straiton continues. To do this they insist that they must utilise the ‘eye-sore’ green belt land to the north of Straiton Park and Ride. This release of land to leisure and retail developers will be further helped by the long expected realignment of the A701, which will carve through the renowned landscape, forming a new boundary for the green belt. There is no money in the budget for this so the bidding will begin and developers will be given priority depending on their contributions to the new road, which will offer another way to avoid Penicuik by adjoining the A701/A720 and the A702. It can only be conceived that by trying to create business – they do not realise that -they are only strangling the already breathless high street.
Finally we come to that large question of how we reprieve the A701 corridor of its future congestion problems. Do we opt with a ‘quick fix’ with a tram system or do we try and fund a reinstatement of the Penicuik to Millerhill line? Either way the funding is sparse and the benefits are somewhat unknown but 56% of our readers reckon that the benefits will outweigh the economical and social problems. A more medium term fix is offered, as mentioned, by adding an A701, and Penicuik, bypass. It is evident that the jury is still very much out as to how Penicuik residents can avoid our future travel burdens.
So if you are up for an exciting read, or you have nothing better to do, please click here to read the new Midlothian Council green belt auction brochure or if you really want some fun, attend the four hour long sales pitch in the Penicuik Town Hall on 6 June. No matter which option you go with remember that this is a consultation and ultimately the future plans should come down to what we believe is right; at least they should…