Feature: The Rise of West Straiton
And what it means for the town and villages in the A701 corridor
“Environmental improvements alone will not be sufficient to overcome the competition from Straiton and elsewhere”, section 8.3.38 Midlothian Local Development Plan 2015.
Midlothian Council’s cabinet has approved the latest Midlothian Local Development Plan, expressing their vision for the county in the next five years and beyond. Unlike previous master plans, this one is focused heavily on creating a “Midlothian Gateway”, or to you and I, a shopping and leisure development to rival the likes of Fort Kinnaird. If you are looking for a focus on regenerating town centres you may be left a little disappointed. Below we’re going to dissect the latest plan, giving you a flavour of what to expect within the A701 corridor. Hold onto your seats, here we go.
Every five years, Midlothian Council are obligated to set forth their plans for development within the county. Within the report they will allocate land to housing, promise to build new infrastructure, whilst additionally throwing in a smattering of economical, educational and policy changes. The last report was published in 2008 and since then a wider report into the east of Scotland has also been compiled, duly named the SES (South East Scotland) Plan. This local plan therefore echoes many of the requirements set in the SES Plan but goes into greater detail on how these requirements will be met. A draft main issues report was consulted on last year and land owners were given the chance to submit their land for consideration for housing allocation. The public were also given the chance to comment on the plans, which included the controversial A701 realignment. Taking into consideration this feedback, the council have now compiled a draft plan. Councillors approved this plan on Tuesday, with a few amendments and now it will go to consultation sometime in March next year. In the meantime it is available to view and download here.
It is a substantial report, comprised of 172 pages of aspirations. From the outset this is a document with a clear plan, to deliver a realigned A701 and thus open up greenbelt land to developers to create a growth generating “Midlothian Gateway”. The jury is still out on whether or not the report’s headline act is worthy of applause, but please do share your views below once we’ve explained the plans in depth. For ease, the rest of this article will be broken into three parts West Straiton, the A701 Corridor and Penicuik. Education will be explored in another article.
West Straiton? What is West Straiton? I’m glad you asked. West Straiton is that undulating land you can see to the west of the Straiton Park and Ride. Previously home to quarries and mines, the land has been viewed as too unstable to build on and thus it has been left as part of Edinburgh’s vast greenbelt. However with ambitious plans for thousands of new homes throughout the A701 corridor, Midlothian Council believes the time has come to create an A701 bypass. The A701 bypass itself is nothing new. The idea for it has been circulating since the late twentieth century. It is important to note though that it has never got to this stage in planning. Now, it is proposed that it is formally approved, at least in terms of policy, with compulsory purchase orders being planned to pave the way for the route. Delivery is many years away however, due to the route being funded by developers. This means that there will need to be concrete plans for development around the route before it can raise the capital required to be constructed. Developers throughout the rest of the A701 corridor as far south as Penicuik will also need to put in a bob or two to fund the delivery, which could be off-putting, especially for those wishing to develop in the far south of Penicuik.
The new realigned A701 will likely follow the green route you can see on the map below. The original blue route is deemed too costly to build, due to the presence of mine workings ,and will not be chosen for further studies. It also has limited land to the east of it on which developers could build, scuppering any chance of building the “Midlothian Gateway” retail and leisure park. The green route is therefore preferable, running from an altered junction on the A720 to the A720 just west of Easter Bush. Junctions would be provided at Easter Bush and most likely at Bilston also. A dual-carriageway is not a dead certainty and further feasibility studies are ongoing to ascertain whether the additional millions would be worth it. Thick woodland will flank the route to the west, with strict landscaping rules being drawn up to keep the development land green, including “tree lined avenues”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a roof terrace or two either, considering the site is highly visible from the bypass. Landowners Morton Assets have already revealed their plans for 100,000 sq.ft of offices on the site, creating a “Yours Business Park”. Those of course will still have to face planners. Other developments planned include a hotel on the current site of the Park and Ride. A new facility would be created several hundred metres from the current site. Midlothian Council are to also actively campaign for a Cinema chain to develop on the land, viewed as an accompaniment to the planned film studio. Leader of the council Owen Thompson did tease our readers on Facebook by saying “A cinema? Watch this space”. Further shops and restaurants will also likely join the development. Housing is not included at this stage however could be included in the next plan. On that matter, the future of the current caravan site, located off the A701, is not mentioned in the document.
What will become of the current A701? It is to become the route for public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. The council say it would be landscaped to accommodate such. Naturally cars would also still travel on it, but unless you live in Bilston or Loanhead, you would be more likely to utilise the bypass.
Should the draft plan pass through the March consultation with no or minor changes, the leasing of land would commence almost instantly creating a cashflow to develop the new road. No date for completion has been set, though 2020 is achievable should the developer’s backing be there from the outset.
The A701 Corridor
First, a definition. The A701 corridor, in the sense of the article, is defined as being Loanhead, Bilston and Roslin.
Unlike the new Straiton development, there a few noteworthy changes for the A701 corridor. In Loanhead, housing is not an important feature, at least not in this iteration of the plan. There are currently several committed development sites, like Ashgrove, which is due to be a Taylor Wimpey development. This will deliver 170 houses before 2024. The 2015 plan is proposing a new allocation off Edgefield Road. This is council owned and will likely become a 25 property social housing development. Another site noted is Burghlee, although it is not allocated to housing in this plan. However, should a developer come along who is willing to build the 175 houses possible, then the council may be minded-to-grant. Apart from that, this development plan pays little more attention to Loanhead. They will of course be getting a new Paradykes Primary School (previously announced). By moving the school to beside the leisure centre, a new community mixed use building will be created.
Down the road and into Bilston we see more housing allocations. The land currently occupied by Pentland Plants has been allocated to 75 properties. The business’ intentions are unknown. Taylor Wimpey are already building their “Cameron Gardens” development and this looks like it could be extended by an additional 350 homes, however the exact positioning of the new A701 bypass will effect how many can be built within the new greenbelt boundary. Due to these additional dwellings, Bilston is to get its own primary school within the next two years. A consultation about this will be held in the new year. Further land has been allocated to develop the Bush science park, 14.5 hectares to be exact. Midlothian Council are keen to make this site into a world class development, and with the University of Edinburgh continuing to construct class-leading facilities, their vision can easily come to fruition. Bilston may also get a health centre, although this is mentioned only briefly.
To the east, and Roslin is now the focus of the article. Roslin is unique in Midlothian due to it being protected by a conservation order. Therefore any new housing must be of a higher quality than the average new build. Locally sourced materials must be used to make sure the development does not alter the visual appeal of the current village. It already has committed development land to the south west. Fifty houses can be built to the west of the health centre. It is believed the developer of this could be close to submitting an application, after purchasing the site last year from the University. New allocations include the former Roslin Institute site. This can accommodate 250 homes and must be designed to be high quality, with avenue trees etc. Another site, deemed the Roslin expansion, rather misleadingly considering the others are also expansions, can accommodate 260 dwellings. Just over one hundred of these could be delivered by 2024. Roslin will also benefit from an expansion of their Pavilion. A Roslin Glen tourist information centre is also planned to capture the history of the village.
That’s about it for the A701 corridor, except the major development we didn’t mention. Surprisingly Midlothian Council propose creating an A701 corridor secondary school to replace Beeslack. The “relocated Beeslack” would be located somewhere in the Bilston region, or as part of West Straiton. A feasibility study will be undertaken to investigate where the new school could be sited. It would serve Roslin, Bilston and Loanhead, though it’s still unknown whether the catchment areas would be altered to include the entirety of Loanhead. We are compiling a separate article about the proposed education changes, please stay tuned for more.
Finally, we are on to our home town. Surprisingly, or maybe not, there is little to add that hasn’t already been planned. The latest development plan notes that there is disappointment that the north west Penicuik developments haven’t yet come to fruition. Some of these allocated sites have had minded-to-grant permission since 2003 but due to the economic downturn etc. they haven’t materialised. However now in 2014, there is movement. Slow, tedious movement, but movement none the less. The plan has revealed the root of the problems though. It cites the planned new roundabout on the A702 as being the major sticking point. In short, there seems to have been a disagreement as to who would pay for the upgrade. It does seem like Taylor Wimpey will now pay for it, however this is not confirmed due to the ongoing legal discussions between them and the council, although their website does state it.
Due to the lack of ongoing work, Midlothian Council has not allocated any further sites in the north west to housing. The University of Edinburgh did want to offload a site capable of taking six hundred dwellings but this has been knocked back, at least for the next five years anyway. Before moving onto the major local development at Auchendinny, it is important to note the smaller allocations in the town. A site off Eastfield Farm Road has been allocated for construction of ten social houses. Furthermore a site at Kirkhill will accommodate twenty homes. The latter is likely subject to objections due to the proposals to construct on the currently utilised tennis courts. A campaign group has been established to fight this proposal. Moving on, and 25 homes could be built at Belwood Crescent, although this development is not safeguarded by the plan due to it not currently being available. Should it become available within the plan period, it may be built on, subject to planning application of course. Another site not included due to unavailability is Pomathorn Mill. The former paper-making building could become up to fifty homes should the businesses using it vacate. The developer will have to develop a high quality scheme as it is visible to the surrounding region. CALA Homes are believed to be actively pursuing this site. Finally, the now defunct Wellington School could be turned into fifty to sixty dwellings, although the developer must agree to road improvements to proceed. All of these developments would require additional primary school accommodation, with planned extensions to Cuiken, Cornbank and Mauricewood schools.
Into Auchendinny, and Miller Homes wishes to add a further 350 homes. Their wish has been granted by the council with the allocation of the land to the north and east of the new Glencorse Centre. It is believed that they could construct 260 of these residences by 2024. Due to the size of the development a new primary school will be required. The Auchendinny Primary School will be developer funded and shall replace the axed Glencorse Primary School, which is to close as soon as the Auchendinny school is operational. The image below shows an artist’s visualisation of the site:
That’s it for housing, so here’s a depressing line in the report: “Environmental improvements alone will not be sufficient to overcome the competition from Straiton and elsewhere”. Yes, we are onto Penicuik’s town centre. Midlothian Council acknowledge in the report that there is desire for improvement and they promise to support business encouraging efforts, like those of the Business Improvement District, Penicuik First. They also pledge support to a shopfront improvement scheme. However as the town centre is not owned by the council, there is little they can do to significantly alter the current retail proposition. A heritage centre does get a mention in the development plan, along with the need for parking improvements.
Not included in the plan is the future of the secondary school provision. During the meeting on Tuesday, it is understood councillors voted to undertake a feasibility study into the closure of one of the secondary schools. Instead a single site school would be created on land somewhere in the town, most likely on one of the current sites. Should they achieve funding in the next 18 months as planned, a new school would be delivered in 2020, meaning those starting S1 next year could finish their school career in a new building. Another article of ours will explore the options and the plans put forth.
The reinstatement of Penicuik’s railway line has also been omitted from this plan. It is currently in its infancy and not deliverable within the foreseeable decade.
And so you have it. There is the new Midlothian Local Development plan in a nutshell. It was a large nutshell though and so I do encourage you to take the time to read the full plan, link earlier on in the article, and submit your comments to the consultation in March. Of course you can have your say now, in the comment box below or on Facebook.