Cllr Stuart Bell - Vice Chair of SESPlan and Executive Member for Economic Development, Scottish Borders Council
The Strategic Development Plan, the second version of which will be published next year, provides a long-term vision for cross boundary planning issues such as housing, economic growth, green networks and infrastructure across South East Scotland.
While the majority of people in the region live in and around Edinburgh, in communities along the M8 corridor or in larger towns in Fife, many live in small towns and villages across the region. Rural industries are vital, particularly in the Scottish Borders and East Lothian.
Our vision is for the region to be a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable place which continues to be internationally recognised as an outstanding area in which to live, work and do business. We want to build on the strengths of all parts of the region while also conserving and enhancing the high quality built and natural environment of the area.
As a successful region, we are also a growing region. This brings challenges:
- Our population is expected to grow from around 1.25 million in 2014 to just under 1.5 million in 2037
- The number of households in the area will increase by around 140,000 between 2012 and 2037 (National Records of Scotland 2012 Based Projections).
Our demographics will also change with an increasing proportion of people living in older and single person households.
Parts of the region enjoy good access to transport, infrastructure and digital networks, others are less well served and there are significant constraints and major issues to be addressed. Constrained digital and transport networks limit the delivery of our vision and the development of key, nationally significant growth sectors in the city region. Projects such as the Borders Railway, Queensferry Crossing and enhanced rail services to Glasgow and elsewhere are improving connectivity and unlocking housing and business opportunities. However, further interventions will be required to realise the potential of the area. Ongoing infrastructure delivery, including improvements in digital connectivity, is also essential to the development of more sustainable communities.
City Region Deals have been effective elsewhere in facilitating these kinds of improvements through a combination of funding by central and local government. The amount of funding is dependent on the improved performance of the regional economy, and on contributions from the private sector.
Infrastructure and housing are obvious planning challenges, but we also face two key economic challenges: we must improve our productivity and reduce our inequalities. We are the most prosperous city region outside of London, but this wealth is not shared by all. A quarter of children are born into poverty, and our productivity is well behind international competitor city regions such as Munich, Copenhagen and Dublin.
I am pleased to see that skills and innovation packages linked to infrastructure and housing programmes feature heavily in our city region deal bid to address these challenges.
SESplan is working closely with the City Region Deal team across the six local authorities to coordinate partnership activities, and to ensure that economic ambitions are aligned with the strategic development plan. Importantly, we are also working with a number of national and regional partners including: SEStran to understand the significance of transport infrastructure projects; the NHS Boards and universities to see how their existing investment plans can meet the needs of the region; Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway to develop projects around innovation; and Digital Scotland in the rollout of faster broadband.
I look forward to working with national and regional partners in delivering a number of exciting projects for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland city region.