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© Richard Barrett-Small, Midlothian & Edinburgh

Midlothian to Pursue £1bn City Deal

Plans are being drawn up across Edinburgh and the Lothians to secure £1bn of combined additional funding from the Scottish and UK governments.

A collaborative group between south-east Scotland’s local authorities, is preparing ambitious plans to obtain a substantial windfall from the countries’ governments.

In a move carefully choreographed after Glasgow’s City Deal last year, Edinburgh City, Borders, Fife, Mid, East and West Lothian Councils have teamed up to win a similar proposition for the region. Having initially met last December to commence proceedings, the process to obtain the additional infrastructure funding is now underway, with hopes to complete the process by Christmas.

At a meeting on 24 March, Midlothian Council pushed through a motion to give the Chief Executive the power to agree on the terms of the first stage of the City Deal bid. Next up will be the finalisation of an infrastructure shopping list detailing the planned development projects in the region. Thought to be included will be the extension of the Borders Railway Line along with the construction of a realigned A701 north of Penicuik. Council leader, Owen Thompson added:

I’ve been working with fellow council leaders for more than a year to coordinate this city region deal, outlining the case to both the Scottish and UK government.

For Midlothian this means a significant  potential for investment bringing with it the potential for 25,000 jobs and the opportunity to tackle inequality across the region, many of which will come to Midlothian

The deal will support existing jobs and create opportunities for new ones and builds a solid foundation of partnership across our neighbouring councils.

I’m delighted that the proposals have been warmly welcomed and I’m hopeful that the UK government will also see this as a positive step for Midlothian.

However the exact amount that could be obtained through the process is variable. City Deals were introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and have since delivered several billions of funding and additional powers to England’s major cities, Manchester and Newcastle included. Last July, Glasgow and its surrounding regions were handed the first City Deal package in Scotland. Included in this is £500m of funding from the UK Government matched with £500m from Scottish Government. A further £130m was collected from the participating councils to form a £1.13bn infrastructure fund. The aim is to increase the GVA (Gross Value Added) by 4.4%, this in turn increasing the GDP of the region and providing jobs and growth. Ten years will be given to use the fund before a twenty year period of repayment.

Edinburgh is now hoping to use the Glasgow model as a pedestal for its own City Deal. With a combined population lower than Glasgow, 1.3 million compared to 1.8 million, Edinburgh will need to increase its GVA by 0.6% more to achieve the same amount of funding. However the City Council is confident that they will achieve this uplift creating £3.2bn of private sector investment in the process. Speaking on behalf of the six local authorities, City of Edinburgh Council Leader, Andrew Burns, said:

I am delighted to be working with our five neighbouring local authorities to pursue a deal for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region.

In creating this fund, we want to build on our strengths whilst tackling persistent pockets of inequality and other constraints that threaten to hold the region back.

We are now in the second month of planning and a “long list” of infrastructure projects is being drawn up through negotiations between the councils. This will detail minor improvements through to major interventions, such like the extension of the Edinburgh Tram line. In late June, this list will be cut down to the projects which will inspire the greatest growth. A finalised programme will be agreed on in October. Discussions between the collaborative group and the governments will commence later this month with the intention to complete before the council break in December.

The foundations of this deal will be the £1bn infrastructure fund which could be used for transport, housing, energy initiatives and economic regeneration. However a council document warns that the council areas surrounding Edinburgh could miss out because the projects won’t generate a large enough increase in GVA.

Take an example in Midlothian. It is the council’s intention to regenerate Dalkeith Town Centre. Whilst this development could be included in the fund, it would not inspire large scale growth and thus the GVA increase would be limited. Continuing in this county, the most likely contenders will be the realignment of the A701 and the extension of the Borders Railway, perhaps to Hawick, which hasn’t been served by rail connections since Beeching’s cuts in 1969. The former will open up acres of land for development and provide opportunities to create a centre of employment, dubbed the “Midlothian Gateway”. It is already the intention of the council to create this, however they would have to await up to £13m of developers’ contributions to construct the road, before they could even consider developing the land around it. Retail experts say that the area can sustain a shopping centre larger than that of the Gyle Shopping Centre in West Edinburgh.

An unlikely contender in the project could also be the £150m reinstatement of the Penicuik Railway line. Though, whilst it would connect Penicuik and other communities to the network (approx 25,000 population), the line would create minimal opportunities for growth. Additionally the road realignment would use 1.3% of the fund in comparison with 15% from the construction of a railway line. The railway line would also likely miss the Bush science park, which has the largest potential for growth in west Midlothian. Considering all this, and the likelihood Edinburgh Council will push for extensions to the tram line, the road realignment will be the first preference.

Should a deal be reached between the parties, around £30m of funding will be given annually in the first five years (2016-2021). The remaining amount would be conditional on the governments seeing success in the implemented infrastructure projects. Lack of delivery, like that which arouse during the Trams’ fiasco, would result in a lowering of the amount.

Interim progress updates will be issued throughout the bid process.