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A vision for a ‘New Stenhouse’

FIRSTLY, it requires to be said that none of this follows a consultation with anyone; not consultation with local people or their representatives; nor even consultation with any wider organisations.

Pretty much the only consultation has been the bouncing back and forward of ideas with the Edinburgh architecture practice, Studio DuB, which has produced a masterplan and a short video illustrating what might be possible.

A couple of councillors and some officials have already been given sight of it.

Of course, there would come a time when consultation with local people would be an absolute must, including a detailed on-the-ground survey of what people might be looking for.

But one can be already guided by what any number of community engagement exercises regularly come up with: a sense of security, ‘useable’ green space, easy access to the outside (either a back garden or a balcony), bicycle storage, etc, etc.

When such a mindset (of what is possible and potentially desirable among local people) is applied to a district such as Stenhouse, in Edinburgh, a tentative re-drawing of the area soon begins to emerge.

By ‘Stenhouse’, I mean the area bounded by Stenhouse Drive, to the north, and Saughton Road, to the west.

Viewed from above, it is an almost skeletal housing development, typical of the era when the housing was built. Houses are separated by large swathes of grass, which are largely unloved and rarely used.

And it is into these gaps that further housing might be erected.

Insodoing, it would be an infill programme resonant of (and perhaps guided by) classic, medieval city centres, which might be fairly described as organic and chaotic in their evolution.

Led, of course, by local demand, some of the new building programme could be diverted into the provision of workshops, cafes (doubling up as performance and exhibition spaces), shops (perhaps community-owned) and other cultural assets.

The land is owned by the local authority. Nearby is a tram stop and the adjoining arterial road links are well served by buses. It’s also a fairly flat cycle ride into the city centre.

The city council has well-documented housing supply targets and of course it could seek to sell the land to a private house builder, insodoing earning itself some welcome income, in these undeniably cash-strapped times. It is a moot point, however, whether any private house builder would see the site as being viable, not least if there were various ‘cultural assets’ requiring to be also delivered.

Any purchase of the land would be a cost that someone, somewhere would eventually have to shoulder. Someone, somewhere would also have to pay for any profit that a private enterprise might seek to generate for itself. Together, they might scupper any ambitions of providing housing that is genuinely affordable, or even marketable.

An alternative approach is for the council to gift the land to a transparently not-for-profit organisation. Transparent in such fine detail that all costs – including salaries – are available for the most determined of public scrutiny.

It goes without saying that this would be an organisation where any salaries would be relatively modest. There certainly wouldn’t be a bonuses issued to anyone.

Inspired by some of the most radical housing schemes across Europe, this ‘New Stenhouse’ would seek to be as environmentally responsible as possible, pioneering in its use of car sharing and communal food production.

It would be a potentially grand place to live, with pro-active efforts to encourage community cohesion and local pride.

And the hope would be that any surplus revenue generated by the new housing would be ring-fenced for the refurbishment of the existing housing stock.

Mike Wilson is a member of the BuiltEdinburgh team

Pictured: A block of the existing housing stock. Video: ©Studio DuB.

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