How do we create places people love to live in the 21st century? And can Scotland be a world leader in creating vibrant communities by using private investment to unlock social, environmental and employment benefits for residents?
Dr Lesley Sawers OBE, Scotland and GB commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says yes in the latest episode of the Sustainable Scotland podcast.
Dr Sawers is also a Board member of Crosswind, which is developing the £1 billion Elements Edinburgh project on a 30-hectare brownfield site beside the airport.
There are plans to build 2500 homes, with 42% of green space and 9.5km of walking and cycling routes, and Scotland’s first Digital Quarter. The project could create up to 6000 jobs.
Dr Sawers believes the development can tick all the boxes for residents in creating a place that people will want to live – and stay.
“We use terms like inclusive and sustainable communities but practically, that means affordable, warm, efficient housing built to international best standards,” she says. “It means access to good quality jobs for everyone and access to open space. A sense of being and belonging is really important, and we’re hardwiring that into the development of Elements Edinburgh.”
The podcast, Places People Love to Live, also features Sarah Smith, Director of Communities at Link Group, one of Scotland’s largest social housing providers.
She says: “We all broadly want the same things from where we live; a good-quality, well-maintained property we can afford to run, in a safe area with access to outdoor spaces, and the opportunity to get to know people.
“The words for me are safe, healthy, and hopefully happy – but also inclusive, which is the critical building block for a community to be sustainable. What we appreciate at Link, is that giving people a lovely, affordable house is not necessarily enough for people to live well. Many people need additional support.”
Dr Sawers believes private investment and social investment can go hand in hand.
“You have to align that return on investment and capital with returns on social capital. That’s what Link Group is doing, and we want to do that at scale with Crosswind,” she says.
“Scotland is ahead of the game in terms of recognising how we can leverage investment to address some of the inequities and unfairness that we have in society.
“I’m optimistic that an investor like Global Infrastructure Partners has recognised the opportunity in Edinburgh to potentially invest £1 billion and recognise that they can actually deliver social impact as well as a return on investment.
“That’s world-leading. We have the vision, so what we need is to ensure we get the policies and the planning frameworks that can enable these visions and opportunities to become a reality. We need to join the dots, get the framework right – and then Scotland would be motoring.”
John Watson is chief executive of Crosswind Developments
Dr Lesley Sawer is a non-executive director of Crosswind Developments
Sarah Smith is Director of Communities for Link Group
This article first appeared in The Scotsman 23rd February 2023