Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Turning the drab into fab

Regeneration - A notorious run down estate in Edinburgh is undergoing a radical overhaul using cutting-edge design reports Adrian Greeman.

Think of a time when children could play safely in the streets while their parents chatted happily to neighbours in pleasant, leafy surroundings.

This is not pure nostalgia; it's how the Craigmillar area in Edinburgh could look in a few years' time. If the hopes of planners and engineers are realised, the latest design principles from northern Europe will help give the streets back to the people.

'The aim is to create public spaces where the car driver feels out of place and an intruder, ' says consultant URS project engineer Ian Johnston.

URS is responsible for the 'public realm' elements of the scheme. Parking spaces will be allocated to the new housing areas, but streets will be predominatly pedestrian zones.

This is part of a radical makeover for the Craigmillar area which lies 3km from the centre of Edinburgh. But it's a tall order for a notorious sink estate renowned for its drugs and crime problems and that is one of the worst examples of social deprivation in Scotland.

'It was even used as a location for parts of the Trainspotting lm, ' says Johnston.

Once upon a time Craigmillar had high hopes. Built in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s, it's in a pleasant spot overlooked by the famous Arthur's Seat and residents worked at local businesses including breweries and a mine.

But in the 1970s and 1980s most of these businesses closed, unemployment grew, the population dropped and a vicious cycle of deprivation set in for those left behind.

'There was some piecemeal redevelopment as the trend towards localised housing associations grew, ' says John Quinn, director of PARC, a special development company established by Edinburgh City Council to run the project on a 50:50 joint venture basis with property developer the EDI Group. 'But then the council decided in the late 1990s that the whole area had to be made over, ' he added. A six-point plan was created to cover areas including education, transport and access, local facilities and shops.

Economic development is critical. A new hospital and biotechnical studies park nearby will create jobs while a mooted tram link will improve the transport infrastructure.

A key part of the scheme is to transform Craigmillar into a pleasant place where people want to be. Quinn says that this will partly be achieved by creating a mixed population of different socio-economic levels, attracted by a mix of housing.

As much as 80% of the property will be for sale - reversing the current ownership ratio of 70% social housing and 30% owned - with a target population of 15,000, double the current 7,500.

The housing will be built by ParcLife on land provided by the council. ParcLife will draw on the commercial experience of the EDI group, created by the council to run development schemes in the late 1990s.

EDI is still owned by the council but operates as a commercial company.

'We will build housing to sell and later we'll let out parcels of land for other developers to build on, ' Quinn says. Designs will be controlled by the overall masterplan for the scheme with its emphasis on the sustainable and community elements of the public spaces.

URS suggested the use of Formpave monoblocks that would allow at paved areas to be created to t in with SUDS requirements.

'It has been used pretty well on private schemes ?Tesco carparks for one - but public projects have been a little reluctant so it took a bit of persuasion, ' Quinn says.

He adds that the design also meets Scottish Environmental Protection Agency requirements that runoff should be treated and attenuated.

'The blocks have a 3mm indentation at the side which leaves a drainage gap when they are laid. They are placed on a 50mm thick lter layer that removes the hydrocarbons before the water sinks into a stone medium. The volatiles slowly evaporate. The gaps in the stone allow the drainage layer to hold water, up to 1m 3 for every 10m 2 of paving.There is sufcient capability to cope with 'monsoon' conditions, ' Quinn says.

Normally the stored water would slowly soak away but Edinburgh has a notoriously dense clayey soil, so an impermeable membrane goes beneath the 350mm of stone and water is piped off to watercourses.

But Craigmillar presents an extra complication. Most of the housing will be built two or three years after the public areas are done, which means puncturing the layers to install services.

To get round this problem, the base layer of the SUDS paving will be put in place with its top separation membrane covered by asphalt for housing construction traffic. 'We can puncture this later to let the water through and to put the top filter layer and the paving in place, ' says Johnston. Paving contracts are being let with the phased timetable built-in.

The pedestrian spaces around the houses have been designed on principles used in schemes in the Netherlands, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden, some of which were visited and inspected by the team. The idea is that visual and topographical cues warn motorists that they're in a space used by pedestrians.

'The speed limit for the area is 10mph, ' says Johnston.

Other features such as tightly configured right angle chicanes, strategically placed solid seating, trees and the colouring of the paving, reinforce the message.

The team wanted as few road signs as possible to emphasise that the area is not a road, says Johnston. After some initial doubts, the the council agreed to this and for the first stage at least, the education department has waived the need for 'school' signs outside the three primary schools being built.

'The idea is that the psychology and culture created by the design will keep the car unobtrusive, ' Johnston says.

The scheme wants good public transport links and to prevent 'rat runs' being established through the estate.

'We are taking northern European principles we have seen working in various places, and if anything extending them, ' he says. 'It has required a measure of discussion and persuasion, sometimes with three hours of meetings for every hour of design work.' The £250M scheme is intended to be a pathfinder project taking UK and European design to new heights as it unfolds over the next 15 years, Johnston says.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.