Steve Dunlop, the former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, has been appointed successor to the late Lord Alistair Darling as head of a company planning to build thousands of new homes in the west of Edinburgh.

The business leader, who ran Scottish Enterprise for two and half years between 2018 and 2020, has been named as the new chairman of Crosswind Developments, following the passing of former Labour MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Darling in November.

Crosswind is ultimately part of Global Infrastructure Partners, the owner of Edinburgh and Gatwick airports which was recently acquired by BlackRock, the private equity giant.

Mr Dunlop’s appointment as chairman comes with Crosswind poised to lodge proposals for a development project spanning 3,000 new homes on the site near Edinburgh Airport.

It is aiming to build a new community on the 72-acre site under a development known as Elements Edinburgh, with proposals also including a school, green spaces, and 50,000 square metres of commercial space, as well as access to nearly 10km of designated walking and cycling routes. Elements is located close to the International Business Gateway site, the proposed West Town Edinburgh development, NatWest Group’s Royal Bank of Scotland campus at Gogarburn, Edinburgh Park, and between the residential areas of Cammo, East Craigs, and South Gyle.

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Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Mr Dunlop declared that the timing of the project “could not be better” for Edinburgh, where a "housing emergency" was recently declared and the city plan for 2030 is under consideration.

Asked what impact he feels the Crosswind project will have, Mr Dunlop said: “We believe that the timing of this could not be better. This is a large, mixed-use development, but driven by delivering 3,000 new homes in west Edinburgh at a time when it is considered to be a crisis of housing.

“We think the timing of this is right, we think the contribution it will make to housing in the city, [with] high-quality, accessible and affordable homes [will be big]. We will work with the council and comply with all their ambitions to make this a community where anyone can live. Therefore, it is of its time. But it is much more than just housing. It is a real mixed community of the highest quality.”

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Mr Dunlop added: “Alistair’s vision for the business was to create a place of impact for the city as a whole and the quality of this would be felt over the long term. We talk about it internally as having the same kind of impact as the New Town did for Edinburgh.

“This is not a development play to get as much development on a piece of land. This genuinely is about creating a quality place, and therefore we think it is of its time in terms of meeting a housing crisis. We think it is of its time in being an absolute fit with the National Planning Framework 4, and we absolutely believe that it is in tune with where the city plan is moving in its direction of travel.”

Mr Dunlop, a former boss of Scottish Canals who is also chief executive of FOR:EV, an electric vehicle charging company, noted that the Crosswind project has taken six to seven years to get to this stage, with “many” millions of pounds invested.

Asked if he had any concerns about the length of time it can take for major infrastructure projects to get up and running in Scotland, he replied: “Of course, everyone would like to get what they want first time round. But I have worked in local authorities. I have been in charge of regeneration, in charge of a planning authority, so I know what goes on from the council point of view, therefore I am aware, empathetic, and appreciate what they have to consider to get it right.

“What I would say is that, for me, there are too many examples of bad development in Scotland. Therefore, when it is of the kind of impact that we are talking about here, not just our development but the whole of west of Edinburgh, then it is understandable that you have to take the time [to make sure that] not just our development is right, but all the developments in the west are aligned, make sense and are cohesive, and that is no easy task.”

He added: “West Edinburgh has been trying to be developed for probably a generation and beyond, it has always been an aspiration. And it has been held back because of, I think, lots of development opportunities looking inwards rather than multiple, major opportunities looking to collaborate in order to create a place that is cohesive.

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“I think that is what has changed this time around. We have absolutely gone as far as we can to collaborate, to talk to partner developers, to make sure that our site, which sits in the middle many of these developments, is actually a site that looks after the interests of the community who will live within it, but also the interests of the communities that live around it.”

Asked if BlackRock's recent acquisition of Global Infrastructure Partners would have any impact on the Crosswind project, Mr Dunlop said it was “business as usual”.

He said: “We are not aware of any change or any impact on our ambitions or our vision. It is absolutely business as usual.”

Meanwhile Mr Dunlop, who has been on the board of Crosswind for 18 months, said that Lord Darling, who is credited with playing a key role in saving the UK's banking system from collapse at the height of the global financial crisis, will be keenly missed at the organisation.

“There is absolutely no doubt about that,” he said. “I’m enormously privileged to be the chair of this business. But this is not the way you want to find yourself in this role. The overwhelming sense is you are following Alistair and what a tragic loss [he is].

“We as a business will never forget his contribution. That is why we are determined to continue the vision that he had and the approach that he took. You can’t overstate what contribution he made, and what a great guy he was to work with.”