‘Digital Quarter’ located on a disused runway adjacent to Edinburgh Airport could provide £438m economic boost

The area highligted shows the proposed site for the Digital Quarter scheme

A ‘Digital Quarter’ located partly on a disused runway adjacent to Edinburgh Airport could provide a £438m in additional economic output every year, according to a new report.

The 65-acre brownfield site – which covers part of the decommissioned 12/30 runway at Scotland’s busiest airport, which serves over 12m passengers annually – could support 6,000 jobs in the tech economy, an economic analysis has shown.

Plans for the site – first unveiled earlier this year by Crosswind Developments, an independent subsidiary of Edinburgh Airport’s owners Global Infrastructure Partners – have now been backed up by the new report from BiGGAR Economics, which looked at the potential benefit to Scotland in attracting technology jobs while giving home grown companies’ greater opportunities for collaboration.

It calculated that every year the development could support £438m of Gross Valued Added (GVA) – a measure of economic output – in Scotland and 6,400 jobs.

The new figure comes as the company behind the scheme unveils new branding for the first stage of the project. ‘Elements Edinburgh’ will be the home for an innovative, sustainable and inclusive residential, commercial and retail development in West Edinburgh.

As well as the Digital Quarter as part of 700,000 sq. ft of office space, the development will include 2,400 homes – 25% of which will be affordable housing – retail units and hotels.

The site is one of the best connected in Scotland with immediate access to air, road and rail networks. Elements Edinburgh will also aim for the highest standards when it comes to sustainable energy, active transport and green spaces. Plans include developing a new informal park on site around the Gogar Burn.

The digital sector is one of the growth sectors of the Scottish economy and has a GVA per employee of £78,480 – 73% higher than the Scottish average – which the report says would generate an additional £160m per year (as part of the £438m) compared to a similar development with non-digital jobs.

The development would also create around a significant number of jobs during the construction phase.

The report by BiGGAR Economics says: “The Digital Quarter would provide Edinburgh with a hub for growing businesses, an ideal base for international investors and would complement existing spaces for start-ups and for knowledge-exchange between business and academia.

“The improvement in the spatial organisation of the Edinburgh digital sector with the provision of spaces supporting businesses from their birth, through their expansion and to their internationalisation, alongside the possibility of knowledge transfer from co-working opportunities, is likely to have an impact on the productivity of the companies located in the Digital Quarter.”

Edinburgh is already home to the largest cluster of technology companies in Scotland – including the largest tech incubator in the UK, CodeBase – and employs around 24% of those working in the Scottish digital sector.

The expansion of the Scottish digital sector could also provide opportunities for private-sector led efforts at closing the ‘digital divide’, through, for instance, the provision of digital education programmes targeted at low-income and low-digital access households. 

The report also says that by expanding the provision of facilities for digital companies and boosting Edinburgh’s stand as a digital city could also provide a positive impact on non-digital sectors that play an important role in the city economy, including financial services and life sciences.

John Watson, chief executive of Crosswind, welcomed the report’s findings.

He said: “This confirms our belief that a dedicated Digital Quarter within Elements Edinburgh would be a significant boost to not just the city but the whole Scottish economy. 

“And many of the companies that would benefit are ones that are already well established but are becoming increasingly digital focused such as financial services.

“We are also determined that Elements Edinburgh will be an innovative, sustainable and inclusive development with the environment at its heart.”

Consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the local community, began earlier this year. A wider public consultation begins next month with an exhibition of plans for the site at the Gyle Shopping Centre on January 14 and 15. A Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) was submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council in October and full application is expected to be submitted in the Spring of 2020.