Welcome to Britain’s Greenest park
How Saughton created an inspiring model for urban green space - and why we may never see it repeated
If you follow the Water of Leith upstream from the city centre, duck and dive through photographers at Dean Village, meander around Murrayfield stadium and trot across Balgreen Road, you’ll arrive in a small car park facing three large glasshouses.
You wouldn’t know it, but the glasshouses you can see are heated by water pipes installed beneath your feet. You will also be standing on grounds that have been used as nature-based healthcare for almost two hundred years.
There is a lot that is innovative about Saughton Park. After an £8.7 million regeneration project between 2014 and 2020, Saughton became the first British park to be completely powered by zero emissions energy. Ground-source heat pumps under the car park and football field, combined with a micro-hydro station on the neighbouring river, provide heat and electricity to the park’s glasshouses, cafe and other visitor buildings, saving 90 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. The park also hosts an all-ability bicycle club, outdoor art lessons, a community orchard and medicinal garden, to name a few.
Saughton is in many ways a model for the sustainable renewal of an urban park - it even hosts innovative healthcare interventions. It is the sort of project which could be the subject of an impressive board room presentation, complete with all the supporting data, on how to transform a city park for the 21st century.
While “the Saughton model” inspired a new 30-year strategy for Edinburgh’s parks and greenspaces, only a fraction of the improvements made there will be replicated across the city’s 142 parks. The man who drew it up, frustrated by the lack of funding opportunities, has left the city council for a third sector job where he can make a bigger difference.