December 2013 and January 2014 Newsletter

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Westminster report

Autumn Statement
The political seasons seem to extend themselves these days. We have become used to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement arriving in December.

The Statement itself was a particularly noisy affair. I know people have varying views on the question of ‘Commons Noise’ and to an extent lively banter across the Commons Chamber gives debate an energy and immediacy that polite silence would not. For example, there are times when there is genuine anger at proposals the ‘other side’ is coming up with, but the way in which Ed Balls was barracked when he replied to the Chancellor was, in my view unacceptable, not simply because he is of my party, but because it was a constant wall of noise. Some of my own colleagues do their share of shouting and heckling on such occasions, but generally it is a response to specific things being said. I found it difficult to hear what he was saying, even though I was sitting in the row behind the Shadow Chancellor.

Watching the TV reports later that evening I was struck by the grins and laughs of Cameron and Osborne. They had scant regard for the many people who are struggling with cuts in real wages and the millions still out of work (Unemployment is only a little lower than it was in 2010), not to mention those households hit by the bedroom tax.

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(POST SCRIPT: PMQs was a particularly quiet one the first week back after Christmas, partly because it was overshadowed by the death that day of a very popular and well respected MP, Paul Goggins. But the verdict of the sketch writers, was ‘boring’! – see Ann Treneman in The Times (paywall), and Michael White in the Guardian)

Nelson Mandela Tribute Debate
This took place on 9 December. Many, many MPs spoke, with some extremely good speeches, including those from Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. I didn’t put into speak not least as we had a long session that afternoon at the Work & Pensions Select Committee with Iain Duncan Smith. Had I done so it would have been to recall that the Anti Apartheid movement was one of the earliest political movements of which I became aware. It is humbling to recall that it was nearly 25 years after my first wearing of the iconic badge, Mandela was released from prison and apartheid crumbled. A long road indeed.

Food Banks Debate
The last Opposition Day debate of the year was on foodbanks. Speakers on our side far exceeded the time available by some considerable margin. But I think we had hit a raw nerve for the Government by choosing this topic, as Tory attendance in the Chamber was well above average, and emotions were running high. Speakers on the Government side were anxious to refute the idea that the expansion of food bank use had anything to do with their policies. Citizens’ Advice Scotland’s evidence obtained from its bureaux shows that 73% of the referrals they make are benefit related.

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Employment and Support Allowance
In December I kept up my work on Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who can’t work due to an illness or disability. Regular readers will know I’ve been concerned for some time that the assessment process for ESA is flawed. Thousands of applicants, who clearly cannot work, are being declared fit to do so and as a consequence they are refused benefit.

Earlier this year two claimants – supported by a number of charities – took legal action, arguing that when people with mental health conditions apply for ESA, the Government should take responsibility for collecting supporting evidence from appropriate professionals, such as their GPs. The court ruled in their favour in June, but the Government subsequently appealed. On 4 December the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s arguments, and I posted my reaction on my website.

In a separate development I’ve become aware that the number of incorrect assessments could be far higher than previously thought, because the current figures appear to only count cases that go to formal appeal before a tribunal judge, not those resolved by civil servants. I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about this just before Christmas, and you can my letter on my website.

Finally I released some comments following the publication of Government’s latest independent review of the ESA assessment on 12 December.

Lobbying Bill
I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents on this Bill. After three years of no action on lobbying the Government brought forward a Bill just before the summer last year which paid no attention to the extensive criticisms summed up by the Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee, and then tacked on proposals which will inhibit campaigning by voluntary organisations and charities. After rushing it through the Commons, the Government agreed to a ‘pause’ in the Lords for further ‘consultation’. Considerable work was done by peers and representatives of the voluntary sector to suggest changes. Following this the Government made some concessions but not enough. The Bill suffered three defeats on amendments in the Lords, and these came back to us last week, with only four hours of debate allowed. The Minister spoke for 47 minutes of the two hours allowed on the amendment to the first part of the Bill!

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Despite some Tory and LibDem MPs voting to support the Lords Amendments they were defeated. When that happens the Bill goes back to the Lords who vote again on whether to insist on their amendments. At this stage some cross bench peers in particular take the view that the elected chamber should prevail – and the Government got its way, after a tied vote in one case.

Whatever one thinks of the substance of this Bill, the process has been a lesson in how not to produce ‘good’ legislation.

Welfare Reform
January started with my Huffington Post article on the Government’s flagship welfare reform Universal Credit. While I acknowledge that UC isn’t a bad idea in principle, and that it could improve work incentives for some, any benefits won’t be felt for years due to IT overspends and poor project management. Meanwhile another element of the project – the heightened conditionality and increased use of benefit sanctions – is already in place and negatively impacting many claimants. Universal Credit, in my view, is presently ‘All Stick and No Carrot!’

It’s also worth highlighting a speech I made on the 13th of January – you can read a transcript here – in a debate on the impact of welfare policy on poverty. It’s often the same people who are affected by the Government’s various changes, and despite all the hardship caused, the Treasury isn’t making much in the way of savings.

East Coast
On 9 January I spoke in a debate on intercity rail investment, focussing on the Government’s decision to privatise the intercity services on the East Coast Main Line. You can read my speech here and I produced a summary of my arguments for the think-tank Progress.

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A week later the shortlist of bidders to take over the franchise in February 2015 was announced, and I circulated a press release which is available on my website.

High Speed Rail
On a related note I lead a 90 minute debate on High Speed Two in the Commons ante-chamber Westminster Hall. Focussing on the economic benefits of the project, I reminded colleagues the project will shave up to an hour off Edinburgh-London journey times, giving businesses in both cities a boost. Over 500 people who oppose the project emailed me in advance of the debate and thus had the opportunity to address their arguments on the day. It’s worth noting that many of those who contacted me live along the proposed route, but I am very clear that MPs whose cities stand to benefit from the project will robustly endorse it. You can read a transcript of the debate on 14 January here and a joint press release I issued with Edinburgh North and Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz here.

Constituency Report

The Real Cost of Homelessness
Lack of affordable housing brings many people to my office and surgeries. The Scottish Government claims Scotland has the best homelessness legislation in Europe, but that’s a hollow boast when there just aren’t the homes for people to move into. In December I wrote an article on these issues which is available on my website.

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Caltongate Disappointment
On Wednesday, permission was granted to redevelop the Caltongate site. This was the second such vote in as many weeks where developers were successful.

I agree that development at this site is much needed, but these plans have been waved through regardless of the fact it is within our World Heritage Site. Bland, square blocked offices and hotels with flat roofs (see above) will bear no likeness to the organic medieval architecture of the Canongate. Indeed the development could be any new build site, in any city across the country.

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It is without a doubt that the Old Town thrived when permanent residents, who formed stable communities, made it a vibrant and prosperous place to live and work. But plans for just 185 apartments over a 5 acre site means that any population growth here will be minimal. There is a danger the Caltongate will become a bland haven for office workers and tourists staying at budget hotels. Any bursts of vitality and civic life will be shortlived these visitors head off home.

I’m very disappointed the community spent months contributing to the consultation process and lobbying elected members, their views have not been properly taken into account. It certainly seems current planning policies are failing to serve local communities.

The Shape of Things to Come
Last week a cross party group of MPs and MSPs met to be briefed by city planners for an update on the Local Development Plan. The Scottish Government recently rejected the view from the south east Scotland group of local authorities that the sites designated for housing should be phased rather than all done upfront. Granted, there is going to be a growth in housing demand over the next 15 to 20 years, but if too many sites are designated for housing now, there are concerns (shared by all elected members present) that developers will cherry pick the ‘greenfield’ sites, while ‘brownfield’ remains undeveloped. The Council remains committed to seeing outstanding brownfield sites (such as Craigmillar in this constituency) developed as soon as possible, but that may prove more difficult than we had hoped. I simply do not see why sites could not be designated on a rolling phased basis so that development can be properly planned.

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To review the proposals for your area click here.

Newcraighall Residents Feel Ignored
In January the Council’s Development Management Sub-committee approved plans for developers to build 220 homes on greenfield land between Newcraighall and Gilberstoun. Needless to say the two communities, who have fought tirelessly against the plans, are devastated by the decision.

A former mining village, Newcraighall has just 150 households at present. Residents thought the matter was closed when permission for 160 homes was granted in 2012. However developers came back for more and succeeded in pushing up the number of houses at the site. David Hewitt of the Newcraighall Heritage and Community Association, and ward councillors Maureen Child and David Walker, made rousing speeches against the plans at a public hearing where the application was determined. My full report on the hearing is on my website.

Employment Plus Local
Just before Christmas I was invited to open the Salvation Army’s ‘Employment Plus Local’ at East Adam Street. With staff on hand jobseekers, homeless or not, can get help to improve skills and meet the requirements to spend several hours a week ‘job searching’ which is demanded by Job Centres. E-learning courses are also available making use of the computers provided at the centre.

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Green Homes Cashback pays off
A constituent recently received some much needed news which will see her family through the chilly winter months. Weeks after having to replace her boiler she found out grants from the Energy Saving Trust were available under the Green Homes Cashback scheme. The scheme offers grants for anyone looking to install a new boiler and insulation to improve the energy efficiency – regardless of your income, and whether you are an owner, tenant or landlord.

My constituent submitted her request after the installation had taken place and was refused at first. Being on Working Tax Credits she would have been eligible for a replacement boiler and increased insulation. However, I contacted the Trust which reconsidered her position and made a retrospective payment. The family now has a much warmer home and reduced heating bills – for free. Whether you receive benefits, work and get Tax Credits, or are a higher rate taxpayer, owner or tenant, head to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk to see what you are eligible for.

Council Finally Cracks Party Flats
Just last week the Council reported on the progress it has made in dealing with ‘party flats’. Thanks to a great deal of hard work from Councillor Karen Doran and her colleagues, plus a legislative change at Holyrood thanks to the efforts of Sarah Boyack MSP, officials are now able to deal with this problem on two fronts: taking over problem flats under a ‘Management Control Order’ and requiring future party flat landlords to seek planning permission. Taking over as landlord for two flats the Council reported it was able cancel bookings for ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ parties, inspect the properties for Health and Safety concerns, and start to manage future rental more closely. The MCO was the first issued in Scotland and local residents agree there has been a real change. Properties in Holyrood Road, Lothian Road and Old Tolbooth Wynd, all in Edinburgh East, are also under investigation.

Carer Support Payments
Carers across our communities and around the UK do great work assisting loved ones, for little pay and without much recognition. It is one of my priorities to ensure that carers receive support to do that work. That’s why I am pleased the City of Edinburgh Council has reopened its scheme to award one-off carer’s support payments of £250 to those who provide unpaid care for a friend or relative who lives in Edinburgh.

If you are an unpaid carer, providing substantial and regular care for a partner, relative or friend who is over 16 and receives DLA (Care), PIP (Daily Living) or Attendance allowance you may be eligible and should head to www.edinburgh.gov.uk/carersupportpayment for further information. Funds are limited and you must apply by the end of February.

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Newcraighall Residents Feel Ignored

On Wednesday the City of Edinburgh Council Development Management Sub-committee approved plans for developers to build 220 homes on greenfield land between Newcraighall and Gilberstoun.

Newcraighall, a former mining village with just 150 households at present, has been rocked by this application, which came after plans for 160 homes were granted in 2012.  We thought that was the final decision on an issue which has seen many twist and turns since sites in Newcraighall were included in the ‘Edinburgh City Local Plan’ before 2010.

Readers of this blog will be well aware of the representations I have made to preserve the character and heritage of Newcraighall since I was elected in 2010.

The hearing on Wednesday was an opportunity to draw a line under “the question of numbers” for the sake of residents but granting permission for yet more homes has not done this.  This latest permission has hurt morale in the former mining village because residents feel ignored and sidelined.  There is a sense that developers are being allowed to chip away at the village, with concerns that there is now an eye on land at Newhailes House.

Developers now know they are able come back to overturn previous decisions, in spite of local concern and extensive debate which has already taken place. Nothing objectively has changed since the Planning Committee reached its decision two years ago.

Local communities across Edinburgh can have little confidence that a planning decision once made is the end of the matter.  The Newcraighall community remains vulnerable and fearful of the next application.

 

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October update: Syria, my Capability Assessment, White House relaunch, Southside exhibitions, Community Council nominations

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Westminster Report

Syria & Recall

Travelling down for the Parliamentary recall I received a text from the Whips Office saying ‘There will still be important votes; your attendance is essential.’ It is very easy to be a bit cynical about this call when you are an opposition faced with a majority of over 70.  But to be fair our whips do not cry wolf, and ‘essential’ means something more than a normal 3 line whip. There was a point when I thought I might have to tell the whips attending was nevertheless ‘impossible’ – as my train reached Newcastle we were told that the service was suspended because of lines being down near Newark and people were even being given the choice to return to Edinburgh and travel the next day!  Luckily I was able to get a train to Sheffield and then another to London St Pancras.  Other MPs were also affected up and down the line.  Fortunately we arrived in good time for the vote, because this was an occasion where each vote really counted.

The situation in Syria is dreadful for its citizens, and the behaviour of the Syrian Government towards its own people is indefensible.  It has provoked very violent behaviour from those opposing the regime, with the whole situation being complicated by the support of other countries, sectionalist groups in the region and further abroad.  However I fundamentally believe that a ‘western’ intervention, as initially proposed by the Prime Minister, would not have improved the situation. The unintended consequences of what are often initially described as ‘short and sharp’ interventions are often profound.

The Government put down a motion that was hastily drafted and ill thought through. Labour put down an amendment that offered a clear roadmap to consider any decision relating to the use of military force in Syria.  I voted for the Labour amendment.  I did this, as did many of my colleagues, while being clear that this did not mean that I would support intervention if it came to a second vote.

Our amendment was defeated, so my party colleagues and I then voted against the Government’s motion. A significant number of Government backbenchers also chose to do so, leading to the motion being defeated. This is highly unusual, but reflected the strength of feeling in the Commons and across the UK.  The Prime Minister subsequently made it clear that the UK forces would not be involved in any military action in Syria.

The transcript of Ed Miliband’s speech and the rest of the debate is available from p11http://bit.ly/1dvgo1m.

What has happened since shows that diplomacy had not been exhausted, and hopefully some real progress can be made towards a negotiated settlement.

September Sitting

Parliament was back in session for the first fortnight in September. On the first day back I spoke in a debate on cycling, which demonstrated the high level of interest there is amongst MPs of all parties. There was considerable cross party agreement, but despite the media berating politicians for being too confrontational, when consensus does break out it generates little media interest. (See p70 http://bit.ly/1aYKPiT).

Lobbying Bill 

There was no lobbying bill in the Queens Speech in May this year. Then there was yet another lobbying ‘scandal’ and the Government rushed to say it would be producing a Bill after all.  Their Bill was published just before the summer recess, and the Government chose to rush through both the second reading and committee stages during the September sitting.  Two other issues were ‘tacked on’ to the Bill, which had received no advance scrutiny.  One was introducing additional checks on trade union membership lists in relation to unions balloting their members. The second was seeking to introduce restrictions on ‘third party campaigning’ during elections.  This in particular emerged without warning, and it quickly became clear that the Government has not consulted charities and other campaigning organisations, nor has it taken advice from the Electoral Commission, which would have to administer these rules.  The Electoral Commission had considerable criticisms of the proposals as drafted.

Despite the shortness of time, campaigning groups and charities did manage to get an effective ‘lobbying’ campaign going (not all ‘lobbying’ is bad!) to alert MPs to what the proposals could mean.  I received over 350 emails from constituents in the first few days of September.  By the time we reached the Committee stage of the Bill in the second week, the Government was promising to bring forward its own amendments to this part of the Bill.  This staved off a major Government defeat, but we are still to see exactly what these amendments are going to be.  They will be debated on the first day Parliament sits after the ‘conference recess’ period, but Ministers promised to make them available well in advance.  Of course, if this proposed legislation been properly consulted on, and the draft scrutinised, this rush of amendments could have been avoided.  Drafting amendments ‘on the hoof’ is bad practice and usually produces poor legislation.

My colleagues and I voted against all parts of the Bill, instead proposing a considerable number of amendments.  The original core of the Bill on lobbying will do very little to control lobbying.  Only a tiny number of ‘consultant lobbyists’ are covered. Both transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry agreed that the proposals would make things worse not better. As the proposed register has no code of conduct or sanctions, it is a step backwards from the voluntary register that already exists.  My own speech on this at second reading is here available from p65 at http://bit.ly/1dvaY6k.

Adjournment debate on Employment & Support Allowance

I ‘drew’ the graveyard shift for an adjournment debate on ‘Reconsideration of Work Capability Assessments’, part of my ongoing campaign to highlight the failings of the system and what changes are needed.   My slot was the last of the week, coming immediately after the charade that is a Friday of private members’ bills.

Knowing the interest many of my colleagues take in this subject and the over-supply of potential speakers whenever we have a debate, I would reassure people that the timing was the problem, with most people in their constituencies.  My speech is available at p73http://bit.ly/1dvbp0s.

I felt that some useful issues came from the Minister’s reply & I have put detailed comments on this on my website http://bit.ly/1dvc6a2.

Separately, I have maintained my support for Rethink Mental Illness campaign calling on the Government’s fit-for-work test to be made fairer for people with mental illness.  I took part in an MP Capability Assessment, which mirrors the Work Capability Assessment, the controversial test used by the Government to decide whether thousands of people with mental illness and other disabilities, are entitled to financial support in the form of the Employment and Support Allowance.

Private Members’ Bills

I rarely stay for debates on Private Members’ Bills which take place on a certain number of Friday mornings when Parliament is sitting.  Being in Westminster waiting for my adjournment debate reminded me why I don’t.  The morning started with a Bill from a Tory backbench on Deep Sea Mining.  Someone had described this to me as a ‘government hand out bill’ i.e. one which the government was quite keen to be pursued in this manner. So working in my room with the House of Commons Chamber feed on ‘mute’ I was surprised to see a handful of Tory backbenchers showing all the signs of talking it out. When I went over to the Chamber I realised that it was not this Bill they were trying to kill but one from Michael Meacher on tax avoidance. There is a small group of Tory MPs who seem to see it as their mission to a talk out these Bills.

On this occasion the Government Minster responding on Deep Sea Mining talked for over an hour, clearly part of the filibustering plan. (Remembering this is a bill encouraged by Government, and bearing in mind that even in a major second reading debate such as that earlier in the week on lobbying, the Minister will generally get 10 minutes for a reply).  This whole procedure urgently needs reform.  A recent Report has been published with proposals for change, and I hope that this happens very soon.

Universal Credit – an Empty Bookcase? 

Following a highly critical Report from the National Audit Office, Iain Duncan Smith had to come to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question on his flagship policy which seems to be floundering. I’ve written an article on the failing of this policy on my websitewww.sheilagilmore.co.uk/universal-credit-an-empty-bookcase.

Constituency Report

Summer in Edinburgh

Recess in Edinburgh gave me a chance to increase my door to door visits around the constituency.

Having the MP appear at the door makes some people think they missed hearing that an election has been called.  ‘No’ I explain, ‘I aim to be knocking on doors somewhere in the constituency nearly every week of the year.’

As well as picking up on the day’s problems and my constituents’ views, one of the bonuses this summer has been meeting a number of residents who have lived in their areas for many years and have painted a picture of the changes they have seen.  One was a lady in her 90s who started married life in the ‘old’ miners’ cottages in Newcraighall, moving from there to the Jewel Cottages, also now demolished, recalled the lack of bathrooms back then.  Her husband worked at Woolmet pit and later Monktonhall (then the ‘new’ pit) before getting a council home in Niddrie where she lived for over 30 years.

While the cottages have gone, replaced with homes with bathrooms(!) some of the old names associated with mining have been well preserved (the Jewel although now a supermarket; Parrotshot, North Greens and so on) but so much has changed from what she remembers.

Newcraighall – Too many houses

Although the pits have gone, and many of the original miners’ cottages have also gone, the village of Newcraighall has up until now managed to retain its identity as a village.  Many fear the plans for housing developments on both sides of the village will change it forever.  We lost the argument about retaining these sites as greenbelt but residents had managed to get the Planning Committee to agree to fewer houses being built in Newcraighall North than the developers wanted.  Unfortunately developers have come back with yet another application, pushing numbers up to 219.  I have put in an objection to the Council which is available at http://bit.ly/1aQlLHm.

A White House for All 
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Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the community re-launch of the White House as a community asset with my colleague Councillor Maureen Child. The official re-opening is an important step in the sometimes rocky road towards the full regeneration of Craigmillar.

When Craigmillar was first developed in the 1930s the White House was a symbol of a confidence in suburban development of the city, part of a new world where people were starting to travel out of town to ‘road houses’ for entertainment.  Its shape and colour made it a landmark.  It was however always a place where local residents gathered.

Now the building stands proud and white again, and the 1930s features have been preserved and enhanced.  It will be run by a community development trust firmly based in the Craigmillar community, as a venue where public and private events can take place.  Local exhibitions have already been held here and in June Castlebrae School leavers held their Prom dance here.   To read more on this crucial phase in the regeneration, see my full piece atwww.sheilagilmore.co.uk/a-white-house-for-all/.

Excess waste – what is the Council policy?

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Nearly every time I am in a street, or making home visits on a street surgery, residents ask me what the Council’s policy is on collecting excess waste.  With recent changes to collections confusion is high, especially when a street has both household wheelie and tenemental communal bins.  I’ve now sought a definitive response on what Council binmen are meant to do if there is excess waste piled up in the street.

Refuse collection teams are meant to empty communal bins even if it is overflowing with domestic waste, however large flytipped items are not usually removed – this must be reported separately. If the communal bin is located at a new development, where there is usually sufficient recycling available, excess will not be collected.

Finally, excess waste will not be collected from individual wheelie bins, as sufficient recycling facilities should have been supplied.

As ever, if you see irresponsible waste disposal, flytipping or misuse of bins, make sure it is reported to the Council on 0131 200 2000.

Southsiders: Portrait of a Community

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Now the festival is very much over, Edinburgh starts its annual programme of projects with local residents.  Open Doors is coming up (see below) and on Saturday 7th September I attended the launch of an exhibition of photographs of people living and working in the Southside, each in a setting important to them.  This makes the exhibition a story of both place and people. The project was an activity of the Causey Development Trust, which aims to restore West Crosscauseway as a pedestrian and cycle friendly link between parts of the Southside.  Hence some of the photographs are on outdoor display there. All the photographs and audio of the people talking about their lives and links to the area are on the websitewww.edinburghsouthsiders.co.uk.  There is a public panel discussion at the Southside Community Centre on Friday 4th October from 7pm to 9pm – all interested are welcome. The photographs and interviews have also been published in a magazine, copies of which are circulating in the Southside.  I found it very inspiring and urge people to find out more.

Caltongate 

The summer has been busy with a number of planning applications, possibly a sign that there is finally more confidence in the economy.

Formal plans to develop the Caltongate south sites at Market Street and New Street have now been lodged with the City of Edinburgh Council.  Consultation on this matter is ongoing until Friday (27th September) and if you have any comments these should be submitted via the Council Planning Portal.  Enter references 13/03406/FUL and 13/03407/FUL athttp://bit.ly/15HGuwl.

The revised plans for the south of the Caltongate propose retaining the Canongate Venture and the frontage of the Sailor’s Ark.  Unfortunately I feel that the design of the proposed new build units are not ambitious enough for the area and planners have put very forward very ‘safe’ designs like those of recent fashion across many UK cities.

Lidl Craigentinny

Consultation has now closed on the proposed conversion of the former Stratstone Land Rover car sales room.  The developer, Lidl Scotland, proposes demolishing the existing premises and erecting a new superstore at the out of centre site.  After consultation with constituents I have submitted comments on the plans recommending refusal of the application.

My objection, available on my website at www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/lidl-craigentinny, does not oppose the principle of a supermarket in the area; rather the recommendation is based on comments from a majority of constituents who have contacted me with very real concerns about traffic management problems at the Seafield junction.  Traffic causes considerable congestion at this junction at peak times and residents feel this development will only add to the problems.  Many constituents also raised concerns about the affect an out of centre store will have on nearby Portobello town centre, as it will divert trade and footfall from the local high street.   To view the plans enter reference 13/03189/PPP on the planning portal.

Residential conversion of Niddrie Mill Primary School

An exhibition of new proposals for the site of the former Niddrie Mill School took place a few weeks ago. Residential development has always been intended here but the recession put a brake on plans.  The new proposals are to retain the brick facade of the building but to demolish the interior and build new flats retaining that classic red-brick facade.  The Memorial will also be protected.  Part of the plan is to build 40 affordable homes with a housing association partner.  These would mainly be 2 bedroom flats.

All too often the ‘affordable’ element on developments is in flats rather than a mix of flats and houses, and I don’t think that constructing a full development of two bedroomed flats meets the most urgent housing needs in the city, which are for both smaller and bigger homes.  We need to accommodate single people hit by the bedroom tax and the 900 families already overcrowded in two-bedroom properties.  A good mix of sizes also makes for a more balanced community.  To view the plans enter reference 13/02691/PAN on the Planning Portal.

Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition 

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Many constituents who contact me about welfare matters raise concerns about the way their illnesses are perceived by the public and media who fail to understand the extent of these conditions.  Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival runs annually in October, in venues across Scotland and aims to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health.

The festival is one of Scotland’s most diverse cultural events, covering everything from music, film and visual art to dance and literature.  CAPS Independent Advocacy based in Abbeyhill has been involved with the festival for several years and is running nine events in 2013.   CAPS are involved in a large scale collaborative exhibition, “Out of Sight/Out of Mind” at Summerhall.  The exhibition of works by individual artists with mental health issues is set in the unique spaces of the Old Animal Hospital.  I shall be attending the opening of this provocative exhibition which explores perceptions of reality, labelling, discrimination, confinement and medication.  Works include photography, painting and narrative.

For more information on the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival head towww.mhfestival.com or search twitter for #smhaff2013. The Out of Sight/Out of Mind Exhibition runs 5-19 October 2013, 11am – 6pm daily at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL

Canongate Youth Project is looking for new Board members

The Canongate Youth Project is looking to expand the experience and skills of its Board. The organisation is currently going through significant but positive change.  The Project is looking for new board members with expertise in business, Human Relations and fundraising with knowledge of nearby communities and  young people living locally to the Southside and City Centre.  Since 1977 the Project has successfully provided support, recreation and training opportunities for 5-25 year olds to help them overcome barriers and secure a great future.

A Board meeting is held monthly on a Monday from 4.00pm-5.30pm and the time commitment is 30-40hrs per year.  If you are interested in joining the Board of CYP please contact Vicki Ridley on 0131 556 9389/9719 or email vicki.ridley@canongateyouthproject.org

City Wide Review of Licensing Statement

The City of Edinburgh Licensing Board is required to publish a statement of licensing policy every three years and the Board is now preparing the statement of policy for November 2013 onwards.  Since being elected in 2010 I have made submissions on a variety of licensing matters across Edinburgh East and know that residents are keen to have better control of matters such as Late Hours Catering licenses and liquor licensing.

The Board’s current Statement of Policy is available online at:https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/3032/licensing_board_policy_statement_2010.  If you have comments or representations with regard to any aspect of licensing, make sure your comments are heard before 21 October 2013. Email your responses toRobert.millar@edinburgh.gov.uk or Nicholas.fraser@edinburgh.gov.uk

Edible Edinburgh: a Sustainable Food City

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Edible Edinburgh is hosting a Feed the 5,000 event in Bristo Square on Saturday 5th October. Head along for a free lunch, to find out more about food initiatives in the city and have your say on how you would like to see Edinburgh develop as a sustainable food city. The Edible Edinburgh initiative aims to motivate residents to choose healthier and tastier food.

The Edible Edinburgh steering group has drafted a consultation document to encourage everyone to join in the debate about your food.  You can get involved by completing the short survey.

Community Council Elections – get your nominations in this weekend

The deadline for Community Council nominations and registration of local interest groups is coming up on Monday (23rd September at 4pm).  Nomination forms are available on the Council’s website at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/communitycouncils   and you can find out which Community Council covers your area by entering your postcode atwww.edinburghnp.org.uk/community-councils/.

By joining your local community council you can make a real difference to your neighbourhood. Community Councils across the city are represented on respective Neighbourhood Partnerships and meet with the local Councillors, representatives from Police Scotland, NHS Lothian, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the voluntary sector to agree local priorities and develop and deliver your Local Community Plan.  Further details on the election process is available at the website above.

Dates for your diary

7 September – 5 October 2013 – Southsiders – Portrait of a Community: An exhibition by Peter Dibdin – outside display in The Causey – Find out further details atwww.edinburghsouthsiders.co.uk

Monday 23rd September at 4pm – Deadline for nominations for Community Council elections – Nomination forms: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/communitycouncils   further informationwww.edinburghnp.org.uk/community-councils/.

Friday 27th September – Consultation on Canongate proposals closes – make comments at http://bit.ly/15HGuwl.  Enter references 13/03406/FUL and 13/03407/FUL to access the plans.

Friday 4 October – Southsiders: Portrait of a Community – Public panel discussion event  – Southside Community Centre – 7.00-9.00pm

Saturday 5th October – Feed the 5000 – 12.00pm-4.00pm – Bristo Square  – more info athttps://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/info/202/sustainable_development/1703/sustainable_food/3

5-19 October 2013 – Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition – 11.00am-6.00pm daily – Summerhall, Edinburgh

21 October 2013 – City Wide Review of Licensing Statement – Email your responses toRobert.millar@edinburgh.gov.uk or Nicholas.fraser@edinburgh.gov.uk

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Edinburgh East June 2013 update: Shapps rebuked, Engine Shed closure? Duddingston nursery success, debating effectiveness of PSL, plus Canongate Venture ownership clarification

Westminster Report

Prorogation of Parliament

The second session of the current Parliament (the first was an unusually long two year session) ended on Thursday 25th April.  The Government sets the Parliamentary timetable, and as this session came to a close it felt very much like a Government that had run out of steam.  The big ticket item of the May 2012 Queens’s Speech was of course House of Lords Reform when this collapsed in summer 2012 it left a hole in the Government’s legislative programme.  There were some relatively small but important measures like the Groceries Code Adjudication Act which had all party support (and because of this was actually improved by amendment as it went through its various stages) but the session was a relatively ‘light’ one.   Prorogation Day was not pre-planned.  Half way through a committee session came the message ‘that’s it’ and committee adjourned.  As I had a bit of time in hand before catching my train (I hadn’t anticipated the mid-afternoon finish) I thought I would go into the chamber to see how it was done.  I knew Black Rod came along but thought he would just say something like ‘be off with you’ but found myself swept along to the House of Lords where several proclamations were read out, and royal consent given to some remaining bills.  Oh well that’s another ‘Parliamentary experience’ ticked off!

Queen’s Speech

Queens Speech

Twelve days later came the next bit of tradition with the Queens Speech itself.  I didn’t go in for it this year, but found myself in the wrong place, unable to cross the street, just as the carriages were leaving again.   Plenty of pomp and colour – but arguably more like a fairy tale than a 21st Century democracy.  Six days of debate followed on the Government’s programme on was in it and what wasn’t.  What was marked this year was a shortage of government backbench speakers on most days, showing the lack of enthusiasm for the actual programme.  On Day 2 (home affairs including immigration) there were 13 opposition speakers to 7 from the government; on Day 3 (jobs and growth) 8 opposition to 4 government speakers.  Government backbenchers were apparently more involved in planning an amendment to the Queen’s Speech deploring the lack of a Bill on a Referendum on Europe.  I spoke on the day devoted to cost of living issues, concentrating on affordable housing. See my speech p50 http://bit.ly/11azhSv.

Private members ballot

The ballot for private members’ bills takes place just after the Queen’s speech.  Sadly no luck again, and only 3 out of 20 successful members were Labour.  Quite often people have a run of luck, with Sheryll Murray (Conservative) being drawn this year and last, and John McDonnell (Labour) coming top two sessions running.  With so many Tories in the draw they were spoiled for choice for someone to take on a Bill for a Euro referendum. Piloting a private members bill into law is extremely difficult normally. This one however will have tacit support and encouragement from at least one part of the Coalition.  One of the ironies is that nearly all of the small group of Tory backbenchers who usually enjoy ‘talking out’ other people’s private members’ bills are ardent Euro-sceptics.  Will they find the tables being turned?

Statistics

In recent months I’ve become increasingly concerned about the use of statistics on benefits claimed by disabled people, both by Ministers and the press.

I complained to the Sunday Telegraph last month when they ran a story http://bit.ly/11dMCJO  suggesting 900,000 people on Incapacity Benefit had dropped their claim rather than undergo a medical assessment for the new Employment and Support Allowance. The article was peppered with quotes from Tory Chairman Grant Shapps. The true figure was a mere 19,000. For more detail see my article for Total Politics here: http://bit.ly/11dMyd9.

I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about this and I received a response yesterday; http://bit.ly/11dMt9c.  This confirms that Grant Shapps and the newspaper deliberately misused statistics on disability benefits.

While this is welcome, it won’t stop the continual stream of stories that appear in the right wing press. Just this week we had Iain Duncan Smith in the Mail and the Express referring to one million workshy benefit claimants, when in reality, one third have been certified as medically unable to work for the time being and another third are single parents looking after children of school age.

This letter is yet more evidence that my colleagues on the Work and Pensions Select Committee and I can use when we question DWP Ministers on this issue in the coming months. Hopefully then this practice of deliberately misusing benefit statistics will stop.

That’s why I decided to call for the Work and Pensions select committee – of which I am a member – to hold an inquiry into this issue.  Persuading the Tories on my committee wasn’t easy.

For a start the Government that they support relies on this practice of misusing statistics to give it political cover.  In its attempts to reduce the deficit, cutting welfare is seen as more of a priority than taxing the richest.  That’s why at the same time that disabled people are being hit by the Bedroom Tax, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut of over £100,000.

Secondly Conservative Central Office have clearly decided that, as the Government has failed so spectacularly on the economy, welfare is now their only hope of getting the public back on side.

As my Select Committee colleagues were under pressure not to give ground, we were only able to agree to a more limited look at the issue in the context of our regular examination of the DWP’s annual report and accounts http://bit.ly/11dMnhS.  However this should allow us to speak to both the UK Statistics Authority and DWP ministers. And once an initial assessment of the problem has been made, this might prompt a broader piece of work.

Work & Pensions Select Committee

The Select Committee published three reports this month. One was the result of a short scrutiny of the draft Pensions Bill which propose to introduce flat rate pensions.  Although most of our witnesses welcomed the proposals in principle, there are concerns about whether some people will gain little or even be worse off as a result.  Women who have recently experienced acceleration of the rise in pension age are particularly concerned about the timing of the new system.  You can read the report here http://bit.ly/13ZcdHx.  The Pensions Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech.

Work and Pensions Select Committee

One of the aims of the flat rate State Pension is to encourage saving, and with the decline in ‘defined benefit’ occupational pension schemes (where a pension is linked to years of contribution and outcomes known in advance). Many people are now enrolled in ‘defined contribution’ schemes where you build up a fund which at retirement is converted into an annuity.  In recent years many people have been disappointed with the pension they receive from such schemes.  I response the Select Committee issued a Report called ‘Improving Governance and Best Practice in Workplace Pensions’ on 25th April. http://bit.ly/11aBPQB.   One recommendation to ban consultancy charges in auto-enrolled schemes has already been accepted by Government and will be included in the Pensions Bill. Ministers have also agreed to start a consultation on capping charges more generally. High charges, which are not always made clear to savers, can substantially reduce the pension eventually received.

The latest publication is ‘Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?’ to which the Committee’s unanimous answer is ‘not without many changes’. The full report is available at http://bit.ly/11aBtJD.

The Work Programme is the Government’s programme to help people find work.  It is a payment by results scheme contracted out mainly to large ‘public services’ companies such as Ingeus, G4S etc, who in turn subcontract part of the work to others. Most of the payment they receive comes only when someone is sustained in a job for at least 6 months.  Clients who are harder to place attract a higher payment, but of course only if they are found long-term employment.  The funding structure was intended to ensure that the companies did not simply concentrate on those for whom it is easier to find work. A key finding of our Report is that this system does not seem to be working. With payment only coming in to the companies with ‘success’ they were meant to front fund the help people needed from their own resources.  We found that this doesn’t seem to be happening enough so that many advisers are working with very large caseloads.  Local feedback I get from constituents reflects many of these problems.  I am still very interested to hear of local experiences, both good and bad, so please let me know if you have had a similar experience.

East Coast Campaign Update

Stop the East Coast Privatisation As I explained in the previous newsletter I’m campaigning against the Government’s plans to re-privatise services on the East Coast Main Line. Since then I’ve written for the think tank Progress on why keeping East Coast public will improve services and save taxpayers money http://bit.ly/11dN7Ub.

I’ve also been focussing on securing a debate in the House of Commons on this issue. This has involved encouraging Labour colleagues to submit applications for debates in Westminster Hall (in effect the Commons ante-chamber). Fortunately Andy McDonald from Middlesborough did so and was successful in the ballot. His 90 minute debate will take place on Wednesday 5 June at 2.30pm and I hope to speak.

After that I intend to apply for a second debate, this time through the Backbench Business Committee (http://www.parliament.uk/bbcom). Successful applications require cross party support, so I’ve spent some time speaking to Tory, Lib Dem, SNP and Green MPs. Finally I’ve met with Labour’s Shadow Transport Team, who are backing this campaign all the way.

If you want to help stop the privatisation of East Coast, sign my petition here at www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/eastcoastmainline Constituency Report

Bongo Club Lives!

‘MP goes clubbing’ may be an unusual headline for me, but I was pleased to be invited to the launch of the Bongo Club in its new Cowgate premises. But this is no ordinary nightclub. In its own words:

“Truly independent, we’re owned by local arts charity Out Of The Blue, which has an established track record as a catalyst for creativity in Edinburgh. This allows us to put the sounds of the underground and imaginative aspirations before the mighty dollar, encouraging the community to get involved and use our space to do their own thing.”

Bongo Lives

Last year it looked as if the Bongo Club was going to be homeless when they had to leave their premises at Holyrood Road.  But after inspired partnership between Out of the Blue, the University and the Council it has risen again in the Cowgate.  There is a pleasing partnership knowing the Club is ensconced at the foot of the building better known as Central Library, a real cultural miscellany.

Student Accommodation – Better than HMOs?

One of the few growth sectors in construction in the last few years is purpose built student housing.   Here in Edinburgh East we already have examples in Lauriston, at Chalmers Street, and on the site of the former Deaconness Hospital. A very large development is already planned at Holyrood Road and this month two further proposals for student accommodation have been announced, one at Abbeyhill (on the current Chatham’s garage site) and the other at Lutton Place. An exhibition of plans for Lutton Place is being held at Lutton Court on Thursday 27 June, from 3pm-7.30pm (details correct at time of writing, but may change according to developers).

For many years there have been concerns about the growth of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) in our city centre tenements.  Would be owner occupiers have been priced out due to the demand from landlords able to get rents from 3, 4 or even 5 tenants in one property.  High turnover and lack of care by tenants and landlords, noise and parties have led to long term residents moving out.  Consequently, tenement living as family living has all but disappeared in many areas.  When Community Councils campaigned for limits on the number of HMOs to restore balance to local communities, much of the opposition came from students’ organisations, and the universities, arguing that any such limits would be detrimental to students finding accommodation potentially discouraging them coming to study in Edinburgh.  One suggestion made by Community Councils was that more purpose built student accommodation should be available.  This is now happening and with 24 hour management on site these new developments appear to be less problematic for neighbours. If so (and let me know if your experience is different) perhaps the time has come to revisit the policy on limiting the number of HMOs given the expansion of purpose built accommodation?  At the very least the council should be assessing the impact of the building of so much student accommodation.

Portobello Indoor Bowling

I have been contacted by a number of constituents upset at the announcement that Portobello Indoor Bowling Centre is to close at the end of June, and that the building will in future be used as a centre for soft play and other family activities.  Many have pointed out that there is no similar facility within reasonable travelling distance, while there is a number of other nearby centres which offer facilities for families, such as soft play. Portobello Indoor Bowling is a ‘turn up and play’ facility whereas alternatives (in Gorgie and East Lothian) are not.  Regulars stress the facility is important not just for the elderly, but to encourage youngsters to learn the game, and it is used by disabled bowlers.  In response, Edinburgh Leisure point to declining numbers, and their overall reduction in funding.  Users of the centre feel that at the very least there should have been proper consultation, with an opportunity given for them to suggest ways of overcoming the problems.  Here is part of what I have said in a letter to the Chair of the Board of Edinburgh Leisure:

“I appreciate that finances are tight and that Edinburgh Leisure’s grant from the City of Edinburgh Council has been reduced. In turn doubtless they would state that their funding from the Scottish Government has been reduced and the Scottish Government would doubtless ‘blame’ Westminster. However at all levels choices are made as to where to reduce spending. This will also be true for Edinburgh Leisure and the question my constituents have is why this facility has been particularly affected. They understand that other venues also are loss making (although without publication of figures they have no means of judging if the bowling centre is loss making).”

The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/114nYHp.  At the time of writing I am still awaiting a reply.

Engine Shed

The Engine Shed

Something of an Edinburgh institution, many people have enjoyed lunch or a coffee at the Engine Shed cafe.  It is well known for providing good value and quality in addition to the invaluable training for young people with learning disabilities.  So it was not perhaps surprising that within 5 days of a newspaper report saying the Engine Shed might have to close more than 5000 people had signed a petition against closure.  Over 7000 people have now signed the petition which can be found at http://chn.ge/13ZdYEu.

It is understood that the Economy Committee of the City Council is planning to make changes in the way it helps people with illnesses and disabilities get into employment.  Recommendations from the Scottish Government state that service providers should concentrate more on getting people into mainstream employment and give them ongoing support to stay in such employment.  It would appear that a variety of organisations will be invited to tender for this work, and this would include current providers such as the Engine Shed.  With all such tendering processes a lot depends on the specification of the service being asked for, and until this is available it is difficult to know how easy it would be for the Engine Shed to bid for this work.

There is due to be a report providing the full details which should be discussed at the next Economy Committee meeting on Tuesday 25 June 2013 and the papers usually become available one week before at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/cpol.

I was worried when I saw the newspaper report and especially some of the comments attributed to the council, because it sounded very similar to the approach being taken by the Coalition Government in relation to the Remploy factories, many of which are earmarked for closure.  One of the Government’s main arguments for this was that it would be better for disabled people to be in mainstream employment rather than in ‘segregated’ or ‘sheltered’ workplaces. This has led to a considerable debate both about the principle (is segregated or sheltered employment always bad for instance?) and the practicalities especially at a time of when jobs are generally scarce.  There are concerns that many Remploy workers may end up unemployed.

The ‘model’ the Scottish Government recommends (which it appears the council is adopting) is one where organisations help disabled people search for jobs, and work with employers to encourage them to employ people they might not otherwise consider (e.g. by guiding them to funding sources for workplace adjustments).   The work done by the Engine Shed is rather different giving people longer term training opportunities in their social enterprise, and is not clear how the other model would  allow that to continue.

So the issue is a bit more complex than simply a ‘cut in grant’ and we will have to watch this space when committee meets in June.  The petition is still open for signature at http://chn.ge/13ZdYEu and I know many people have also contacted their local councillors to express their views.

Duddingston Nursery

Duddingston Nursery The campaign by the Parents’ Council for a replacement building for the nursery at Duddingston Primary School was rewarded with the decision by the City Council in May to fund a new permanent building, which also provides the opportunity to expand. Instead of taking 40 children each morning and afternoon session the nursery will be able to take 60 children each session.  This will be welcome news to many families in the area.  This year will see the initial planning work with build taking place in the 2014/15 financial year.

Private Sector Leasing Scheme – boon or trap?

One of the reasons I spend a great deal of my time knocking on doors and visiting people all over the Constituency is that there is no better way of finding out the real impact of policies of local and national government on people’s lives.  In the last few weeks I have met several constituents who have found themselves ‘stuck’ and unable to move on with their lives as a result of a policy which was well  intended but has had some perverse consequences. Talking to these constituents has reinforced my view that there need to be changes, some which can be delivered locally, while other national changes are needed.

PSL - has it worked?

Faced with mounting applications for housing roughly eight years ago, the Council started a scheme whereby it leased flats from landlords for up to 5 years to use as temporary accommodation.  This was called the Private Sector Leasing scheme (PSL).  The scheme worked financially for the council provided tenants were entitled to receive housing benefit. The council was able to fund a substantial expansion of temporary accommodation (around 1500 flats) with the costs met by national government (through housing benefit).  Now – I have to hold my hands up and say that I was Council’s executive member for housing when this scheme was introduced.  It helped resolve a crisis, for individuals and the council.  The alternative was placing families in B&B accommodation which came about due to the lack of homes available.  Like many well-intended plans it was never designed to be long term.  The scheme costs us all as taxpayers, but just as important it can trap people.

For one constituent I met, the offer of a PSL flat when she was going through a difficult separation was a relief, giving her a chance to get the life and that of her children back to stability. Now she is ready to move on and is looking for work but is worried about ‘making work pay’. If she works 35 hours at minimum wage she would have pay £487 of her £957 rent.   In contrast a council rent for this size of house would be £424.  While she can again make a homeless application she would be no better placed to get a permanent council tenancy than someone who first became homeless this week, despite having been in a form of temporary accommodation for two years.

Talking to her and others in this situation has set me thinking what practical steps can be taken to change the system. I have written more about these ideas on my website: http://bit.ly/13Zfs1K.

Anne Frank Exhibition – Leith Academy

This month second year pupils at Leith Academy presented an exhibition about Anne Frank, telling the story with extracts and illustrations, to fellow pupils, to parents and to other visitors.  They were clearly moved by the fact that this was a story of a girl who was their own age when she and her family had to go into hiding, a girl who worried about her appearance, who wasn’t always sweetly patient – and who so very nearly survived.  It’s a story which we need to remember even if it never fails to move me to tears. Well done to pupils and staff.

Pedal on Parliament

I was pleased to be part of the second Pedal on Parliament which took place on Sunday 19th May. Cyclists gathered at the Meadows, but many had ridden there from much further afield. (I confess that living a stone’s throw away from Meadows as I do my ride there was pretty short!) From there the riders made their way down to the Scottish Parliament (which meant the ride back was uphill for nearly everyone). The gathering was bigger than last year, and as several speakers pointed out there was a great diversity of riders, from the lycra clad sporty types to those of us who just like to go about our daily business by bike. Lots of families were there too.

Pedal on Parliament

The main message remains that so much can be done to make cycling easier and safer for at are relatively small cost compared with the overall transport budget.  Three Edinburgh MPs were cycling (Ian Murray, Mark Lazarowicz and myself),  three MSPs came along with their bikes (Sarah Boyack, Kez Dugdale & Alison Johnstone) and so did at least one of Edinburgh’s regular councillor-cyclists (Cameron Rose) so it was a full cross party event.  The afternoon was very well attended.

Castlebrae Update

At a meeting of the Council’s Education, Children & Families Committee on 21st May the Council reaffirmed its commitment to keeping Castlebrae Community  High School open until a new school is built.  A Working Group of councillors, council officers and community representatives (3 from the Parents Council, 2 from the wider community) has been set up and will also work with a panel of external experts to come up with proposals for improving the school.  There will be a Report to the Council in December but in the meantime steps will be taken to boost the school’s intake and to encourage other activities in and around the school.

In support of this the school is holding a Vocational Extravaganza on Wednesday 12th June from 6.00pm till 7.30pm – make sure you head along!

Castlebrae Extravaganza

Newcraighall

The developers seem to be circling again at Newcraighall.  Many village residents were very disappointed when consents were given last year for housing on both the Newcraighall North and East sites.  Nothing has happened on the ground yet but it seems that the would-be developers are again trying to increase the numbers of houses which can be built.  A specific application is about to come forward to increase numbers on the Newcraighall North site from 160 to 200 and the developer interested is now Barretts.  There is to be a consultation event 19th June at Newcraighall Primary School between 4.30pm and 8.30pm.

LDP plans

This is all taking place against a background where the Council is under pressure to make more land available for housing.  I’ve written in more detail about this on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/too-many-houses-newcraighall-again/.  One early result of this pressure is that the latest version of the draft Local Plan (LDP) has now upped the number of houses which are thought to be viable on these two sites. This would create a presumption in favour of more units if finalised in this form.  You can comment on the LDP by 5pm on Friday 14 June 2013. They can be submitted electronically to: localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk or by post to Local Development Plan Team, City of Edinburgh Council, Business Centre G.3, Waverley Court, 4 East Market Street, Edinburgh EH8 8BG.  The Newcraighall Residents Association is helping people to submit comments. They are planning to go round doors but if you miss them, and would like to get help with commenting email me and I’ll pass your details to David Hewitt, Newcraighall Heritage and Residents Association.

Thistle Foundation

The Thistle Foundation is planning a series of events for Older Adults this summer, and all local residents are welcome.

Thistle Foundation

Starting in July staff will be running a Lifestyle Management and an Exercise Based Lifestyle Management course specifically for adults over 60 years of age; this is in addition to classes in T’ai Chi at the Thistle dependent on demand.   The current classes are led by trained volunteers who are proving to be popular.

If you’re interested and would like to learn more the Foundation is holding an informal coffee and chat session at Wighton House on 27th June from 10am to 12 noon to introduce you to the classes. If you have any further queries please give Emma a call on 0131 656 7343.

Do You Have A Southside Story?

The Causey Development Trust and local professional photographer Peter Dibdin are looking for people who live, work, or have a specific connection to the Southside to participate in an exciting photography project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘All our Stories’ programme, and Foundation Scotland.

‘Southsiders: Portrait of a Community’ aims to use photography to help celebrate and discuss perceptions of the Southsider identity through portraits, and by gathering stories and memories about the area and community.   More info – edinburghsouthsiders@gmail.com.

Caltongate update

Residents are still concerned that planning permissions were extended on all the sites. This was agreed by a majority of the planning committee. While Artisan has committed to submit new applications for the southern sites, residents point out that if Artisan back out before the Caltongate is redeveloped then the sites they hold – and the options – could be sold on with planning permission.  While these concerns are very much hypothetical, and Artisan have said they are very much committed to the site, any new owner is at liberty not to pursue the Artisan line.

We must now wait for the next set of applications from Artisan, which will cover the redevelopment of these southern sites.  I still feel it is important to clarify the legal position in respect of the ownership of the Market Street arches and the Canongate Venture.  I wrote to Sue Bruce, City of Edinburgh Council Chief Executive about this and I have now received the following response confirming the Council currently retains ownership: http://bit.ly/11CrIpy.

Community cleanup

Community Cleanup

Last month the renovated and resurfaced Restalrig bike path was reopened.  To ensure that the path was looking tip-top for users heading back to the path, I was pleased to take part in the a community cleanup along with Cllr Joan Griffiths, and Cllrs McVey and Tymkewycz, along with many local residents pleased to see the improvement works complete.  The path links Seafield with Easter Road.

Dates for your Diary

Saturday & Sunday 1st & 2nd June – Meadows Festival – Music, stalls, children’s entertainment, football and Taylor’s funfair – all the details can be found at http://www.meadowsfestival.org/

Wednesday 12th June – Castlebrae Vocational Extravaganza – Castlebrae Community High School, Greendykes Road – 6.00pm-7.30pm

Friday 14th June – 5pm deadline for all comments on the Local Development Plan – full details at  http://bit.ly/ZgA4Rc comments via localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk

Wednesday 19th June – Newcraighall North PAN exhibition – Newcraighall Primary – 4.30pm-8.30pm – use reference 13/00562/PAN at https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk

Thursday 27th June – Thistle Foundation informal coffee morning on activities and classes – Wighton House – 10.00am-12.00pm

Thursday 27th June – Lutton Place Student Accommodation PAN – Lutton Court – from 3.00pm-7.30pm – use reference 13/01513/PAN at https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk

Event details

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Too Many Houses? – Newcraighall Again!

Over the last few years there have been a number of planning applications for new housing around the village of Newcraighall.  After a long battle against proposals by residents consent was granted by the Council’s Planning committee for 176 new homes on the site known as ‘Newcraighall East’ and 160 on ‘Newcraighall North’. These numbers were slightly less than the developers had been looking for, but still  a large number threatening to destroy the village atmosphere and create traffic problems.

No building has yet happened and in fact although consent was given in principle the consents have not been finalised , as  developer contributions (s75  contributions)  for the Primary School extension and transport improvement are still to be agreed with the Council. This means that technically planning permission has not yet been completed.

However   the developers are circling again!  This is true more widely in the city as well as in Newcraighall. What follows is my best understanding of what is going on.

There are population forecasts of growth in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and household formation is predicted to grow even faster.  Previously for this area there was a document called the  Structure Plan which set overall targets for land to be allocated to meet housing needs.  This  is in the process of being replaced by the Strategic Development Planning Authority for Edinburgh and South East Scotland (SESPLAN). Their Plan was submitted to the Scottish Government in August 2012. The Scottish Government’s Planning officials have looked at this and have made recommendations to Ministers. Crucial for our purposes is that the Planning Reporters have criticised SESPLAN for not identifying enough sites for housing, saying that the Plan has not taken on board the outcome of the most recent housing needs and demands assessment.    The recommendations of the Reporters to Ministers have yet to get a response from Ministers but it is possible that Ministers will accept them and ask that SESPLAN ups the number of housing sites needed.

The approach taken by the Scottish Government Planners is that local authorities should identify enough land for the growth forecast over the next 20 years, even although it is acknowledged that it will not all be needed at the beginning.  The problem with this approach is that it may make it difficult to prioritise the brownfield sites in the city which are still awaiting development eg  at Granton and in Craigmillar.  Developers tend to favour the ‘easier to develop’ Greenfield sites , and if all are available at the same time, we are likely to see applications coming in for these rather than the ‘brownfield ‘ sites.  There is a danger of offering up the whole ‘sweetie shop’ at once, and the developers choosing the ‘softest centres’ leaving the ‘hard’ ones behind.
Newcraighall

Individual authorities will be expected to bring their local plans into line with this higher requirement and certainly developers may try to use these recommendations to bolster their individual applications.  Most of the draft local plan was written before the recent comments by the Planning Reporters on SESPLAN .  When the first draft was being consulted on last year Edinburgh Council was recommending that various controversial sites around the edge of the city NOT be earmarked for housing.  Many community councils and residents groups were reassured by this and as a result many did not feel they needn’t to comment on the draft Plan.  However the new Draft is very different and is suggesting that a number of sites around the city be named as suitable for housing. This includes Newcraighall.   The two sites (East & North) have been put back into the plan as they had previously been removed at the order of the Court of Session.  T he Court quashed the previous local plan’s allocation of the Newcraighall sites for housing but also quashed their designation as greenbelt. This left the two sites as greenfield sites but not identified as preferred housing sites.   However this did not prevent developers applying for planning permission for housing, and it being granted for the numbers of 176 and 160.   If sites are in the Local Plan as being ‘housing sites’ it makes it easier for developers to, get planning permission, but  even if there is no such designation that does not stop an application being made.    The fact that detailed consents have been granted on the two Newcraighall sites does not mean that the new Local Plan cannot deal with their designation for the future. It is possible for planning consents to lapse so the Planning Department here is trying to get the sites designated for housing again presumably partly in case that happens.   However – the boundary of HSG 27 (the east site) has been extended, and the number of potential homes to be built at this site has increased in comparison to the previous City plan.  Page 26 of the Local Development Plan  states that HSG (Newcraighall North) should have 150-210 dwellings over 9 acres, and HSG 27 should have 275-385 over 17 hectares.

Planning officials state that as the Newcraighall sites were removed from the previous plan, they have assessed the sites in full, as the previous findings cannot be relied upon.  As part of this process officers have conducted new assessments for capacity.  Due to the complications the Council experienced when prescribing densities under the previous plan (i.e. challenges in court), the environmental report (already released) now sets out defined density assumptions for housing sites across the city.  These sites have a suggested density of 25-35 dwellings per hectare (at the top end of the scale the Waterfront is due to have 100 dwellings per hectare).

The reason that the area of HSG 27 (North site) has been extended is because the context of the site has changed.  When the previous plan was being drafted in 2006, the land adjacent in the East Lothian area was part of the East Lothian greenbelt. But this greenbelt was under contention and by the time the Edinburgh plan was adopted in 2010, East Lothian council had removed it from their greenbelt.  Previous proposals included plans for converting the old rail line nearest the East Coast main line to a public foot/cycle path.  However, this line was made out of coal spoil. This combustible material has caught fire on at least one occasion and planning officials state that it would require considerable additional resource to make it safe.  Given there is no continuous greenbelt in this area, and the issues with the rail line, the proposals for the North site extend over a larger area than before so that the area including  the rail line and around the high voltage electricity line can be fully redeveloped.

According to planning officers, the developers who secured the previous permissions can apply to have the agreed permissions revised.

The current version of the Local Development Plan is again being circulated for comments and local residents and groups can make representations. The deadline is 5pm on 14th June.

The other development is that – even before the current consents have been finalised – the developers are trying to get new consents to allow for more houses on the North Site. It appears that EDI’s new partner on this site is Barratt and they are doing some pre-application consultation with a view to reapplying for 200 houses (decision under current ‘minded to consent’ was for 160 homes) There is going to be a further consultation event on this on 19th June at Newcraighall Primary School between 4.30pm and 8.30pm.  

 

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