August 2014 Newsletter

portcullisbanner_Copy.2.1.1Westminster Report

Bad IschlDomestic UK politics may have been winding down in July (except here in Scotland, of course) but internationally there has been an alarming spiral of violence. During July I was listening to Radio 4’s five minute daily slot ‘counting down’ from the Sarajevo assassination to the outbreak of World War 1. With our historical knowledge, the counterpoint of the events following the assassination at Sarajevo with ordinary news items such as suffragette demonstrations, concerts and sporting events, and Irish problems bubbling up, is poignant. But there are also frightening parallels 100 years on when so many people are facing the horrors of conflict. Many constituents have been in contact with me appalled by the grossly disproportionate response of the Israel incursion into Gaza. The killing continues in Syria and Iraq, while Ukraine remains fragile.

I recently visited the summer villa of Emperor Franz Joseph in Bad Ischl, where he signed the declaration of war on Serbia. If he, or indeed other world leaders, had known what would follow would they have made different decisions? Part of my holiday reading has been a new book on the run up to WWI by Margaret McMillan. ‘The War that Ended Peace’ and what struck me was the confidence of many political leaders that they would be able to resolve matters diplomatically as they had in previous crises. But instead they fell off a cliff. (To avoid sounding like the class swot, I had lots of lighter holiday reading also!)

‘Office time’ on Employment and Support Allowance
As I mentioned last month, people often ask why the MPs aren’t in the Commons chamber all the time to listen to and speak in debates. Although I’m one of the most active MPs in this regard – I spoke in three separate debates on social security and welfare reform over the last month (see here, here and here) – I still think it’s important that we have ‘office time’ to do research on policies that we want to see changed. One of my main focuses is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the main benefit for those who can’t work as a result of ill health or a disability – and the results of my office time were highlighted on three separate occasions last month.

My main concern with ESA is that too many claimants are being incorrectly assessed as ‘Fit for Work’ and refused benefit. Last month the Minister who was then responsible for this policy, Mike Penning (who has since been reshuffled to the Home Office), admitted that over 700,000 applicants were waiting for an assessment. At the time he tried to suggest this had been an issue under the last Labour Government, but when I looked into this, I discovered that the backlog was a mere 28,300 when the current Coalition Government took over in May 2010! I highlighted this in a letter to him on 3 July, and when I receive a response from his successor Mark Harper I’ll post it on my website.

I’ve also used my office time to write to the UK Statistics Authority over the figures the Department for Work and Pensions publish on ESA. I believe the number of incorrect decisions is being artificially supressed as only statistics on the number of successful appeals to judges are published – overturn figures for informal appeals (officially referred to as ‘reconsiderations’) to civil servants are not. Last month I secured a commitment from the Department that they will start to publish this information by the end of this year, and I issued a press release on 9 July, which was picked up by Third Force News.

Finally I followed up a debate I led on the support given to ESA applicants during the reconsideration process last month with a further letter to Mike Penning on 7 July. While people are entitled to claim ESA at a reduced ‘assessment rate’ when they initially apply, their only option during the reconsideration period – which claimants have to go through if they want to appeal – is to claim Jobseekers Allowance. In the debate the Minister claimed that Jobcentre Staff should relax requirements placed on those challenging ESA refusals so that sick and disabled people aren’t sanctioned for not looking for work. However I’ve had a lot of evidence that this isn’t happening on the ground, leaving vulnerable people without any income for periods between seven and ten weeks. I’ll post any reply I receive on my website.

News in Brief
Guide Dogs receptionOn 2 July I lent my support for a campaign by the charity Guide Dogs to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

Later that day I met up with my constituent Julie Rattray, who is a Cancer Research UK ambassador. CRUK are campaigning to beat cancer sooner, so that in 20 years’ time three quarters of people who are diagnosed survive.

Gordon AikmanAnd on 9 July I met up with another campaigning constituent – Gordon Aikman. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Gordon has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. He’s already raised more than £40,000 for MND Scotland – a charity that funds and promotes research into the disease and provides support to people affected (you can donate here). He’s now campaigning for more Government money for research and support, and you can back his campaign at

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill
DRIP BillOn 10 July the Government announced that it was bringing forward a new law to require companies like mobile phone and internet firms to retain data on when, where and with whom people communicate for between six months and two years. This sort of data is used by the police and intelligence agencies to investigate organised crime, terrorism and online child abuse.

In April the European Court of Justice declared that the EU Data Retention Directive was too widely drawn. As a result the UK regulations that permitted data retention in the UK were also struck down, despite the fact that they were much narrower and more proportionate than the Directive itself. The so-called DRIP Bill will reintroduce these requirements.

The Government announcement came such a short time before the summer recess that the bill was rushed through over just three days. This did however allow my party to secure a series of concessions, including an independent review of the legal framework governing data access and interception, extra checks and balances, and a ‘sunset clause’ that means this new law will expire in 2016.

Over 130 constituents asked me to oppose this new law, but I concluded that it is appropriate to take steps to reinstate the limited powers which were being already being exercised. This wasn’t a decision I reached lightly, and I am more than happy to discuss this in writing or in person with any constituents who remain concerned.

Sanctions Report Finally Published
Last year the DWP commissioned a report into the operation of sanctions on people receiving Job Seekers Allowance and taking part in the Work Programme. This has been long awaited but was only published on the very last day of the parliamentary ‘term’. The remit was restricted and it was not a thorough review of the sanctioning process, as called for by many including the Work & Pensions Select Committee. One of its conclusions was that some claimants lacked understanding of the process and reasons for sanctioning. This was particularly true for more vulnerable groups and those with ‘specific barriers to work.’ The DWP has accepted the recommendation for improving communications, rewriting letters etc., so hopefully they will get on with this. Some of the recommendations are only accepted ‘in principle’ which is worrying.

While better communications will help, there remains a serious concern about the circumstances in which some people are receiving sanctions, the increasing numbers being sanctioned and the financial and health impact on those affected.

Personal Independence Payment assessment review
Personal Independence Payment is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance as the main benefit to help people with the additional costs of living with a disability. PIP was introduced for new claimants in April 2013 and existing DLA claimants will begin to be reassessed in October 2015. Eventually the Government expect 170,000 people to lose all support and 160,000 to be awarded PIP at a lower level to DLA. My party and I voted against these plans when they were proposed by the current Government, but unfortunately they were pushed through.

Ministers have now launched an independent review of the PIP assessment process and anyone can submit evidence up to 5 September. I will focus on the delays people are facing before they are given a decision on whether they qualify for support, which is driving vulnerable people to real hardship. However I’d be keen to hear from constituents about their experience of the assessment process – please email me at

Constituency Report

Baileyfield: Modern ‘colonies’ for Portobello?
I had the opportunity to see the proposals coming forward from Aldi and Crudens for the former Scottish Power site at Baileyfield. As many people will know, there have been a number of planning applications for this site. Initially there was a proposal for a very large supermarket against which there was a vigorous community campaign , which was successful not just at the Council’s Planning Committee but also at appeal (given that apparently most of the big supermarket chains are moving away from very large stores, Portobello was clearly ahead of the curve here). Next came an application for over 700 flats which was also refused. A third iteration with slightly fewer flats and slightly reduced height, got to the stage of a public exhibition but went no further. It featured a now fairly standard layout of large flatted blocks set amidst car parking and sterile landscaping. I remember saying at the exhibition how good it would be if the developers would look around at some examples of Edinburgh style building, like the traditional ‘colonies’ which combine density with individuality. I’ve written about colonies before, so I was pleased to see that the latest proposals are for only around 250 housing units, of which half would be flats and half ‘modern colonies’. There is of also a plan for an ALDI store fronting on the High Street (beside the Kwikfit). On the whole I think this is a lot more promising than what went before, but I realise that as with all planning issues there will be different views. The formal application has not yet been submitted.

Lochend Secret Garden
Lochend GardenThis month I had the delight of attending the AGM and Open Day of the Lochend Secret Garden, now in its third season. The range of flowers and produce was impressive. This success is all down to the hard work of the Steering committee and all the people who are gardening here. Not content with the original garden the group is extending its activities into new challenges. A strip of grass in Lochend Quadrant is being turned into ‘The Orchard’ – from plain grass (picture) to this (second picture). If you are inspired by this example, why not contact the Council to ask about doing something similar, or contact one of your local councillors?

Save our Southside meeting report
On Sunday 20th July, over 70 Southsiders attended a meeting organised by myself, the Southside Association and Sarah Boyack MSP to discuss a community response to the flurry of applications for student accommodation in the area. The purpose of the meeting was not to discuss each application but to get residents thinking about the Southside they would like to see developed. Residents overwhelmingly said they want to live side by side students, but numbers need to be rebalanced with more affordable family housing being developed. Notes from the meeting have been circulated to those in attendance, and are available on my website.

After the initial meeting many residents said they are keen to form a working group to further discuss their response, and think about how they communicate it to planners, the University and developers. Residents are due to meet again on Wednesday 20th August from 7.00pm in the Grey Room, Nelson Hall.

Lutton Court Appeal Allowed
On Wednesday morning the Scottish Government Reporter with responsibility for determining the Lutton Court appeal published his report and decision, allowing the appeal developers submitted after the Council refused the application. Residents in the area are devastated and I am hugely disappointed. This was a key test of the Council’s policy which has failed, having massive consequences for the Southside. The appeal process was conducted on paper which gives the developer much greater opportunity to make its case, while residents are unable to ensure their concerns are truly heard by the Scottish Government reporter. More could have been done to involve them, starting with having an accompanied site visit. I would like to see Planning Officials urgently review its policy and guidance on student accommodation so it can better manage the flurry of applications recently submitted.

Dumbiedykes Bus: “Use it or lose it”
Bus service 60I am delighted to announce that a new bus service, 60, serving the Dumbiedykes and Southside, will start on Monday 25th August. The service will run throughout the day Monday to Friday on a half hourly basis. After years of campaigning, residents will finally see the return of a service, which will be a real boon for the elderly and those who struggle to get up the Pleasance. The service was cut several years ago because there was insufficient usage, however community leaders are spreading the “use it or lose it” message to make sure that the service cannot be cut in the future. Those over 60 can use their concessionary card but must make sure they are ‘beeped’ onto the bus so that numbers are recorded.

Events in Parks Decision Due Soon
On 26 August the Council’s Transport and Environment Committee, will make a decision whether or not to charge market rents to commercial enterprises who use public parks, and seek to limit the length of time events can be held in a park, including the Meadows. Friends of the Meadows & Bruntsfield Links has been running a petition for much of the summer which will be submitted in advance of the meeting. As I reported last month, I share residents concern the intensive use of the park is damaging the Meadows which struggles to recover every year. FOMBL are calling for events to be limited to a maximum 15 days so that they can continue to go ahead but the park has time to regenerate. To sign the petition, head to

Post Referendum BBC Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ Invitations
I’ve received a bundle of invitations from Greyfriars Kirk to hand to constituents who are keen to attend the recording of Any Questions on Friday, 19th September, the day after the referendum. Doors open from 6.30pm and you can turn up on the day to see if you can get a seat at the recording, however if you would like an invitation, please email me your details.

Local Development Plan consultation begins
As I mentioned in my previous newsletter the City of Edinburgh Council recently approved the Second Development Plan. The new Development Plan Scheme is available to view online or in Council libraries. You can make written representations on the Second Proposed Plan from 22 August to 3 October 2014. For more information head to

Edmonstone Development
Several applications to develop the Edmonstone estate have now been to committee to be determined. Developers propose building on this land which is in the ‘greenbelt’ and is currently dangerously unstable due to the underground mine workings. One application, for residential dwellings, was refused at committee on 30 July, while proposals for a cemetery and crematorium were granted on Wednesday. I fear that the application may have been a Trojan horse to allow further development on this part of the Greenbelt.

Revised Waste and Recycling
I have received a number of enquiries about how the revisions to waste recycling service will affect them. To encourage more recycling and to make the chore simpler, most recyclables will soon go straight into your green wheelie, with a new grey wheelie being provided for domestic waste. Full details of the rollout, and the streets affected are on the Council’s website.

Awards for All Scotland Reopens for Applications
Awards for All Scotland reopened to applications on 4th August 2014. The BIG Lottery Fund in Scotland took the decision to pause Awards for All Scotland to new applications from 9th May until 4th August to focus on assessing and administering grants related to building a legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

Awards will be prioritised for projects where beneficiaries are mainly BME, disabled, LGBT, older or carers. For details on the scheme, head to

Dates for Your Diary

Be Arty Be HealthyWednesday, 20th August – St Margarets House (151 London Road) Redevelopment Pre-application Exhibition – from 4-8 pm – Piershill Library – for more information enter 14/02137/PAN at

Wednesday 20th August – Save Our Southside: working group meeting – from 7.00pm – Grey Room, Nelson Hall

Tuesday, 2nd September – deadline to register to vote in the referendum – details and forms available at

Wednesday, 3rd September – deadline to register to vote by post in the referendum – details and forms available at


Save our Stations

Kezia Dugdale MSP and I are backing the Edinburgh Evening News Save our Stations campaign in response to the news that Police Scotland intends to close eight police station front desks across Edinburgh, after Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill MSP ordered a review of public counter provision.  To sign the Evening News petition against the plance, follow the instructions at or print and complete this petition form:

In Edinburgh East operations at Craigmillar are due to be transferred to the new East Neighbourhood Centre and there are proposals to cut the opening hours at Portobello. Kezia is formulating a response to the review and she is seeking your comments on the plans via a survey which you can complete here:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

For further information, head to



July 2013 update: audio recording for ESA WCA, East Coast debates, Royalty in Restalrig, Porty Bowls + Totally Sound

Westminster Report

Has the House of Commons gone soft these days?

With most of our days timetabled to finish at a fixed time (10pm on Mondays, 7pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 5pm on Thursday) there is a degree of certainty about when votes take place.  I was fascinated to read of the debate 100 years ago where Liberal MP Josiah Wedgwood (later a Labour MP) tried to defeat the then Liberal government’s Mental Deficiency Bill, over two late night sittings in July 1913 by tabling 120 amendments and making 150 interventions. Apparently he sustained himself on sticks of chocolate brought by a fellow MP from the commons tearoom and swigs of barley water, despite eating in the chamber being frowned upon.   Josiah was defeated in the final Commons vote by 180 to 3, but like many who are of their own time are seen as ‘mavericks’, we would today applaud his efforts.  The Bill was one which sought to identify the ‘feeble minded’ and segregate them in separate male and female institutions. This was the heyday of eugenics (Churchill then a Liberal favoured sterilisation rather than segregation, and the small number of Labour MPs then in the House supported the Bill),  It remained on the statute book until 1959, and, although never enforced  to the full extent its proponents envisaged, it was the reason why many people spent years in institutions.

Colonel Josiah Wedgwood

In defence of our ‘easier’ Chambers hours, those of course were the days when many MPs made occasional visits to their constituency, and didn’t have the bulging post bags and emails inboxes seen today.  Ironically it is the House of Lords which is now more likely to have late hours, and I am writing this the day after their Lordships clocked another half past midnight finish.

Emily Wilding Davison memorial meeting – 5th June

Emily Wilding DavisonAnother 100 year anniversary was celebrated to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison at the Derby in 1913.  Another Emily, Emily Thornberry MP, pulled together at short notice a memorial meeting in Westminster Hall, attended by many people from in and outside Parliament.  Just off Westminster Hall is the cupboard where Emily Davison hid on census night 1911 so that she could argue that her place of residence was the Houses of Parliament. Today’s Speaker read from a letter written by the then Speaker describing Emily as an undesirable person who was not to be allowed into the building!  It wasn’t all history, however, with many of the speakers reflecting on how far we have come, and what still needs to be done.

Adjournment Debate on Audio Recording

Adjournment Debate Back to 2013 I had an Adjournment Debate on 12th June.  Adjournment Debates come after a government whip ‘begs leave that this house be now adjourned’.  Another of Parliament’s peculiar traditions.  In the bad old days of late night sittings you could find yourself starting your speech in the middle of the night.  While there is still a slight risk of this  happening, I was lucky enough to have my recent such debate at the relatively civilised time of 7pm. I had 15 minutes to make a case and then 15 minutes of a Minister’s time where a response is issued.  Generally it is best for a narrow subject when you want to go into something in depth, or something of local significance.  This is serious exploration of an issue, not knockabout politics.  As such topics discussed rarely hit the headlines, although in these days of BBC Parliament, live streaming and twitter, there is an audience for such debates – not just from insomniacs.

My subject was audio recording of work capability assessments. The WCA is the assessment process for people claiming Employment & Support Allowance. It has attracted a lot of criticism, and a lot of appeals.  Disability groups have called for audio recording to be available for all who want it, but the Government has been very sceptical of it. On the one hand Minsters say they would do it while making it difficult in practice.  My ‘debate’ was primarily to ask a series of detailed questions.  What was achieved?  There wasn’t any promise of audio recording for all, but greater clarity from the Minister as to what he is doing on the subject. Only titbits had previously been dragged out of the Minister through FOIs and Parliamentary questions.  We learned that a countrywide pilot of audio recording had been ongoing since September 2011 and that it was going to be evaluated at the end of summer, but we also learned that claimants were only going to be told in letters about their ability to ask for audio recording from July this year.  I pointed out that this was hardly going to give much time for proper evaluation. Nor was it at all clear what the DWP thought it was going to evaluate – take up, effectiveness, impact on appeals?  I obtained some answers and now have many more questions!  The full text of the debate can be found from p70 at

Carers Week

Sheila Gilmore MP

Week beginning 10th June was National Carers’ Week.  I attended the ‘speed networking’ session arranged by a number of organisations representing carers.  This is an opportunity for MPs to meet carers from various parts of the country and hear about the realities of their lives.  As ever everyone across all parties say they are very supportive of carers, but that still isn’t always translated into action.

Successive Governments have said that they will do more for carers, but the warm words rarely produce action.  I agree that more needs to be done.  Carers allowance has always been an arbitrary amount and while this allowance has never been cut, it has not increased to recognise the work carers do. The efforts of all carers save the taxpayer a lot of money and this should be recognised more fully.

East Coast Campaign

East Coast Main Line backbench debate I have been continuing to work on the campaign against the Government’s decision to re-privatise the East Coast mainline, together with many of my Labour colleagues especially those from the North East, Yorkshire, and fellow Scots.  One way of doing this is to get debates in the House of Commons.  Several of us tried for a 90 minute debate in Westminster Hall, and Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough was the one to be ‘drawn’. See p91 at for the full details.   Several others of us also spoke but time was very limited, so I applied for a longer ‘back bench’ debate.  We were lucky enough to be granted three hours in the main chamber on Thursday 20th June.  Decisions are not made in these debates but help to raise the profile of an issue.  We will be continuing with the campaign over the summer.  The full text of this debate can be found at, and there is footage of the debate at

Along with my colleagues Ian Murray MP and Mark Lazarowicz MP, I will be meeting rail users and employees to talk about my opposition to the privatisation on Friday 19th July.  We will also be passing leaflets to rail users and members of the public on Princes Street from 10.30am.  If you are free to attend, or you are able to assist in handing out leaflets, please contact me and I will provide further details at a later date.

‘Bobbing’ finally pays off

Several constituents have said that they have seen me jumping up and down at Prime Minister’s Questions and not being called.  If your name is on the list you don’t have to stand up, but there is always a prospect of getting called so long as you are ‘bobbing’ up and down.  I haven’t been drawn for the list for a few months, but often ‘have a go’.  On Wednesday 26th June I nearly didn’t try because our side had the majority of back bench questions, and the Speaker tries to balance up the two sides.  However I had an idea in my head so thought I’d give it a go.  The previous week the Prime Minister alleged that Labour had stopped talking about the Bedroom Tax, trying to imply that it hadn’t been as bad as we had claimed. So I told him about the acute shortage of one bedroomed homes in Edinburgh, where last week there were only 23 available for let, and four had over 200 applicants. The lowest level of bids was 54. When the Speaker called me right at the end I was so surprised (after all the weeks of trying) that I nearly ‘missed the call’. My question, and the PM’s response is at p12 Constituency Report

Sunshine on Leith – and on the Meadows

For the most part the sun shone on both of these events held on 1-2 June and 8 June respectively. Indeed the Saturday of the Leith Gala was positively hot. Sunshine brought out the crowds which is great for the many organisations for whom these events are a major fundraiser as well as an opportunity to tell people about their work.

Dumbiedykes Big Lunch

On 2 June the Braidwood Neighbourhood Association in the Dumbiedykes held a ‘Big Lunch’ in the street outside the centre. It was another lovely day and was rated a great success by all who came.  Entertainment was provided by a team of line dancers visiting from Northfield Community Centre.

A good time was had by all who came but special thanks must go to the organisers who clearly put a lot of time and effort into the occasion.  I was very pleased to have the opportunity to make a presentation to two ladies who have each lived in the high flats for fifty years.

Holyrood and Lochview Courts, with their central heating and spanking new bathrooms and kitchens, were an exciting place to move into and still attract many new families. At the Big Lunch I met the family members of the ladies who remembered the fun of having Holyrood Park as their playground.  For some, multi-storey life hasn’t always lived up to its initial promise, but this 50 year anniversary sees the blocks still looking much better for their relatively recent refurbishment.

The Big Lunch

And briefly… Residents have asked me why the Transport and Environment Committee did not hear a report on a bus service being introduced in the Dumbiedykes.  I understand the full report will come to the August meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee. The final report has been delayed to ensure that it sets out a positive way forward for Dumbiedykes residents. With the council recess about to start the date for the August meeting has not been announced yet.

Royalty at Restalrig

Princess Royal in Restalrig

Restalrig Community Hub hosted the launch of the new L’Arche supported community residence which is being built just off Restalrig Crescent. L’Arche is an organisation which provides residential care and support for people with learning disabilities.  Their ethos is to provide a home setting where volunteers make their home with those they support.  The house in Restalrig will be providing homes for older people with learning disabilities.  L’Arche had their partion, the Princess Royal attend, visit the site and then meet many local people as well as those involved with L’Arche.  It is a fantastic facility, and makes good use of a site which had become a bit of an eyesore.

Totally Sound

I was delighted to be invited to the 10th Anniversary of the Totally Sound project at the South Bridge Resource Centre on Friday 21st June.  Young people from all over Edinburgh have been able to develop their interest and skills in making and composing music through this project. It was a spin off from a summer scheme called Go for It which organised a variety of interesting activities for teenagers, including music making and this project was a way of continuing this interest on a Saturday.  I remember Go for It particularly because it was originally an initiative in South Edinburgh where I was a Councillor and we piloted this as a new approach to get this age group involved, because they are often less keen on traditional ‘youth club’ type activities. So it was good to see that some of the ideas were still going strong, although Go for It isn’t (memo to Council – worth reviving?).

Engine Shed Update

Engine Shed The future of the Engine Shed and other services providing help to disabled people to find employment (e.g. Forth Sector based in Craigmillar which runs social businesses like St Jude’s Laundry in Loaning Road) was scheduled to be decided at the City Council’s Economy Committee in June, but the issue has been continued to September and hopefully during the intervening period there will be some real dialogue about the best way forward.

Campaigning is continuing throughout the summer, with the following activities: ·        Online petition ·        Paper petition ·        Request for all those with an interest to lobby local politicians, MSPs and Councillors ·        A publicity- seeking event is to be held around the young trainees’ annual awards ceremony ·        A profile-raising ‘Walk’ ·        A music event to raise money for an outside good cause. To receive direct news of events, etc, members should request to be placed on the Engine Shed’s mailing list –

Portobello bowling centre – could soft play be the new flumes?

I was approached by a number of constituents very upset when they heard that the Portobello Indoor Bowling Centre was to close this summer.  Neither regular club players nor customers who turn up and play are convinced that the alternative facilities (in East Lothian and Gorgie) will offer a comparable service.  Users themselves have contacted the Board of Edinburgh Leisure and Councillor Richard Lewis who is Chair of the responsible council committee.  Like me, they have received a negative response and Edinburgh Leisure states that for financial reasons it has to go ahead with its plans to turn the facility primarily into a soft play centre.  User groups had asked that Edinburgh Leisure consider solutions used elsewhere e.g. covering the mats in summer (when many bowlers use the outdoor greens) for alternative uses.  However the Board of Edinburgh Leisure did not feel that would be financially viable and enable them to deal with the reduction in funding they had this year from the council.

I still think that there could have been earlier and more widespread consultation so that alternatives could have been properly evaluated.  At least if there is a proper process and full information about the financial options, it is easier to accept a decision rather than simply being told ‘that’s it’.

I also hope that the suggested option proves as successful as hoped. Soft Play is certainly popular but there are a number of other such facilities nearby and we now know that a private company intends opening a large such facility in the former Leith Waterworld building.  I wish Edinburgh Leisure well and genuinely hope their plans work out (they provide many excellent facilities across the city) but I hope we do not end up with too much soft play on offer. I can’t help remembering the days when councils up and down the country were told that ‘flumes’ were the way forward for swimming pools. These were very popular at first but once the novelty had worn off they certainly haven’t proved to have the lasting qualities of more traditional swimming facilities.

Prestonfield Neighbourhood Centre and Tenants and Residents take showers to the Council

Prestonfield Neighbourhood Centre The  Prestonfield area has a fairly high proportion of elderly tenants in the remaining council owned homes, partly those who have lived in the area a long time, and partly because  it has been popular for people seeking a move to a more accessible home.  The Neighbourhood Centre provides day services and advice for many, and together with the Tenants’ and Residents’ Association has been arguing for some time for elderly and disabled tenants to get the choice of wet floor showers in ground floor properties when the council is modernising kitchens and bathrooms.

As I have pointed out previously ( the eligibility threshold for installation of showers as an adaptation has risen a lot, and people have to be in ‘critical need’. I have had constituents in their 90s who have not been deemed to be in needy enough. The argument the Prestonfield groups have put forward (not just for their own area) is that if a major refitting of a bathroom is going on it will be much less expensive than carrying out an adaptation later, and would give many elderly tenants greater independence and a better quality of life.  In June the groups took a deputation up to the Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee to argue their case in support of a motion put up by one of their local councillors.   The Committee agreed to the deputations’ arguments, and this will happen when the modernisation gets going in the area later this year.  Once more it shows that perseverance by community groups with a well argued case can win through, even if it takes time.

Southside Community Council – a new start?

A written ‘petition’, completed by Southside residents, has been submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council, calling for a new Southside Community Council to be formed.  Elections to all Community Councils are due to be held in October, with nominations for councillors being taken in September.  The City Council must approve any request before the first elections can be held, however I am aware that officers are keen to see the Community Council reformed and speaking up for local residents.  The previous Community Council had some very big successes such as fighting off plans to demolish the old Odeon.  Like others I would be keen to see a new group of local representatives dealing with local matters that come up in the future.  The Council must now approve the proposal; however all being well we should hear more news on this matter over coming months. If you are keen to become a local Community Councillor, please contact me and I’ll ensure you receive further details as they come in.

Craigmillar Festival

Preparations are well underway for the 49th Annual Craigmillar Festival, which runs from Saturday 29th June to 13th July 2013. There is a fantastic programme of events and activities planned for all ages, throughout the community.  Make sure you head along to join in the fun.

The 49th Craigmillar Festival kicks off with the annual Fun Day, on Saturday 29th June. The event will be held at the community green space on Niddrie Mains Road between 12noon and 4pm. The event will involve live music, birds of prey, fire engine, magician, Harley Davidson Bikers, pipe band, pony rides, 5 a side football, arts and crafts, disco bus, bungee run, face painting, car boot sale, massage, library bus and, of course, refreshments.

For a full list of events head to:

Recycling Survey

The Council has launched a survey to establish awareness of recycling in Edinburgh and get residents’ feedback on the communications it issues – the aim being to increase citywide recycling.  Residents’ views are vital in helping to improve the service, so please encourage anyone you know who lives in Edinburgh to take ten minutes to fill this in.  Anyone who completes the survey will also be in with the chance of winning one of three £50 high street shopping vouchers.  The survey can be found at or by visiting and clicking on the tab at the side of the page. The survey closes on 15th July 2013.

Partners in Advocacy

A Collective Advocacy group is being held on a fortnightly basis for people with a physical disability who are 16+ years.  Individuals are supported to come together to explore issues of common concern and support one another with these specific issues. The group as a whole may campaign on an issue that affects them all. Meeting dates are as follows.  All meetings are held on a Tuesday from 3.00pm to 4.30 / 5.00pm: 2nd July               South Side Community Centre 23rd July              Nelson Hall Community Centre 6th August           Nelson Hall Community Centre 20th August         Nelson Hall Community Centre

For more information contact Zofia Bukiel, Partners in Advocacy, 2nd Floor, Beaverhall House, 27/5 Beaverhall Road, Edinburgh EH7 4JE or email

Dates for your Diary

Saturday 29th June – Craigmillar Festival Fun Day – The event will be held at the community green space on Niddrie Mains Road – 12noon and 4pm

Wednesday, 3rd July 2013 – Tackling Poverty and Inequality in Edinburgh – Jubilee Room, City Chambers – From 2.00 pm to 4.30 pm – register with

Friday 19th July – Stop the East Coast Mainline Privatisation leafleting and campaign morning – Waverley Station/Steps – from 10.30am – further details to follow at

Lyra Theatre Starcatchers Performances in Craigmillar

Lyra Theatre makes live performance with and for children and young people based in Craigmillar, at the Artspace theatre and studio (11 Harewood Road, EH16 4NT). On Friday 19th of July Lyra Theatre would like to invite you and your family to free performances of:

Yarla and the Winter Wood – Friday 19th July 10:30-1:15 and 14:00 -14:45 Follow Yarla on a magical woodland journey that will arouse the senses. Filled with music, song and animation, a multi-sensory story for 6 months – 3 years that children and adults alike will find enchanting!

Too Many Cooks – Friday 19th July 10:30-11:15 and 14:00-14:45 Two cooks are preparing a very special dish… it’s very loud, very messy and very… musical? An inventive, playful and sensory experience for 2-5 year olds, where pots and pans cook up melodies.