April 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderWestminster report

Spring in St James' ParkSpring is here and politicians’ minds turn to…… Elections! Normally at this stage of the political cycle we would be in a middle of a ‘will he/won’t he’ media frenzy about a possible General Election. The introduction of a five year fixed term Parliament has put paid to that. The downside is that it already feels that Parliament is becalmed, with much Parliamentary time taken up either with relatively uncontroversial legislation or with ‘general’ debates. Last year’s Queen’s Speech was thin in content, and the assumption is that the same will happen this June, not least because it will be followed by a short Parliamentary session ending around this time next year. That, of course, should not be mistaken for Government not governing, because there is plenty of government action going on, and plenty for Select Committees to monitor.

We’ve All Got Budgets George
BudgetIn recent years Chancellors have been criticised for ‘leaking’ so much of the Budget that the main event is a bit of a bore.  This year Osborne promised a ‘rabbit’ out of his red box.  This proved to be proposals on pensions .  So much of a rabbit some are worried that an almost throwaway proposal in a Budget, sketched out on the back of the proverbial envelope, may have unintended consequences for pensions, savings and pensioner incomes long into the future.  Others have hailed the freedom the proposals give to people to spend ‘their own money’.  It will take some time to find who is right.  I can’t help but remember that the last Government which ‘freed up’ people in the pensions field was in the 1980s.   Then people were given the freedom to opt out of the state earning related pension scheme (SERPS)  and encouraged to take up private pensions instead.  I think it is agreed by most observers that this led to considerable pensions mis-selling, and many people not paying into a pension at all.  I would be interested to hear your views.

Following the Budget there are four days of budget debates and I spoke on the first day this year.

Dodgy Jobs Statistics
At the start of the month the UK Statistics Authority upheld yet another complaint from me regarding the use of statistics by the Department for Work and Pensions – the fourth in the last year. This followed a Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing in November 2013 during which senior civil servant Neil Couling quoted unpublished data to defend the Government’s Work Programme. Without prior access to the data, it was difficult for my committee colleagues and I to hold Mr Couling – and the Ministers to whom he reports – to account, something the chair of UKSA Sir Andrew Dilnot described as ‘a matter of regret’. This story was picked up by the Huffington Post.

Dodgy Jobs Websites
C4newsI then appeared on Channel 4 News to discuss claims that more than 11,000 positions currently advertised on the Government’s Universal Jobmatch website may be bogus. On top of that Channel 4 had shown that as many as one third of the jobs advertised were duplicates or in ‘self employed’ opportunities such as catalogue distribution where the first thing you have to do is pay £150 up front to get started. In a debate last year I likened this to the unemployed in the 1930s going on the road as brush sellers. My colleagues and I have been flagging this up for some time but it was good to get Channel 4 highlighting this.

In preparation for the rollout of Universal Credit, existing Jobseekers Allowance claimants have been required to use the site since March 2013, or face having their benefits stopped. I made the point that people shouldn’t have to waste their time applying for jobs that don’t exist, and that DWP must get better at identifying and deleting suspicious adverts. The trouble is that the contract they entered into didn’t include this kind of regular monitoring.

Personal Independence Payment
On 18 March the DWP Select Committee published a report on Personal Independence Payment, which replaces Disability Living Allowance for people of working age, and is intended to help with the additional costs of living with a disability. The main issue our report highlighted is the long delays – sometimes up to six months – people are facing before they are given a decision on whether or not they qualify for support. This is driving vulnerable people to real financial and emotional hardship, something I emphasised in an article for Progress. Our committee also criticised Iain Duncan Smith and Tory Chairman Grant Shapps for using statistics to promote ‘negative views’ of disabled people, something that was picked up by Political Scrapbook.

Bedroom Tax
As part of a feature for the House Magazine I participated in an email exchange with Tory MP Stephen Mosley on the Bedroom Tax. This policy reduces a claimant’s Housing Benefit award by around £14 for every spare room they have. Stephen argued that this simply mirrored changes made by the previous Labour Government to Housing Benefit in private rented sector, but he failed to acknowledge that this only applied to new tenancies – it wasn’t applied retrospectively as the Bedroom Tax is. In response I emphasised that even if tenants wanted to downsize, they can’t due to the lack of affordable housing, and the policy could well end up costing more overall than it saves.

Housing
The Scottish Fabians have published a pamphlet called ‘A Pragmatic Vision for a Progressive Scotland’, which contains a series of essays from Scottish Labour MPs on what a new offer from our party might look like.

598tenementsI took the opportunity to highlight the current shortage of affordable housing, which is forcing people on low incomes into the private rented sector, where rents are expensive, and can only be paid for with help from Housing Benefit. As a result only £1 of every £20 spent by Government on housing goes on actually building homes, while £19 goes on subsidising rents. I set out various ideas about how we might redress the balance, using Edinburgh as an example.

High Speed Two
On 17 March the new Chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, published his review of the project. HS2 offers the prospect of faster journeys between Edinburgh and England’s big cities, which would make our city a more attractive place to do business and create jobs. In the long term it could also allow rail to compete with air travel, reducing the number of short-haul flights and carbon emissions as a result. The first phase of the line to Birmingham is due to open in 2026, with trains then travelling at conventional speeds to Scotland. I welcomed Sir David’s report as it suggests extending the line to Crewe by 2027, and completing the whole project by 2030 – three years earlier than previously planned.

Social Care
Social Care is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and so I don’t normally get involved in debates on the issue at Westminster (although the issues the rest of the UK face are very similar to those in Scotland). However I have for some time been campaigning for a change in the law so people in one country of the UK can freely move to another, safe in the knowledge that any care package they receive from their current local authority will move with them – something that isn’t guaranteed at present. Earlier this month the Care Bill went through its Report Stage in the House of Commons and I proposed an amendment to address this problem – you can read my speech here. Although the Government rejected this, the Minister committed to bring forward a set of principles by November that would deal with this issue.

Youth Jobs Guarantee
Too many young people in Scotland are struggling to find work and are not seeing any economic recovery at all, something parents in Edinburgh East know all too well. The number of young people in the UK aged 18-24 claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for over a year has doubled from 28,300 in May 2010 to 56,100 today. Being out of work is demoralising for anyone, but when you can’t get your first step into the working world the effect on young people can be very harmful.

JobsGuaranteeI’d like to see the next government build on the success of the Future Jobs Fund and work with the private and voluntary sectors to ensure that young jobseekers, who have been on benefit for 12 months or more, get a chance to work. My colleagues and I would ensure adults aged 25 or over claiming benefits for more than 24 months would also be included in the scheme. Government could cover a portion of training and admin costs in addition to wages and employee’s national insurance. See more on my website.

Badger Cull
Badger598A large number of constituents have contacted me about the Badger Cull. There is now considerable evidence that it has not actually worked – leaving aside the cruelty involved in the process. Another debate on this took place on Thursday 13th March in the House of Commons. There was strong cross party support for ending the cull and looking more energetically at the alternative of vaccination. Despite the overwhelming vote for this (albeit Government ministers and many of their backbenchers were ‘not present’ it seems the Government is again going to ignore this and are likely to be going ahead with more culling in the near future.

Constituency Report

Student accommodation
Southside residents and I are relieved Development Management Sub-committee members agreed with officers and refused the application for student accommodation at Lutton Court. With plans for further student accommodation in this area this application has been a much needed test of the Council’s own policies in relation to student numbers.

Local residents made an excellent address to members explaining the impact high student numbers can have on local communities. They appealed to planners and the University to manage the concentration of the student population in this part of the city. Recognising the vitality and economic benefit students bring to our city, residents called for planners to ensure student populations revitalise parts of Edinburgh where the council regeneration is ongoing.

We must now see Lutton Court put to good use. I’d like to see the council work with partners to encourage different buyers to come forward. Residents have their own ideas about future use and said they would welcome mews type homes to satisfy demand for family housing in the Southside.

Meadow_Lane

And more blocks could be in the pipeline –
Last month I wrote of plans from Unite at the Homebase site. While I hope it is clear that plans for further student accommodation in this area will not be welcome, details of three more blocks have been published in the Council’s weekly lists:

  • Meadow Lane (14/00884/PAN). This application is at the ‘PAN’ stage which is a 12 week consultation conducted by the developer. A public exhibition will be held 4.30pm-7.30pm on 23rd & 24th April at David Hume Tower Conference Room.
  • Lothian Street (14/00731/FUL). A much smaller development opposite Potterrow, this proposed conversion of a care home is for 11 studios. Submit comments by 4th April using reference number 14/00731/FUL on the Council’s planning portal.
  • Stanley Place (14/00877/FUL). Proposed demolition of garages and construction of 100 studios next to the East Coast Main Line. Residential proposals at this site were refused at site in 2009. Submit comments by 12th April using reference number 14/00877/FUL on the Council’s planning portal.

Craigmillar Town Centre regeneration consultation begins
CraigmillarTCconsultationParc has now started its consultation on plans for Craigmillar Town Centre. With plans for a new high school, retail superstore and affordable housing to be fine tuned, now is the time for residents to have their say. An exhibition on the plans was held today (Thursday, 27th March) but the plans and details of how to respond are available on Parc’s website. Let me know your thoughts as I’d be keen to incorporate these into my own response.

Craigmillar Police Station stays open… for now
SaveOurStationsIn autumn 2013 Police Scotland announced plans to close front desks at ten stations across Edinburgh and cut opening hours at seven more as part of its £4.2 million cost-cutting plan. Portobello has seen its hours cut and Craigmillar residents were told that services would move to the new East Neighbourhood Centre. With most of the closures taking place on 3rd March a bit of a mystery remains about the situation in Craigmillar. As I told the Evening News I’m relieved Craigmillar station is still open (for now). However, I have not been told when the promised move to the new East Neighbourhood Hub will take place with plans still being discussed. Local officers work really hard to get the best results for Craigmillar and I can imagine it is difficult working with such uncertainty.

Events in Parks Response
Last month I provided details of the Events in Parks Manifesto consultation. You can now read my submission on my website.

Meadows to Innocent Railway cycle route
In my December update I gave details of the consultation to improve the Meadows-Innocent Railway cycle link to enhance the safety of this key part of the National Cycle Network. It is expected that the proposals will be made available to the public the week beginning 7 April here.

50th Craigmillar Festival: Volunteers Needed
Volunteers are needed to help organise the Craigmillar Fun Day on 28th June. If you can help make this 50th fun day one to remember please head along to the volunteer meeting on Thursday 3rd April at 6.30pm at The White House. Help is required making costumes, flags & musical instruments for the parade, as well as running activities on the day. If you can’t make it, get in touch on 0780 400 6357 or CFFDC@hotmail.com.

Dates for your Diary
Thursday 3 April 2014 – Understanding Leith Public Meeting: Census 2011 Results Information and Discussion – Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pairce (Parkside Primary School) 139B Bonnington Road – Tour of the School at 6.15 pm, Sign-in and refreshments from 6.45pm

Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th April – Meadow Lane Student Accommodation PAN – 4.30pm-7.30pm – David Hume Tower Conference Room

Pedal on Parliament – Saturday the 26th April 2014
Last year I joined 4000 cyclists who pedalled on the Scottish Parliament calling for a more cycle-friendly Scotland. POPers will maintain their momentum and meet again for the third time on 26th April.

The main ride gathers at the Meadows from 11:30am for a 12 noon start. The route will be no more than 1.5 miles and the pace will be slow enough for even the littlest legs, ending at the Scottish Parliament building for speeches. You can see the route on the POP website. Feeder rides are also being planned, including one starting in Portobello from 10.00am at Portobello Swimming Baths.

Craigmillar Books for Babies
Saturday Rhymetimes at Craigmillar Library:

  • Saturday 26th April – How Does Your Garden Grow? – 11.00am-12.00pm
  • Saturday 31st May – 16th Birthday Celebration-Songs, stories and birthday cake. Gift book for every child! For mums, dads, carers and children under 4 – 11.00am-12.00pm
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Events in Parks Manifesto consultation

Edinburgh’s parks are an asset much loved by all residents because they serve as great venues for summer events.  I am therefore pleased that the Council Parks department has begun to consult on an Events in Parks Manifesto.  I am keen to ensure that the manifesto recognises how all parks can be used for vibrant and enjoyable events balanced with the needs of local residents and their environmental concerns.

The consultation closes tomorrow (21 March) and you can read the letter of submission I have made here.

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March 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderWestminster report

A considerable amount of my time in the last month has been spent working on social security issues. While the debate about the need for fairness of ‘welfare reform’ continues to rage in the media and in Parliament, what is increasingly clear is the incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions in the pursuit of its agenda is causing both financial loss and distress to individuals.

Personal Independence Payment
On 18th February I blogged for the Huffington Post about Personal Independence Payment, the benefit the government introduced following their abolition of Disability Living Allowance.

PIP – and DLA before it – is intended to help people with the extra costs they face as a result of living with disabilities. Ministers predicted that the assessment process for PIP would take between 12 and 15 weeks, but since the new benefit went live in June, many claimants have been left waiting for more than twice as long. This has had the effect of pushing many vulnerable people into financial difficulties.

In my blog I argued that this could have been avoided if the Department for Work and Pensions had properly piloted the assessment process in advance and ensured that its private sector contractors – Atos and Capita – had adequate staff and training to deliver the required number of assessments. By choosing to press on regardless, the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith is effectively using disabled people as guinea pigs – a conclusion reinforced by a highly critical National Audit Office report published on 27 February.

Employment and Support Allowance
Since being elected in 2010 I’ve been concerned that too many people who apply for Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who can’t work due to an illness or disability – have been incorrectly found ‘Fit for Work’.

Quarterly statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that they were getting about one in ten decisions wrong, but on 24 February I received a letter from the UK Statistics Authority confirming my suspicions that this is an underestimate. The Authority’s chair Sir Andrew Dilnot described the publication as ‘potentially misleading’ and questioned the figures’ status as ‘national statistics’.

On the same day it then emerged that the process of periodically reassessing existing ESA claimants had been suspended by DWP Ministers because of concerns over capacity of the contractor ATOS to cope with the numbers. I’ve always argued that the present arrangements mean people are called back too regularly, so this suspension is in some sense a welcome development. However as I emphasised in the Independent, this has come about as a result of incompetence on the part of Ministers, rather than an enlightened change of policy.

Bedroom Tax Loophole Closed
Just before Christmas the DWP had to admit that people who had been both tenants and housing benefit recipients since 1996 shouldn’t have been affected by the Bedroom Tax. The numbers involved were estimated at only 5000 by the DWP but local authorities thought the numbers would be more like 20,000. The Government laid regulations before the House to close this loophole. The Opposition called for a debate and vote on this on Wednesday 26th February. Being the last speaker I had just 3 minutes to make my points.

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of the Impact of Government Policies on the Disabled
The WOW (War on Welfare Reform) campaign got over 100,000 signatures on its petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment. A debate on this took place on Thursday 27th.

wow_splashHousing
In 1980 £16 of every £20 the Government spent on helping those on low incomes secure housing went on building homes, while only £4 went on subsidising rents. Last year only £1 of every £20 went on new homes and £19 on housing benefit. I used a comment piece in the Daily Mirror on 26 February to make the case for moving the balance back.

Scotland’s Place in the UK
One of the disadvantages of being a frequent speaker in the Chamber is being at the end of the backbench speakers’ list. When we had a well subscribed debate on Scotland at the beginning of February I was left with the last 2 minutes to speak!

ScotlandUKCost of Living
Recent figures show that the number of people who feel insecure at work has nearly doubled from 6.5 million to 12 million since 2010. There are a number of factors at play here, including the increasing use of zero hours contracts, people having to accept part time hours in place of full time work, the declining value of the minimum wage, and changes to the law that have made it easier to fire people. I used a comment piece in the Edinburgh Evening News to set out how Labour would tackle these issues.

Miners’ strike
The closure of coal mines following the 84/85 miners’ strike had a devastating impact on communities across Scotland. In January cabinet papers from the time were released revealing the scale of intent on the part of Margaret Thatcher and her Ministers to close pits and manipulate the police. As a consequence I wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude to ask for a formal apology from the current Government.

Votes at 16
At the last General Election, only 44% of those aged 18-24 voted. We need to take action to address this, not least so that political parties of all hues listen to young people and their concerns. That’s why I welcomed Ed Miliband’s pledge that the next Labour Government will legislate to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote at General Elections. Schools will be able to encourage young people to vote for the first time, meaning that they’re more likely to continue to do so in the future. On Wednesday 12 February I attended a lobby of parliament by the campaign group Votes at 16.

Votes16Students Stop AIDS
I also attended a meeting in Parliament organised by the Student Stop Aids campaign, as part of a tour of the UK by campaigners from Uganda and China.

BgOd4BPCMAA1tGgConstituency Report

More Student Housing for the Southside?
Southsiders have worked tirelessly to oppose plans for student accommodation at Lutton Court and officers have now recommended that the application should be refused. The officer’s report recommends refusal on the basis of the effect a high student population could have on the local area. For this reason the plans are also deemed unsympathetic to the existing setting, within the Southside Conservation Area. It is Development Management Sub-committee members who will make the final decision at a hearing on Wednesday 12th March. I hope that members agree with the recommendations and that this application is refused. Members must take the opportunity to recognise the strength of opposition voiced by local residents.

1541820395In February student accommodation specialist Unite announced plans to refurbish the Homebase store on St Leonards Street and build a five story block of flats on top. I formally objected to the proposal at Lutton Court and I pledged likewise in the Edinburgh Evening News should any St Leonards Street application be submitted.

When the former editor of the Evening News John McLellan then questioned my motives for doing so, I got the chance to set out in detail why I believe we must avoid over-concentrations of students in any part of our city. Further debate has followed, with contributions from members of the public.

Cabaret Night at Portobello High School
This month I had a relaxing and enjoyable evening at Portobello High School’s Cabaret Night. The quality and confidence of the young people taking part was impressive. ‘Eat your heart out’ Michael Gove, no shortage of talent and educational quality here. Now what could a school like Portobello achieve if it had the spend per head that many private schools have!

Holyrood Road Billboard
In December I congratulated Southsiders for their hard work and persistence in asking the Council to seek to remove a billboard wrongly erected on Council land. While we are waiting for that board to be removed, last month Development Management Sub-committee members voted to refuse an application for another board. That board does not have permission to be there, as it is larger than has previously been permitted. While local residents are cautious that Forrest Media may appeal the decision, or erect a smaller board, it’s another small success which should again be congratulated.

LIDL Easter Road Proposal
Lidl Scotland has now circulated its proposals for a new store at the site of the former B&Q store on Easter Road, which has remained empty since November 2012. No planning application for the superstore has been submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council, however permission would be required to make modifications to the building and to remove a ‘non-food’ usage condition currently in place on the site. Lidl has stated in its own literature that formal plans will be submitted by late summer and has begun the process of engaging with local residents. You can view the plans as they currently stand at www.lidleasterroad.co.uk/the-proposed-development.

If you have any comments on the general principle of the development, or if you would like me to make a submission on this issue email me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

Guide Dogs Scotland Blindfold Walk
Since being elected I have supported campaigns for more ‘talking buses’, and to protect Guide Dogs from attacks by other dogs. But this month I was taken on a blindfold walk, first with a long cane, and then with a dog. For my constituents who are registered blind Guide Dogs are an invaluable asset allowing them to get out and about and enjoy a real sense of mobility. Being out on the blindfold walk made me appreciate just how complicated junctions and poor pavements can impede mobility for those with limited vision. It really brought home how difficult many of our roads and pavements can be and how important it is that planners take this into account.

S_gilmore_Jenny_PacoBridgend Farmhouse Bid
In early February, the Bridgend Inspiring Growth committee submitted its bid to purchase Bridgend Farmhouse from City of Edinburgh Council. Working to this point for over three years, the committee has put in an incredible effort to this stage. The charity promotes sustainable living practices and outdoor learning for the local community. The charity is now looking to establish itself as a community benefit society and is proceeding with a share issue to co-operatively own and run the farmhouse. More details about what a community benefit society is available on their website at bridgendfarmhse.blogspot.co.uk. For those interested and willing to become a co-owner of the farmhouse the details and necessary paperwork is available at this website.

Get It Sorted Together
Do you have a project in mind that could enhance your local environment? The Edinburgh Evening News and the City of Edinburgh Council are looking for inspired residents and community groups to put forward their ideas for help with funding and resources to get your project going. Examples projects might include: Painting a community centre, planting bulbs on a community backgreen, tidying up a derelict piece of land, commissioning a piece of graffiti artwork for a wall. For further details head to goo.gl/B2XK3W.

GISHousing Bill Submission
The Scottish Government has recently introduced a housing bill, while fairly limited in scope I hope Parliament takes the opportunity to make more wide ranging changes. Most attention has been paid to the proposal to end Right to Buy but this is a less radical change than it appears. First it won’t come in till 2017. Second reduction in the discounts available dating back to 2002 have in fact slashed the rate of sales already. In 2012/13 in Edinburgh only 75 houses were sold (compared with over 600 a year before discounts changed.) If this small number had not been sold they might not have become available for sale for many years to come as the tenants would probably have stayed put. So stopping it altogether will only contribute a tiny amount to increasing the supply of affordable housing. This proposal offers much less than it appears. There are some modest changes in the way anti social behaviour can be dealt with (a big bit of my surgery caseload) and in housing allocations.

I’ve put in a submission to the Committee of the Parliament which is looking at the Bill. In it I’ve highlighted in particular the fact that I see increasing problems with private landlords failing to maintain buildings and gardens. I am suggesting that we look at ways of using the registration process to deal with this.

Raised beds at White House
Interested in growing vegetables, herbs and fruit? I’ve written before about the Community Trust which is running the White House as a community resource. Recently they have involved young people from Castlebrae and Holyrood High schools who are gaining work experience in building skills in constructing raised beds for the area at the back of the White House. What is grown here will be used in the cafe which is already up and running inside. More volunteers to help with this are needed – if you are interested in getting involved contact James Donald on 0131 661 1282 for more details.

WHraisedbedsOld Town and Northfield Willowbrae Community Councils
Efforts to reconstitute the Old Town Community Council are now underway. The Council’s Election Team has agreed to act as Returning Officer during the nomination period from 3 – 24 March. At the end of the nomination period, if there are more nominations than vacancies for elected members (11) an election will be held on 24 April 2014. Nominees must be over 16 years of age and on the electoral roll for the community council area. Forms to nominate yourself are available on the Council’s website.

The same principles apply for the Northfield Willowbrae Community Council; however nomination papers must be in by Monday 10th March.

Events in Parks
Edinburgh’s parks are a much loved asset by everyone across the city and serve as great venues for summer events. Naturally there are some concerns that excessive use means damage lasts much longer than the events themselves. Last year I wrote about local concerns regarding the use of the Meadows so I was pleased to see the Council has launched a survey about park usage on a city-wide basis. The Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links are keen to encourage a healthy response from interested residents.

Dates for your Diary

  • Friday 7 March – Leith Links Residents Association ‘Quiz and Banter’ Evening – from 7.00pm – Leith Franklin Cricket Club
  • Wednesday 12 March – Lutton Court student accommodation planning application Hearing – 10.00am – City Chambers, High Street
  • Monday 10 March – Deadline for nominations for Old Town Community Council – details at goo.gl/ANb4ws
  • Monday 24 March – Deadline for nominations for Old Town Community Council – details at goo.gl/7FWosE

Movies and Shakers: films which can help change the world
All at White Horse bar, 266 Canongate EH8 8AA and Circus Café, 8 St Mary’s St, Edinburgh EH1 1SU

  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room -Monday 10 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • Economics of Happiness – Monday 17 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • Shock Doctrine – Monday 24 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • 97% Owned – Monday 31 March 2014, 7.30 pm, Circus Cafe
  • Stealing Africa – Monday 7 April 2014, 7.30 pm, Circus Cafe

More information: Anna: a.mayfield@hotmail.co.uk; Neil: guthrie.neil@gmail.com; or MatthewMatthewCrighton@gmail.com

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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 http://bit.ly/1bCr94x 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 http://bit.ly/1bCr94x.

 

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Have your say on Edinburgh’s Colonies

On a warm and sunny first Sunday in September I joined many other people visiting the ‘Colony of Artists’ at Abbeyhill. Many talented people threw open their doors to display their work.

I hope though that visitors also stopped to admire the architecture of the ‘colonies’ themselves. For many years I’ve been an advocate of this style of building and living. I’d also just finished reading Richard Rodger’s recent book on’ Edinburgh’s Colonies’. What came through strongly was just how deliberate this style of housing was:

a distinct and independent entrance; secondly a plot….for bleaching or for flowers; thirdly water closet; fourthly a scullery with washing tubs, bath & hot water.

The third and fourth have long since become standard but somewhere along the way we have often lost sight of the importance of having one’s ‘own door’ and bit of garden.

Abbeyhill ColoniesAnother important strand was the encouragement of home ownership for ‘working men’ (admittedly this meant skilled tradesmen) which was radical for its time. Home ownership was seen as giving people a real stake in their home and area, and was accompanied by a drive to maximise the affordability of build cost and the availability of affordable lending arrangements. While in the end only 39% were owners and the rest tenants, this was still a remarkable development for the time.

One new thing I learned from the book was that the Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company (which built most of the colonies) also dipped its toe into building tenement style (a block at Henderson Street is still standing) and found these both more expensive to build and much harder to sell. Some lesson there still for the 21st Century!

The most popular council houses have been those that followed some of the colony principles, the cottage style, the four-in-a –blocks where each tenant had his or her own door, and terraces. In the 1960s councils in the cities were seduced by the apparent efficiency of land use by building high rise flats, and this was encouraged by generous government grants for such buildings.

But Edinburgh’s colonies are flourishing and sought after 150 years, while many of the 1960s high rise blocks have been demolished.

More recently we’ve seen the rash of ‘standardised’ blocks of flats across the city, with very similar styles of buildings set amid groomed but sterile open space. The credit crunch and recession has halted this onward march. A silver lining from this market failure would be if developers and planners re-thought their approach.

Traditional colony living may not be for everyone, but it does help to deliver the high density demanded by land shortage and high land prices. High density is favoured by many city planners on the ground that it gives the ‘critical mass’ to provide good facilities and transport links. It has tended to be assumed that this can only be delivered through flatted developments but the colonies model provides a different route.

I was therefore particularly interested to see a proposed new development coming forward from Places for People for a site near Easter Road which was branding itself as ‘new colonies’, and I will be closely following the progress of this application.

The current Edinburgh Council administration made much in its election manifesto of wanting to be a ‘co-operative council’ and it is worth noting that the original colonies were built by a co-operative of building workers, formed during a period of recession when work was hard to find. Another aspect of the Colonies experience which could well be adopted today.

Edinburgh East is rich in colonies. As well as Abbeyhill there are those at Leith Links, at Lochend Road and the Ryehills and Cornhills (which adopted a slightly different approach of traditional street frontages and internal stairs). The City Council is currently consulting on a proposal to make some of these ‘conservation areas’. You can read more about this on the council website and there are going to be consultation events as follows:

McDonald Road Library
Exhibition from Wednesday 3 October to Tuesday 9 October.
Planning Staff will be in the Library on: Monday 8 October from 3pm-7.30pm

Leith Library
Exhibition from Thursday 11 October to Friday 19 October.
Planning Staff will be in the Library on: Wednesday 17 October from 3pm-8pm

The consultation closes on 24th October.

It is important to protect these areas, hopefully without making it to difficult for people to be able to improve them to modern standards.

I look forward not just to the ongoing success of Edinburgh’s Colonies but to their reinterpretation for the 21st Century.

This piece subsequently appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on 1 October.

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