Season’s Greetings & December 2013 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderSeason’s Greetings
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and joyous festive period. While we take a break and spend time with family, we must remember some friends and neighbours are less fortunate. Keep them in mind during the holiday season, especially if the cold weather sets in.

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The fantastic artwork featured here was kindly produced by the students and tutors at Orcadia Creative Learning Centre and will appear on my 2013 Christmas card. The Christmas card will now be distributed to 10,000 Edinburgh East households, spreading a bit of Christmas sparkle.

Located at Windsor Place, Portobello, the learning centre puts on an impressive range of communication based activities for young people with learning difficulties including arts, amateur dramatics, percussion and mime puppetry to encourage students to participate in interactive communication. Students attend from all over Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Orcadia and their dedicated staff and volunteers, ensure that day to day experiences for these children and young people is expressive and engaging. Fundraising is key to ensure that the centre can continue to offer these services. The trampolining room – which can be hired for children’s parties – provides a much needed income stream and this year the centre is being supported by Sainsbury’s Portobello.

The Orcadia website is currently under construction, but you can register for the mailing list at orcadiacentre.org.uk.

Westminster report
Back in May it was pointed out that the Government appeared to have run out of legislative steam with a very thin Queen’s Speech. As it turned out the most contentious Bill, on Lobbying, wasn’t even in the Speech. But the role of Parliament is also to monitor the impact of previous legislation and budgets.

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The cost of living has gone due a substantial drop in real wages for many. This has been the focus of a number of debates. The Government’s own Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has described the Government’s ‘fiscal consolidation’ as regressive in its impact, and on 19th November I asked Nick Clegg about whether he would agreed with one of the Commission’s recommendations to shift the childcare subsidy higher rate taxpayers enjoy to support low earners. Later the same day in a debate on the impact of the Government’s policies on women I made a speech where I pointed out that for low earners the increase in income tax thresholds had been cancelled out by reductions in tax credits and frozen child benefit payments.

Personal Independence Payment – More Haste Less Speed!
Disability Living Allowance is paid to help people cope with the additional costs of living with a disability. In 2010 the Government announced it was to be replaced by a new benefit – Personal Independence Payment – for which the budget would be cut by £2 billion. Initially all new claims made from last month were to be for PIP rather than DLA, but the Department for Work and Pensions announced that this would only happen in certain parts of the country because pilots showed the assessment process was taking longer than expected. I wrote for the Huffington Post about why this is happening and the impact on disabled people.

More Issues with Employment & Support Allowance
While DLA – and in the future PIP – is paid to people regardless of whether they are in or out of work, Employment and Support Allowance is the main ‘income replacement’ benefit for those who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. I’ve been concerned that too many people are being assessed as fit for work when they’re clearly unable to do so. This month I’ve discovered that figures on the number of people awarded ESA have been artificially inflated by taking into account the results of informal appeals against refusals, masking the failings in the assessment. You can read more about this on my website.

This comes on top of the Government’s failure to publish further key data in October, which was picked up by the Third Force News. The Scottish voluntary sector newspaper also published a letter I sent in highlighting the growing number of people refused both ESA and Jobseekers Allowance.

Benefits sanctions
Since their election the Government have reduced the flexibility that Jobcentre Plus advisers have in deciding whether Jobseekers Allowance claimants should have their benefits stopped and sanction periods have increased. As a result there was a sharp rise in the number of people being sanctioned when figures were published earlier this month. While I accept that people in receipt of JSA should be expected to look for work, I’ve come across several examples of people who should never have been sanctioned if common sense had prevailed. I’ve set these out, along with what I think needs to change, on my website.

Bedroom Tax
In September Ed Miliband announced that Labour would scrap the Bedroom Tax if it wins the 2015 General Election. On 12 November we held an ‘Opposition Day’ debate on this proposal, with a vote at the end. This was so over-subscribed with speakers on the Labour side that time ran out before several of us were able to speak, although I did manage to get a few interventions in. You can read the whole debate here. There was also a debate on this subject in the Commons ante-chamber Westminster Hall the week before, in which I was able to make a full speech – see here. Evidence is piling up that the supposed savings on this policy are outweighed by the additional costs, often placed on local councils. In addition to the growing costs of both paying and administering Discretionary Housing Payments (a small pot of money that comes nowhere near mitigating the worst effects of this policy), arrears of rent are causing serious problems for councils and housing associations.

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COSLA (the umbrella group for Scottish Local Authorities) has published evidence arguing that the cost will outweigh the saving and the Centre for Housing Policy at York University published similar evidence based on the experience of four housing providers in the north of England.

But this is one part of government policy where the Coalition is for the most part holding firm and refusing to change. There is doubt that the Prime Minister understands the impact of his own policies. At Prime Minister’s Questions on 27 November, in answer to a question from my colleague Andy McDonald from Middlesbrough, David Cameron claimed that all disabled people needing a spare room were exempt, which they are not!

The Scottish Government has now made additional money available for Discretionary Housing Payments, which although welcome, further reduces any ‘savings’ across Government. If readers know of anyone who may have been refused a payment earlier in the year, please encourage them to claim again. Forms can be found on the Council website.

Speaking out in the media
One of my many roles in Westminster is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. Michael is always on the look-out for Government waste and hypocrisy, and I often take responsibility for providing comment for the national media. So when it emerged that David Cameron used a tax cut to slash his own Downing Street energy bill by £400, I highlighted his opposition to Labour’s price freeze in the Daily Mirror and wrote a piece for LabourList. Then when the Prime Minister’s staffer Craig Oliver helped get election strategist Lynton Crosby through the back door of Number 10, I spoke in the Mirror about his links to big tobacco firms. When it emerged the Conservatives had been deleting pre-2010 speeches and press releases from their website, I popped up in the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph.

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Protect our Post Offices
Over the last month I’ve received over 100 postcards from constituents concerned about the future of the post office network following the Government’s decision to privatise Royal Mail. This was one of the many reasons I and my Labour colleagues opposed privatisation. It will be important that Ministers do all they can to ensure the network survives in the future. Some people use a Post Office Card Account to accesses benefits and pensions – renewing this contract would boost the network’s chances of survival significantly. For more information head to the National Federation of SubPostmasters website.

Constituency Report
Lutton Court student accommodation
In October Buile Developments Limited submitted plans to demolish the former Lutton Court Gall & Inglis printworks building, and construct accommodation for 240 students. In my submission calling on city planners to reject the proposals I referred to statistics obtained from the 2011 census which indicated that the student population here is already 49%. The additional 240 students will result in the student population increasing from 194 to 434, or 68% of all residents well above the City of Edinburgh Council’s policy requiring planners to ensure that accommodation for students is limited to 30% of housing provision in one particular area.

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Students contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of the Southside but constituents – including students living nearby – are concerned this proposal will lead to too high a concentration. The Council’s own planning guidance acknowledges that it is not the existence of students which is problematic; nonetheless, where there is an excessive presence this places undue pressure on existing residents and community relations. The student population is highly transient and can lead to less stable communities. Edinburgh has flourished having a strong community of permanent residents in its centre and I want this to continue. There are many other uses for this site, such as affordable housing which is in such short supply. The full submission is on my website.

Fibre Broadband Rollout
I frequently receive enquiries from local residents looking to set up small businesses from home, and those who are eagerly awaiting fibre broadband to be turned on in their street. All of the exchanges which serve Edinburgh East are ‘accepting orders’ for fibre broadband which means that those who want the ultra-fast internet service can buy it if they wish to do so. The Portobello exchange was one of the first in Edinburgh to be upgraded, while others including the Abbeyhill exchange, which I recently visited, had to wait a short while until deemed commercially viable. Super-fast broadband is an essential tool for local businesses, but it is very much a necessity for families in the 40,000 households across Edinburgh East – whether it is used for homework, working from home, or simply streaming an episode of Doctor Who. At the visit engineers showed me how the powerful connections are carried across Edinburgh.

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The Abbeyhill fibre broadband roll-out will serve 13,500 local homes and businesses when it is complete. By the end of next spring, more than 178,000 homes and businesses in the capital will benefit from the upgrades. BT has invested £2.5bn in the rollout.

Lidl Craigentinny
In September I published my submission on the plans to erect a Lidl store at the former Stratstone Land Rover showroom near to the Seafield junction. Last week members of the Development Management Sub-committee decided to reject the proposals on the basis other sites are preferable and the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated the proposal addressed a retail deficiency in the area.

Southside Advertising Success
More than a year ago Southside residents wrote to myself and Southside Newington Councillors as billboards had been erected at Holyrood Park Bowling Club, violating views of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. In partnership with Forest Media Group, the bowling club submitted applications to erect three hoardings along the road. The first was approved without objection (there is no need to notify neighbours about advertising hoardings); while the second billboard erected was larger than the Council had agreed and enforcement action was taken. The third board was found to be on located on Council land, and local Councillors have now agreed to request that the board be removed. Local residents who worked tirelessly to petition Councillors and officers should be congratulated for their hard work and persistence!

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National Cycle Network Upgrade
Edinburgh can proudly say that it has a large cycling community and is a prime destination on the National Cycle Network. I’m therefore pleased the Council is working in partnership with Sustrans to deliver an upgrade of National Cycle Network Route 1 (NCN1) between the Meadows and the Innocent Tunnel cycle path. Included on the Council’s ‘Family Network’, the route is part of a network of cycle routes for younger or less confident cyclists. More information about Cycle Route Proposal for Meadows to Innocent Path can be found on the Council’s website, and there is a leaflet here.

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Recruitment and Skills Centre Launch
On 22nd November I attended the official launch of the Recruitment & Skills Centre at Kinnaird Park. The centre is a partnership between the management of Kinnaird Park (British Land), the City of Edinburgh Council, DWP and Cyrenians. Its aim is to help employers get the right people and job seekers get the jobs. Already up and running, it has helped the recent recruitment processes for the Range and River Island. Most convincingly we heard from some of the successful new employees. The Centre will also be assisting other employers such as Edinburgh Trams. It also aims to help smaller employers who often lack the time to run a recruitment process and may be wary about making the wrong appointment. There is also an exciting link with local high schools. It is so important to ensure that young people are not leaving school with neither further education or a job ahead of them.

Portobello Basics Bank Food Bank
This month I visited volunteers who run the Portobello Basics Bank, not a new form of money banking, but a Food Bank. This is staffed by volunteers every Tuesday 10.00am til 1.00pm in Wilson Memorial Church. People are referred by advice agencies, social workers and others. As well as food they are offered free teas and coffee. This help is provided on a temporary basis (normally no more than 6 weeks) but signposting and advice is given to try to resolve the underlying problem. If you are interested in volunteering or able to donate supplies contact Rev Ralph Dunn (Wilson Memorial Church) on 0131 669 6636. The work is much needed and appreciated, but the continuing growth of food banks is worrying. There are a now believed to be over 600 such banks operating in the UK.

The Prime Minister’s stock response to questions on this is to say ‘food bank use went up 10 fold under Labour’. Based on Trussell Trust figures this is true; however the original number was very very small number, times that by ten and that is still a small number. Trussell helped 4000 people in 2005, which rose to 41,000 in 2010. By 2012/13 the number was 347,000 and in the period from April to September 2013 the number was already 350,000. These numbers don’t include the growing number of non-Trussell Trust banks like the Portobello one.

Unprompted by me the Portobello volunteers described DWP ‘sanctions’ as a frequent cause of referral (see my thoughts above).

Community Connections
Do you know an older person who is lonely or isolated? Do you have time and energy to volunteer to ‘make the connection’ with someone in this position? Recently I met with people from the Community Connecting project who told me about some of the success stories , encouraging people who have become wary of going out and about alone, perhaps after illness, and who need a ‘bit of a hand’ to get back in touch with old friends and interests. The service is free in south east Edinburgh to anyone over 65 – contact the organisation at 7 West Adam Street, on community.connnecting@placesforpeople.co.uk or call 0131 558 3728. To volunteer contact the Volunteer Centre, 3rd Floor, 24 Torphichen Street.

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Student Stop Aids Campaign
On Saturday 2nd November I spoke in Edinburgh at a conference of students from across the UK who are campaigning to stop the spread of Aids worldwide. They had asked me to come along to give them tips about effective ‘lobbying’ of politicians. Their enthusiasm and commitment was impressive.

Dates for Your Diary

  • Saturday 30th November – Southside Community Centre St Andrew’s Ceilidh: Dancing, Sing-a-Long, & Hot Food B.Y.O.B.- 7.30pm —10.30pm – Tickets £8, Under 14s £5, Family £20 from Southside Community Centre
  • Tuesday 3 December – Southside Association and Community Centre Carol Service and Festive Lights Ceremony – Lights to be switched on by Sarah Boyack MSP & service led by Rev Alex MacDonald, Buccleuch Free Church – from 6pm
  • Saturday 7 December – Portobello Amnesty International showing of ‘The Echo of Pain of the Many’ – Portobello Baptist Church Café, 189 Portobello High Street – 2pm – more details at www.facebook.com/events/385606264905631/
  • Saturday 7 December – Portobello Christmas Market – Brighton Park, off Brighton Place, Portobello – 9.30am to 1pm – stallholders list
  • Saturday 7 December – Christmas Craft Fair – Craigmillar Community Arts Centre, 58 Newcraighall Road (Fort Kinnaird) – 1.00pm–4.00pm
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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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March 2013 enewsletter: One Billion Rising, February recess report, Lady Boys of Bangkok Meadows concerns and Old Town engagement

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

Watching the Shard

The Shard; credit www.habitables.co.uk-tag-the-shard Sitting for several days this month in a Bill Committee I have had a wonderful view of London’s latest addition to the skyline.  The window opposite had the Shard in its centre. As with all new buildings this has been controversial but I have to admit I am a fan. The play of different light conditions has been fascinating; sometimes it looks opaque, in other lights almost transparent. Lights sparkle in it as daylight fades. Partly because of the way the Thames bends, the Shard looks remarkably close from a variety of places in the city. Pity though that the cost of going to the top has been set so high.

‘One Billion Rising’ and debating sexual violence in conflict.

One Billion Rising An innovation in Westminster Parliament procedure since 2010 is the Backbench Business Committee which has dedicated debating time made available for subjects chosen by backbenchers. Sometimes there are votes, although often not, but there is no direct impact on Government policy. It can put pressure on Government and raise the profile of issues which are hugely important but aren’t always in the front of any Government’s mind. A few months ago for instance there was a debate on mental health which many campaigning groups hailed as being an honest opening up of a subject often hidden away. On Thursday 14th February there was 5 hours of debate on two issues around violence against women. One marked the One Billion Rising Campaign which is an international coalition of campaigners speaking out for action to tackle violence against girls and women across the world. 160 countries and over 27,000 individuals have signed up.  Many events were taking place across the UK on this date. The second debate (in which I spoke) focused on the prevalence of violence in conflict zones.  This is an issue which the British Government has committed itself to acting on.  Significantly – I hope – William Hague and Douglas Alexander not only spoke but also stayed throughout the whole of the debate.   This is one of those issues where there is a high degree of cross party consensus – but whether that actually leads to effective progress remains to be seen.  See p67 http://bit.ly/WrtUJr.

Bedroom Tax

The campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ has gained momentum this month.  This is only one relatively small part of the Government’s Welfare Reforms, but is very significant for the individuals involved.  In cash terms people in Edinburgh affected are typically being asked to find around £50 per month towards rent payments (if they have one ‘spare’ bedroom).  Ed Miliband focussed on this at one PMQs session this month, the matter featured heavily in DWP questions on 28th January, and at Scottish Questions on 13th February. I used housing availability figures for Edinburgh to illustrate the problem and asked Michael Moore to revere these plans.  Read Hansard from p5 http://bit.ly/15ixonn, or watch the session at http://bit.ly/WhGW1t. I expanded on this in a press release: http://bit.ly/V9NcH1. Scottish Questions The other day I heard a good example of the way this is affecting constituents when I met a couple who, after six years of waiting in unsuitable accommodation for a wheelchair accessible house, had finally been able to move to a two bedroomed ground floor flat which met their needs.  The wife is able to get in and out of the property fairly easily and the space makes it possible not just to move around but store equipment – but they are required to pay more to make up the difference in Housing Benefit. I hope that they stand a reasonable chance of securing a ‘discretionary housing payment’ to help them meet the rent, since the Council has said people with chronic disabilities and illness will be among those prioritised for these payments.  Edinburgh Council has also agreed to put additional money towards such payments to ‘top up’ what is coming from the DWP. Judging rightly that if they don’t do this, extra costs are likely to be incurred in chasing up rent arrears if people can’t meet the shortfall.  But in terms of ‘saving the public purse’ this in fact simply shifts costs from central to local government – not really a saving at all. There were some signs last week that Iain Duncan Smith might be looking again at the position for disabled people – almost as if he had just not realised there might be a problem until now, although all of this was argued over in the original debates. Responsible local authorities are taking steps to mitigate the impact over and above the discretionary payments. Although there is a very real shortage of smaller properties, council and housing association landlords can adapt allocation policies to give priority to people wanting to move – on the other hand this could simply make it even slower for people waiting to get a tenancy. One of the main reasons why Edinburgh council lets 2 bedroom properties to single people was the mismatch between applicants (the majority of whom are singles) and the available property sizes (the majority of which having 2 bedrooms). Building or buying more properties would also help, but to make rents affordable there has to be subsidy and the level of funding to councils and housing associations from the Scottish Government has fallen in the last couple of years.  New builds in Scotland dropped from 7900 a year two years ago to 3400 now – and some of these are fairly expensive ‘mid market’ rents – which bar applications from tenants who claim Housing Benefit.

Another small success on Personal Independence Payment regulations

I reported last month that on 21st January the Work and Pensions Select Committee had a session with the Disability Minister on the implementation of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). One of the issues the Minister was pressed on was the fact that the final draft regulations did not include a reference to whether someone could carry out an activity ‘safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period’.  The Government initially wanted to put this in guidance only, not in regulations, but announced a change of heart earlier this month. This will now be included in regulations. This will help a lot of people who can sometimes manage to do things like ‘move 50 metres’ but at other times are exhausted part way and have to stop.  This phrase will apply to all activities, not just mobility.  The Government has not made any decision to change the distance for ‘higher rate mobility’ under PIP to 20 metres from the 50 mentioned in the original drafts, but still it shows that campaigning does work!

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The second reading of this Bill took place on 5th February. There are some consequential issues applying in Scotland but primarily this legislation applies to England and Wales. The Scottish Government has indicated an intention to legislate on this subject but has not actually done so to date.  All parties had a free vote.  This has been a controversial issue and I received correspondence from constituents on both sides of the debate.  I voted in favour of the Bill.  I know that some constituents have very strong contrary views, and are concerned that this legislation will have profound social consequences.  I know there is no consensus on this, but that is an aspect of democratic debate.

What are the big policy issues this month?

Every month I receive hundreds of emails and letters from constituents about a wide range of policy issues. The top three issues over the last month have been the Energy Bill, the Justice and Security Bill and the If Campaign on international development.

Energy Bill

The previous Labour Government set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. To meet this target we will have to completely decarbonise our electricity generation, and the Government’s Energy Bill – introduced to parliament late last year – presented an opportunity to put this commitment into law. Unfortunately, Ministers have deferred a decision until after the next election, in effect kicking the issue into the long grass. This uncertainty means investment in renewable energy will continue to drop. The UK will miss out on green jobs and growth as a result. Labour has tabled an amendment to the bill that would reinsert this decarbonisation commitment. I can assure constituents that I will be voting in favour of it when the bill returns to the House of Commons at report stage. You can keep up to date with progress at http://bit.ly/15itWZK.

Justice and Security Bill

This bill will allow for greater use of what are called Closed Material Proceedings (CMPs) where evidence used is sensitive or would pose a threat to public safety if it were heard in open court. While I acknowledge that openness and transparency must remain a central tenet of our justice system, I accept that there are certain limited circumstances where these principles should be deviated from. However my Labour colleagues and I believe that the bill as it stands does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure CMPs are only used as a means of last resort. My Labour colleagues in the Lords amended the bill to provide for such safeguards but these changes were overturned when the bill passed through its committee stage in the commons. A similar amendment has been re-tabled for commons report stage and I can assure you that I will be voting in support of it. Again you can keep up to date http://bit.ly/15itY3S.
Sheila Gilmore MP

If campaign

There has been real progress in recent years in addressing global poverty under the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I am proud that the previous Labour Government played its part by trebling aid spending so as to work towards the international standard of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on aid. However there needs to be renewed international efforts to build on the achievements of the MDGs and make progress on areas like gender equality, maternal health, climate change and food security. The UK has a real opportunity to pursue this as President of the G8 in 2013 and the If campaign – currently supported by over 100 charities – has called for the Government to do precisely this. I also support the campaign’s calls for more action on tax avoidance by multinational companies so that developing countries can build their own tax base and move away from a dependency on aid. Next month I will meet with pupils at Preston Street Primary School to speak to them about the campaign. I’ll collect artwork and written letters they have produced and present them to the Government in due course.

Scots Together

ScotsTogether, part of UKTogether Scots Together, a collective energy switching initiative aims to get a better deal on energy prices for people living in Scotland by buying energy together, launched on 18 February and runs until 17 March. Collective switching involves getting people together to review their electricity and gas tariffs to ensure they are on the best deal they can get. While Scots Together will primarily be promoted in the South East Scotland area, it is open to everyone living in Scotland. Anyone who pays a household electricity and/or gas bill in Scotland can join Scots Together. The biggest saving in the UK so far is a jaw-dropping £786 a year for one member in Edinburgh! Householders will be offered up to three options through the switch, meaning a bespoke service for each individual. The options cover: ·         The price obtained through the collective switch auction (there’s an offer for prepayment meters too) ·         A comparison of the whole market provided by uSwitch ·         A greener tariff. Full details can be found at http://www.scotstogether.com/how-it-works/

February Recess

‘Half term’ at Westminster is an opportunity to catch up with visits and events in the Constituency. 

Prince’s Trust

One visit I made was to see something of the work being done by the Prince’s  Trust to help young people get ready for employment.  Throughout 2011/12 the Trust supported over 5,000 disadvantaged young people in Scotland, with almost 4,000 achieving and sustaining positive outcomes such as education, training, employment or self-employment. Particularly impressive were the Young Ambassadors and Job Ambassadors who use their experience to pass on to others – they provide ‘peer education’ rather than hearing from adults whose lives may seem totally different.

Royal Society MP Pairing

Last autumn I wrote about the Royal Society scheme where MPs and scientists were ‘paired’. My ‘pair’ came to Westminster in October and during this recess we did the ‘return match’.  I had the opportunity to hear from a number of researchers, largely in the Nursing Studies department of the University.  Nurse education is a hot potato at the moment with some people suggesting that the move to degree level training for nurses has been a mistake.  We discussed that issue ,  but I also heard about some of the research being done.  One example was a project to encourage mothers of young children to reduce ‘secondary smoke ‘ in the home – something I hope will get taken up across the country.   Another important piece of work was looking at the follow on care for people who have had a period in the Intensive Care Unit, the medium to long term consequences of which are not well understood. Hopefully this will lead to improvements in practice based on evidence.

Dumbiedykes & Prestonfield

Visits to groups in these areas share some of the practical consequences of the much debated ‘challenges of an ageing population’.  I was in Dumbiedykes to talk with residents who are campaigning for the restoration of a direct bus route to the Southside.  The ‘old’ Dumbiedykes was an integral part of the Southside, and Dumbiedykes Road ran all the way up to join St Leonard’s Hill.  The road link was cut with the redevelopment in the 1960s, but for many people their social networks remain in that direction, hence the need for a bus. Many older residents find the hills are a real barrier. In the picture here the building directly behind the pram is now the Braidwood Centre where we met. Dumbiedykes Road There’s another link between Dumbiedykes and Prestonfield, besides both having a high proportion of older residents. Many of the people rehoused to the new Prestonfield estate in the 1930s came from the Southside/Dumbiedykes area. The specific issue I was in Prestonfield to talk about with the Neighbourhood Centre as well as the Tenants’ and Residents’ Group was the difficulty many of their older people have in qualifying for showers. Despite the lip service paid to the importance of ‘prevention’ and enabling people to stay in their own homes, the eligibility criteria for help with getting a shower has been raised substantially in recent years.  This is an illustration of the pressures faced by councils in trying to provide social care which I have written about previously. My response to Alex Neil’s comments in The Herald: http://bit.ly/Wrr5Im; and a previous blog post http://bit.ly/HjSYtl discuss the issue. Even where tenants were getting a whole new bathroom as part of the council’s modernisation programme, the Council has insisted that wet floor showers (which the council prefers to shower cabinets) could only be installed if the tenant were assessed and met the very high level of need under the criteria.  A concession was finally made about 18 months ago that showers would be given if requested by tenants in sheltered housing. In somewhere like Prestonfield, however, there are many very elderly tenants who are just as much in need who do not live in sheltered housing. As the area is due to be included in the bathroom modernisation programme in the coming year, we thought this was an appropriate time to raise this issue yet again, bearing in mind that there is a new council administration. One lady I met who lives in a ground floor flat was 85,  had multiple health problems and had been a council tenant for 60 years, but had been advised that ‘modernisation’ would only provide an overbath shower despite her being unable to climb in. We also agreed to approach the Council about the need to review the eligibility criteria more generally, and the lack of any proper appeal structure when people are refused adaptations.

Around the Constituency

‘New Blueprint for the Royal Mile’

The Council’s planning department has produced a draft ‘Royal Mile Action Plan’. In it are suggestions such as reducing ‘tartan tat’, making more of the street traffic free, and banning double decker buses (both tourist and ordinary services).  What about the needs and opinions of the many local residents?  How are they being involved in this? Not enough says the Old Town Community Council! There’s an opportunity to make your voice heard on this and other Old Town issues as the Old Town Community Council is hosting an event to encourage greater community participation and constructive debate. The OTCC wants to gather views and develop ideas about how to improve the area. The previous meeting proved to be both informative and useful for all who attended in identifying problems and developing solutions. If you want to attend head along to Augustine United Church Hall, George IV Bridge, on Monday March 11th from 7pm – 9.30pm (doors open 6.30pm) Further public exhibitions on the Caltongate plans are due to be held on Thursday 14th March between 11am and 8pm and Saturday 16th March between 10am and 12.30pm at the Canongate Venture building.

Learning Mandarin at Leith Academy

Sadaf Ashraf, Ereen Florendo, Karolina Olszewska, Mihaela Dolbinska, and Michelle Whitelaw I had the chance to meet a group of Leith Academy pupils who had won a place in the finals of a schools Mandarin speaking competition held at the British Museum in London.  Although they didn’t win, getting to the finals was a tremendous achievement. The girls (they were all girls as it happened) were a credit to their school.  In the photo above the group were ready for a joint performance. Immaculate Kahembwe also took part in the individual category of the competition.

A Street Audit in Craigentinny

On Saturday 26th January I went out with Councillor Alex Lunn and a group of local residents to ‘walk the streets’ around Craigentinny Town Centre.  This was organised by the Craigentinny/Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership and supported by an organisation called ‘Living Streets’. The group came up with priority recommendations for actions: Short term: 1.    Implement an effective litter management regime including strategies to tackle dog fouling and fly-tipping. 2.    Implement an effective weed management regime, including timing spraying to achieve the maximum effect and following this up with weed removal. 3.    Cut back overgrown vegetation to ensure that pedestrian passage is safe and unimpeded. Street Audit in Craigentinny Longer term: 1.    Repair the disintegrating wall around Craigentinny Primary School. 2.    Increase street light provision on Loaning Road. 3.    Develop an effective strategy and action plan that will resolve the problem of pavement and double parking, particularly on Loganlea Gardens. There were other recommendations too & now the Report goes to the City Council. Whether this was all worthwhile depends on what action is actually taken by those who have the power to do it.

A Lidl in Portobello? 

The site of the former Land Rover garage at the corner of Wakefield Avenue has been lying empty for a while now. The Lidl chain is proposing to build a store here.  This is currently at the ‘pre application consultation’ stage but I am currently gathering comments for a submission. The main concerns being increased traffic given the proximity of the busy Seafield Junction. Send your views to me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk. Full details are available at www.lidlcraigentinny.co.uk.

Protecting the Meadows – are there too many events?

The annual application by the ‘Lady boys of Bangkok’ to use the Meadows during the Festival has gone in. While the promoters have already started to sell tickets for their annual festival show, the area of the Meadows where the showground is based is still recovering from last August. The City of Edinburgh Council has now sought urgent comments on proposals to hold the event in the same place this year. Events on the park have added to the variety and vibrancy of the festival season, but concerns remain about the health of the land and the damage following the event. You can see my objection on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/protecting-the-meadows-are-there-too-many-events/. Meadows If you live around the Meadows and would like to get involved with the ‘Friends of the Meadows’ there is going to be a public meeting on the use of barbecues on Monday 18th March (7.30pm)  at the Pillar Hall, Barclay Viewforth Church. Read their newsletter http://www.fombl.org.uk/nl33.pdf.

Review of the Craigmillar Urban Regeneration Framework

The Council is undertaking a review of the Craigmillar Urban Design Framework. A review document has been prepared on the basis of feedback received at a drop-in day held in October 2012. The review sets out options for change which residents are entitled to contribute to.  I’ve prepared a draft of my comments; please request a copy if you would like to see the themes I will discuss. The deadline for comments is 5pm on Friday 29th March 2013 before which I will publish my final response at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/craigmillar-urban-design-framework-review/.

Young People’s Taster Sessions and Consultation Event

CLD are linking up with Edinburgh Leisure, CLD’s Open All Hours provision and the Craigentinny and Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership, to offer a free activities based evening with the opportunity for young people to have a say about issues that affect them, using voting pads.
A group of young people have helped to organise this event with CLD staff and hope to produce a presentation of the results for the Craigentinny and Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership.  If you want to go along, doors open from 6.30pm on Friday 8th March.

Castlebrae Community High School

The response of the Council’s Children & Families Department to the consultation on the proposed closure of the school was published on Thursday 21st February. The report is available at http://bit.ly/15QeOnT. Castlebrae Community High School The report responds to the various points submitted by parents and local residents. I regret the report still reaches a conclusion to recommend closure. The Councillors will meet to make a final decision on this on March 14th. The Council is still looking at the school in isolation from the wider issues of economic and housing regeneration in Craigmillar. There is a welcome commitment to re-energise the regeneration process, but this should be a chance to look at education in this context rather than taking decisions which will have long term consequences in the future. I have prepared some initial comments which I have now passed to Council colleagues. You can see this on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/castlebrae-consultation-outcome-report/.

Dates for your Diary

Friday 8th March – Young People’s Taster Sessions and Consultation Event – Meadowbank Stadium – from 6.30pm til 9.00pm Monday, 11th March – Old Town Community Council Community Engagement event – Augustine United Church Hall, George IV Bridge, – from 7pm – 9.30pm (doors open 6.30pm) Thursday, 14th March – Caltongate exhibition – 11.00am to 8.00pm – Canongate Venture, New Street Thursday 14th March – City of Edinburgh Council Full Meeting including decision on Castlebrae Community High School – from 10am – watch live at http://www.edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/ Saturday, 16th March – Caltongate exhibition – 10.00am to 12.30pm – Canongate Venture building. Sunday 17th March – Deadline to take part in ScotsTogether – further details in main body and at www.scotstogether.com Monday 18th March – Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links monthly meeting – from 7.30pm – Barclay Viewforth Church

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Report on Portobello High School public meeting: Second Update

Earlier today I sent out the following email to those who attended the recent public meeting on the future of Portobello High School. This follows ongoing concerns regarding the report on the meeting that Kezia Dugdale MSP, Councillor Maureen Child and I submitted to the council.

Dear all

In response to the criticisms of the report we produced that attempted to marshal the comments made at the meeting on 21st September, we have withdrawn the report. In addition it is no longer available on any of our websites. This action has been taken following the recognition that the methodology underpinning the way it was written up was deeply flawed, and for this we are sorry.

Our intention as made clear in the notice of the meeting and in the format of the meeting, was to have as open a process as possible. The report has made some people think this was not the case.

All three of us made it clear in statements before and after the legal judgment that we saw the Park as the best available site for a new school. We did not see it as our role to impose our views on the meeting or indeed in the report.

Whilst the primary goal must be to ensure the school is built on the park as soon as possible, we remain of the view that a Plan B must be prepared to prevent any further delay to the delivery of the new school.

We also think that the Council should look at all the legal routes to achieve the school in Portobello Park, as the best option by far, in parallel to investigating any feasible new site that might have emerged since the last search. The aim should be to deliver the best possible school in the shortest possible timescale.

It is also clear that our Report was in danger of distracting from the real task which is pressing the Council to move forward as quickly as possible, while making commitments to the building and its pupils in the short term.

Please accept our sincere apologies.

Best wishes

Sheila Gilmore MP Kezia Dugdale MSP Councillor Maureen Child

Update: You can download a copy of the raw data from the meeting here.

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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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