Kate, Craigmillar has a proud community, you should look deeper and listen a lot harder.

Yesterday Kate Higgins posted her 100 day pledge as part of the Independence Referendum campaign build up.  In that post she referred to a discussion with an elderly Craigmillar resident and described the area.  I disagree with the disingenuous image she has portrayed.  Here is my response:

In your blog piece Kate you do a disservice to the community of Craigmillar by presenting not just a partial picture but in several respects an inaccurate picture of what is happening and the changes that have been made to the area with the community and the council working together.

Yes there is a new council office building which also houses the highly successful and vibrant new library. But did you take a real look around at the change that has happened? I would urge you to go there on any day of the week, but especially on the packed out ‘books for babies ‘ days, or weekday evenings when children play outside their new library. Then there is the White House, recently returned to its 1930s glories, but even more important being run as a community facility, including a cafe, by a locally based Community Development Trust. Love them or hate them, Tesco opened a brand new express store here two years ago, which they wouldn’t have done if they didn’t see a good business prospect by opening up in the area. And sorry Kate it is busy seven days a week, so the image you conjure up of the post office being the only busy shop is just not the reality. A new Deli has opened in the premises once occupied by Luca’s. In fact there aren’t a huge number of closed and boarded up shops, both a Barbers and a Hair & Beauty Salon recently opened, and they are packed with local residents who aren’t as down at heel you make out. Some of those shuttered in daytime are actually being evening opening takeaways. The biggest empty stretch is the building vacated by the council for its new offices, and certainly getting a good new use for this is essential.

There are two new primary schools in great buildings, and which are getting good inspection reports. The pace of building replacement housing has been slower than we hoped, but there are three new developments ready or virtually ready for occupation as I write. Previous phases of development are popular and high quality. Plans for further development in the centre of the area are being exhibited at the Whitehouse tomorrow – these include proposals for more retail, colony homes and a state of the art high school to replace the aging Castlebrae building.

Kate you will see all this if you indeed get out knocking on doors as I do all the year round. You will find that contrary to the stereotype many people won’t be home because they are working. There are still too many people having to juggle several jobs, and zero hour contracts, but that isn’t something only to be found in Craigmillar.

Craigmillar has a proud community spirit and it is wrong to see residents here as having practised the ‘effort of shrinkage’. The people I do speak to are pleased to see a politician at their door and are engaged with the campaign. Many are confidently making a positive decision to vote No.

It’s not that there are no remaining challenges, but it doesn’t help us to complete the task of regeneration to give the impression that nothing has been done and nothing has changed. It might suit the advocates of a Yes vote to present a dismal picture to try to boost their case, but it isn’t a picture residents would recognise. The recession slowed development, but the reduction of investment in affordable housing by the Scottish government in the last few years is not helping.

Regeneration was started with the powers and resources of devolution, and I look forward to it continuing even more rapidly with the devolution of housing benefit, proposed by my party, which will bring together all the current sources of funding for affordable housing locally. We don’t need independence to make progress.

Life shouldn’t be on hold waiting for the referendum and its aftermath, neither for Craigmillar nor for the rest of Scotland.

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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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Press Release: MP: Craigmillar Regeneration Must Be Family and Community Led

MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has today led discussions with community representatives and senior housing leaders to discuss future regeneration and housing provision in Craigmillar.

Hosting the summit at the newly reopened White House Roadhouse, Ms Gilmore has highlighted the need to build more family housing and create quality open spaces, in addition to purpose built housing for elderly households. Ms Gilmore spoke of the need to ensure that a regenerated Craigmillar provides high-quality accommodation which varies in size, format and shape ensuring residential diversity.

Ms Gilmore called the meeting as the City of Edinburgh Council revealed the number of people who have Gold Priority for rehoming due their medical or disability needs has risen to over 600. At the same time more than 700 families are living in homes which are too small for their needs. These families are at least two bedrooms short. While their priority for moving home has been recognised but the homes needed to rehome them become available at a rate of about two a month.

Regeneration in Craigmillar has slowed since the financial crash in 2008 and following cuts in government grants to build new homes, leaving vast areas of brownfield land undeveloped without housing, or a new Castlebrae Community High School. Ms Gilmore has identified that the time is now, before regerneation begins in earnest, that the vision is family and community led.

Cllr Cammy Day, Vice Chair of the City of Edinburgh Council Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee and Cllr Gordon Munro, Vice Chair of the Economy Committee attended the round table event along with Alister Steele, Managing Director of Castle Rock Edinvar, and Ewan Fraser, Chief Executive of Dunedin Canmore housing association.

Speaking after the event, Ms Gilmore said:

‘The impetus to arrange this meeting came following a number of discussions I have had with community representatives and other elected representatives, as well as with housing developers and providers.

‘What is key is the need to build a good mix of house sizes and types to create a balanced community, where families can move on as their circumstances change. But now is the time to introduce those changes and ensure we rebuild Craigmillar to maximise the success of regeneration.

‘All too often developments are made up of two bedroom flats, because they are cheaper to build and developers can achieve the densities required to ensure they get a sufficient return on investment, but that does not necessarily meet the needs of those looking to be homed. To ensure that the future community of Craigmillar is diverse and encourages all families to live here, we need greater variance in the stock we build.

‘After the difficulties of the last few years caused by the recession it is of utmost importance that City of Edinburgh Council to recommit strongly to the rebuilding of Craigmillar with the involvement of the local community. Progressing with this ambitious reconstruction would provide opportunities not just for those living in the area but for the many people looking for affordable housing in the city’.

ENDS

Notes

1. Following a Freedom of Information request Ms Gilmore obtained data from the City of Edinburgh Council which indicated the numbers of registered ‘Edindex’ users who hold valid priority and are waiting to be rehomed. See responses attached.

2. That data, dated 31/03/13 and 30/09/13 provided details of applicants in the following categories:

a. Gold – due to medical or disability needs;

b. Silver – Homelessness;

c. Silver – Demo or Officer Panel (special award of priority);

d. Silver – Overcrowded (i.e. requiring two or more additional bedrooms);

e. Silver – Underoccupation (i.e. with two many spare bedrooms);

f. No Priority – regarded as adequately homed;

g. Total – the number of Edinburgh residents looking for affordable housing.

March data: EDIR 883 Information
September data: EDIR 1607 Response

 

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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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