Briefing – Gorgie City Farm Closure

33748-gorgie-city-farm-edinburgh-03

Below is a briefing from Council Officers on the crisis facing Gorgie City Farm. My political group is adamant that if the farm has a future the Council should do what it can to support it and that the Ward Councillors (with their excellent connections to the local Community) should lead on it.  Councillor Donald Wilson from my group was clear that he is far from giving up hope on the future of the farm.

The organisation has been in receipt of a grant from Communities and Families (2016-19 Grant programme, extended to March 2020) with an annual value of £109,214 paid in quarterly instalments (the last payment will be due in early January 2020).

The organisation rents the land from the Council and the costs of the lease were agreed at Finance and Resources Committee on 23rd March 2017. The land is not for sale.

The Farm first made Council Officers aware of their situation in a telephone call on 31st October and on 1st November an Insolvency Practitioner was appointed. Council officers have had an initial conversation with the practitioner (4th November) and below are the key points from that conversation.

  1. The board at Gorgie City Farm made the decision to seek an insolvency practitioner because the cash in the bank was not sufficient to meet their ongoing costs.
  2. The role of the practitioner will be to ensure the proper winding up of the company.
  3. The costs of continuing to employ staff to keep the Farm trading/open was too great and so the Farm is now closed to the public, however there is cover to ensure the livestock are cared for.
  4. The Insolvency practitioner is confident that all the animals will be re-homed. There have been numerous offers to take the animals.
  5. The assets of the company are being secured to ensure the farm is in as strong a position as possible to move forward if it can.
  6. There have been some offers of interest in running the farm/using the property from a number of parties, however it is too early for the practitioner to assess the full merits of these approaches and it is intended that this would be done in partnership with the Council as the landowner.
  7. A further role of the practitioner is to ascertain how the company got into this position.
  8. The Council Leader, Deputy Leader and officers are meeting the Insolvency Practitioner this week. Thereafter, the Council will convene a meeting later this week to discuss the way forward.

Council Briefing: Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay

East

Evening News – “The Capital’s leading heritage body, the Cockburn Association, called for an emergency review and a potential delay to the opening of the Christmas Market after it was revealed the new extended market did not have the required planning permission. “

Below is a briefing I received from the Council this evening on the situation in East Princes Street Gardens. It does provide some context, and explains the lack of planning permission for this colossal structure.  

It’s frankly unbelievable that Underbelly can find the time to design and procure the colossal structure we see in East Princes Street Gardens, but are too busy to submit a simple planning application. The Council should take this loss of public amenity for private gain seriously.

Edinburgh’s Old & New Towns form one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world – we have a duty to cherish this brilliant piece of heritage. It comprises a rich cultural, built & natural environment, but the real problem appears to be that Underbelly can’t monetize it.

I’m proud that Edinburgh is the UK’s greenest city, but what is happening in East Princes Street Gardens is completely unsustainable. In the near future Edinburgh will consult on its tourism strategy and the future of its winter festival. I hope residents will use this as a chance to protect our public parks and make Edinburgh’s visitor economy more sustainable.

Background
As at April 2019, the Council was in year three of a three-year contract with Underbelly to deliver Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay, with an option to extend for up to three further years, subject to agreed performance indicators.

The redevelopment of the Scottish National Gallery and the landscaping changes to East Princes Street Gardens required a solution to deliver the Christmas Market and to protect the new landscaping. Underbelly proposed a significant capital investment in a scaffold structure to protect the new landscaping in the gardens, significantly increase circulation space after concerns from previous years, and create a deliverable layout. The new structure also serves to increase the accessibility of the Christmas markets with more ramps and flat sections for those with a mobility or sensory impairment.

Underbelly agreed to meet these capital costs but sought the agreement of a two-year extension to the contract to allow them time to recover the capital investment. The Executive Director of Place, in consultation with the Convener and Vice-Convener of Culture and Communities Committee, agreed to a two-year extension under delegated authority due to time constraints. This decision was then reported to Culture and Communities Committee on 18 June 2019. It is acknowledged that the detailed design was not included in the Committee report.

From June onwards, the Council’s engineers assessed the structure to be built in Princes Street Gardens. This was to double-check the calculations and proposals made by Underbelly’s own engineers and to ensure that the structure was safe and would not cause any significant or structural damage to the new landscaping in the gardens. This process was completed on 12 October 2019.

The redevelopment of the Gardens by National Galleries of Scotland has faced several delays. This has resulted in some areas being incomplete when the Gardens were due to be occupied by Underbelly for Christmas. One of the worst affected areas was a steep bank close to the top path in the Gardens.

Due to the lack of completion of some sections of the works, Underbelly requested to move a section of the market from this steeper area to the area of the Gardens south of the railway line. This would allow this section a full growing season, the best chance to establish and increase crowd flow across the site as a whole.

After consultation with the Convener and Vice-Convener of Culture & Communities Committee, it was agreed to move elements of the market that were to be sited in this steepest section to an area on the south of the railway. This area had been used in previous years but only for storing generators and other plant.

The overall number of stalls has increased in the Gardens with the move to the south section. However, the area of useable, open circulation space has increased significantly, allowing visitors a more comfortable experience during busier periods.

 

Planning Permission and Building Warrants
Underbelly met with officers from Planning and Building Standards on 30 August to discuss permissions required for the structures and their respective layout in East Princes Street Gardens. A determination of what was warrantable was reached and accepted by all parties. Underbelly agreed to submit a Building Warrant application for all warrantable works within the Christmas Markets.

Planning permission was also discussed at that meeting as the existing permission had expired. Underbelly were told that they needed to apply for this. Underbelly stated that they would be making an application but would not be able to meet the timescales required for a full application to be in place before commencing their build on 18 October because, at that stage, there was no final layout plan as engineers from the Council and Underbelly were still concluding their final assessments of the scaffolding structure and any necessary amendments. This was concluded on 12 October and a planning application is now expected. The application will be assessed in line with the Planning Acts.

It is therefore appropriate to request a retrospective planning application. Underbelly have contacted the Council’s Planning Service to update on progress. In the meantime, an enforcement file has been opened by officers, who will monitor the situation.

 

Waverley Bridge
The Christmas Market has been a very popular attraction and getting busier every year; weekend attendance to the market regularly exceeds 100,000 per day (highest attendance last year was c. 124,000).

As a result of this popularity, special measures (additional stewards) had to be put in place at the crossing at the top of Waverley Bridge to manage the crowds at weekends last year to stop the public coming into conflict with live traffic.

Ongoing discussions are taking place between the Council, Underbelly and other partners over how best to ensure public safety whilst minimising disruption. This matter will be discussed with City Centre Councillors later this week.

 

Old Town/High Street – Edinburgh’s Hogmanay
There have been some issues with wider communications from Underbelly regarding the use of the Old Town and residents’ access. Underbelly have been reminded of the need for early and clear communication. For clarity, the High Street and Royal Mile are not being used for Hogmanay; it is only West Parliament Square, outside St Giles’ Cathedral. The High Street will remain open throughout and no residents or businesses on the Royal Mile will require passes to access their properties. There is a well-established protocol for access to property within the street party arena and Underbelly will be contacting those properties very shortly.

Update on the death at Fairmilehead Crossroads

Passer

I feel proud that people in my Ward did all they could to help this man.

A report in the Evening News today suggests the tragic death at Fairmilehead crossroads on Thursday may be linked to an incident of so called “road rage”. I am sure everyone’s thoughts are with the family of the man that died.
I’d like to thank the emergency services for dealing with the incident. Spacial thanks must also go to those that attempted CPR to give the man the best possible chance of recovering.
I spoke to the reporter behind the article and I know he was surprised by some of the driving he witnessed in the area and the strength of feeling locally on the issue. Some of the comments I received in the 2-3 days after the incident:
  1. …traffic congestion has increased alarmingly over the year from The Charwood Restaurant to the lights at Fairmilehead Crossroads…
  2. … Because West to South (Biggar Road) cars are accelerating towards the junction, on a downward slope and turning towards the oncoming traffic it is surprising we don’t have more serious accidents…
  3. … Nearly every single day there are multiple near misses (and some not missed!) with horns blaring and brakes screeching and heated shouting matches…
  4. …My kids take their life in their hands every day crossing Biggar Road near the bypass, when they get off the number 4 bus. Cars coming off the bypass accelerate crazily up that stretch…
  5. …My son is 11 and should be independently walking to school, but the road is too busy/unsafe…
  6. …There’s no proper filters on these lights. I have to turn right every morning and the amount of angry people, despite you have your indicator on speed in front of the cars in the other lane. Cars blocking other cars in the morning and the speed of cars in this area is appalling…
  7. …I have personally witnessed appalling driving in this area and also across the city… 
  8. …I really feel for the family of the man who died. It is very surprising that there are not more accidents at this junction…
  9. …It’s very sad to hear that there was a death – and though it may not have been due to the traffic, it is only a matter of time. I have been going on about the speed limit on that road for years… …The First Minister has declared a climate emergency – we should be making all travel easier for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport and not motorists… 
  10. …there is a right filter at the crossroads for traffic citybound but the other two lanes are also on green. This means that anyone waiting to turn right coming from the city has to gauge when the lights have turned to red for the citybound vehicles. Any driver who is a visitor turning right from the city can be tempted to swing out when they see their set of lights turn to red, right across the oncoming traffic… 
  11. …I agree entirely with you that the speed limit should be reduced to 30, and be in force at Hillend… 
  12. …One issue that concerns me (and I am not a local resident) is the mismatch between some of the time scales (eg new lights) and the seriousness of the residents’ comments… 
  13. …I agree lower speed limits would help with safety and also support more sustainable active travel options. The main issue is however the sheer volume of traffic. Stand at that junction in the morning and or early evening and witness the ridiculous number of single occupancy cars… 
  14. …One issue that concerns me (and I am not a local resident) is the mismatch between some of the time scales (eg new lights) and the seriousness of the residents’ comments…
  15. …Going north, folk are often coming from the bypass – so their brains are still going at speed – and having two (going into three) lanes does nothing to encourage them to slow down. Then people are elbowing past each other to get through the junction: more often than not, people are cutting up the left lane to go straight on and get ahead of those in the middle lane. The driving is often very aggressive coming up to that junction. Even in the car I feel unsafe there… 
  16. …I have long avoided this junction because there is no right turn filter going into Oxgangs Road and because you are blinded by headlights as the traffic comes up from the by pass to the cross roads… 
  17. …I would also like to add a comment about the traffic situation. The bus stop at the foot of Biggar Road requires us to cross the road to get to our home at Swanston Drive. At certain periods of the day particularly this is now simply dangerous. The cars coming off the bypass often accelerate up towards the lights at Fairmilehead whilst the cars approaching the bypass speed down the Biggar Road. Lots of dodging of cars…  
  18. …The lines on the roundabout closest to Craigdon should be more clear about car positioning, especially south to north. At Fairmilehead the lack of a filter from driving south to turning West is ludicrously dangerous…
  19. …just to say I am 100% with you on reducing the speed, particularly given the schoolkids but also adults too cross to commute daily. There is a lot of pedestrians crossing daily. I think 30 is sensible…
  20. …The area around the Buckstone shops is an accident waiting to happen with car drivers doing crazy things including crossing 4 lanes to get into the parking facing the wrong way and double parking.For cyclists, achieving a right turn from Comiston road into any side street especially uphill…
  21. …You are so right about the crossroads at Fairmilehead and particularly the cars approaching the crossroads to go into Bigger rd are time after time accelerating through the red light…
  22. …I grew up in Winton and now live just down the road and I really care about the area. I have an elderly mum with dementia in Winton who crosses Biggar Rd daily and it worries me hugely. A pedestrian crossing there is much needed… 
  23. …I don’t think the problem is limited to those crossroads. I still worry about my 13yo crossing to the bus stop at Buckstone in the mornings (especially in the dark), and my 10yo doesn’t get anywhere near that road without an adult even though she has really good road sense. She would love to be able to go across to the newsagent with her friends! And it would be great if she could get used to crossing that road before high school…
  24. …The roundabout at the top of the slip road off the bypass would benefit from a mid white line being painted on it. Too often vehicles switch lanes while using the roundabout causing cutting in, this could certainly lead to frustration… 
  25. …May I also voice a plea to have the speed limit reduced to 30 mph- traffic from the bypass can come tearing down the road – if there are 2 lanes completely free of traffic I am afraid that residents particularly schoolchildren crossing the road will be even more in danger of being knocked over than they are now…
  26. …It’s a terrible road and I’m surprised something hasn’t happened before now…
  27. …At busy times there are few cars traveling through those lights at 40. So don’t see a speed limit change impacting that junction too much. A good turning filter could allow three lanes to move. It’s just a bust junction though…
I agree that there is a lot that could be done to make this stretch of road safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. This is what’s happening right now:
  1. The speed limit is under review (this will also look at “rat-running”). Despite opposition from other Councillors, I have argued that the Council should consult on reducing the limit to 30mph.
  2. Further parking restrictions are about to be implemented.
  3. The lights will be replaced over the next year or two to make the junction safer.
  4. A week or two ago I asked the Council if a case could be made for a pedestrian crossing after concerns were raised by a Winton resident.
So whilst this death may not have been caused directly by the road conditions, I am determined that the crossroads and the A702 is made safer for everyone. This is a wide road with wide footpaths, so there should be room for cars, bikes and pedestrians all to move safely.

The people lobby can’t let the car lobby stop the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation.

Drapplin live in San dias

As a new Councillor in Edinburgh I am always grateful for the work that those that came before me undertook to make our city what it is today. There is much to be proud of in terms of our culture, our built environment and our natural heritage.

From a transport perspective we are lucky, the city is well connected with the outside world and we have a publicly owned bus service which is second to none.

Nonetheless, we live in a time of change and challenge where transport is concerned. The combined forces of economic growth, climate change, air pollution and congestion are placing real pressures on our city and those that live in it. The era of the car may not be over, but the notion that we can drive our way out of the challenges our city faces has no future.

Edinburgh’s solution to the challenges we face is the “Edinburgh City Centre Transformation Strategy“, which aims to move the design of our city centre away from cars and towards people. The emphasis is on creating a city (not just a city centre) where it is easier for people to move around on public transport, foot and bike.

The temporal and spatial scale of the proposed change is daunting, but also energising. It’s called a transformation, but it is really a revolution. Indeed, I am reminded of the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative slogan – “The revolution will not be motorised”.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are, but our city was not built by those who wanted to wait or look backwards. Those who came before us made certain that this city rode the first waves of the Enlightenment, and this generation can’t founder in the backwash of others where creating a liveable city is concerned.

To be clear, the proposed end result will not be revolutionary, it is the process of getting there which is. The end result will be normal if you’ve been to places like Vienna and Copenhagen.  To be sure, we are behind these cities right now, and will be behind for some time. But we should not intend to stay behind, and in the next decade, we have a chance to catch up and move ahead.

Copenhagen

Such a Breath-taking strategy, however, creates new challenges as it dispels old.  Key amongst these is ensuring that the accessibility of the city centre continues to improve as the plans develop. More work is also needed to better define the costs and benefits, particularly around public transport connectivity, emissions and air quality.

Currently, the costs are estimated to be £314.6m and the benefits £420m, and as this is just a strategy at this stage the optimism bias is 44%. It will be difficult (essentially impossible) for the Council to fund this, so resources will be sought via the Scottish Government (who think £120m for rebuilding Sheriffhall Roundabout is good value) via their STPR2 scheme. This would be part of a regional scheme focussed on connecting the city centre with the suburbs and surrounding towns via world class public / active transport links.

Politically, there is strong support in the Council for the strategy with only 3 of the 11 Councillors on the Transport Committee yesterday opposing it – Cllr Susan Webber, Cllr Graeme Hutchison & Cllr Nick Cook. Cllrs Webber and Hutchison admitted at the meeting they knew little (both were substitutes) of the history of the development of the strategy and the massive public consultation exercise which informed its development. It was also suggested that their ringleader, Cllr Nick Cook, had only attended 1 of 8 working groups meetings where it was possible to discuss and steer the project. Instead he chose to describe the strategy as a “plan to strip away pay & display parking and free movement of vehicles in the city centre”. I can’t be convinced anyone wants the “free movement of vehicles in the city centre”, or that introducing it will help manage the combined forces of economic growth, climate change, air pollution and congestion.

Once the gang of three lost the argument, however, they did manage to delay the further development of the strategy by demanding it is considered by all 63 Councillors at Full-Council next week. I expect they will repeat the same failed arguments, and lose again.

Whilst this delay is limited, it is a sign that we all have to do more to convince others of the scale of the challenges we face. In the blog I have borrowed a few phrases from JFK (not for the first time), but I am reminded that in his “Moon Speech” he quoted William Bradford to convey the scale of the challenge. Although the challenge Edinburgh faces is different, the quote is still apt: “all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage”.

Why Edinburgh must control Edinburgh’s Tourist Tax revenue.

View

Value and reputation damaged for a quick profit – we are destroying what visitors come to Edinburgh to see.

 

Like most people in Edinburgh, I am proud that so many people from around the world want to visit our fantastic capital city to enjoy all it has to offer. This pride often switches to shame, however, when I see they are confronted with grubby streets, overflowing bins and potholed pavements.

There can be little doubt that Edinburgh is struggling to cope with its own popularity and, if we are not careful, what tourists come to see is at risk of being destroyed.  No one was surprised when in July CNN Travel declared Edinburgh one of the world’s worst hotspots for “overtourism”.

Indeed, in the city there has been growing concern about the privatisation of public space for private gain, with even the A-Board ban being lifted to allow festival advertising to be placed on jam-packed footpaths.

In my article last month, I raised concerns about how the Council was managing the growth in tourism. Since then, an opportunity has arisen within the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government. I was delighted to see that the Scottish Government has at last listened to the public and will at least now consult on giving Edinburgh the power to set a tourist tax. As ever, however, there was a catch. The Scottish Government say: “receipts will be to fund local authority expenditure on tourism.”

I feel that denying Edinburgh the right to decide how the money is spent is insulting to local democracy. As a democrat, I want Edinburgh to have full control of its tourist tax revenue. If it is all to be spent on tourism, that should be Edinburgh’s decision and no one else’s.

At the very least, I feel the revenue should be invested in areas that benefit residents and visitors alike. If the tourist economy is to grow, it must grow geographically. Community projects like Colinton Tunnel Project (please visit the mural if you have not already done so), should be supported and promoted as ways of drawing tourists away from central Edinburgh to enjoy the better parts of our city(!). The extra money spent in these areas is far more likely to benefit Edinburgh residents than money spend elsewhere.

Briefing – Planned temporary closure of Bridge Road (Colinton).

 

Below is a briefings from SGN on the planned temporary closure of Bridge Road in Colinton. This issue will be discussed at the September Colinton Community Council meeting (7:30pm on the 10th of Sept in Colinton Bowling Club).

Answers to five questions I posed to the Council:

1. What will the impact on traffic be?
Has this been quantified? There is likely to be increased traffic flow on the diversion route, particularly at Craiglockhart Avenue, but unfortunately there is no alternative diversion route available. The closure is a necessity due to the location of their main and to allow a safe working zone. Closing the road will also allow them to get through this section quicker, and they have agreed to work 7am to 7pm 7 days a week.

2. What will the likely extra journey times for buses will be?
I’ll contact Lothian buses for this info and get back to you.

3. Will cyclists and pedestrians still be able to pass through the area?
Cyclists will likely be required to safely dismount. Pedestrians will have access at all times.

4. Will arrangements for deliveries and support for businesses be put in place?
Yes, these will be discussed when SGN visit the local businesses prior to commencement. They are hoping to speak to businesses before the Community Council meeting next Tuesday.

5. Will the parking restrictions also apply to “blue badge” holders
Yes.

 

From Caroline Lawrie, SGN Stakeholder and Community Manager:

As you are aware, SGN manages the network that distributes natural and green gas to 5.9 million homes and businesses across Scotland and the south of England. We also provide the gas emergency service in these areas.

We’re investing £438,000 to upgrade our gas network in the Bridge Road area of Colinton in Edinburgh.

This essential project involves replacing our old gas mains with new plastic pipe to ensure a continued safe and reliable gas supply for the local area for many years to come.

We’ve worked closely with the local authorities in planning our project. Our work will start on Saturday 12 October and will finish in early Spring 2020.

During this project it will be necessary to close the following streets to ensure everyone’s safety:

  1. Bridge Road, Edinburgh 12 October 2019 for approximately 4 weeks
  2. Westgarth Avenue, Edinburgh 28 October 2019 for approximately 6 weeks
  3. Redford Road, Edinburgh 07 January 2020 for approximately 10 weeks

Signed local diversion routes will be in place for motorists during the road closures, and local access will be maintained for residents. Where possible, the phases of this project have been planned to coincide with school holidays, and when traffic is likely to be quieter, ensuring disruption is kept to a minimum.

We’ll also need to use temporary traffic lights during various stages of the project. These will be manually controlled during peak times to minimise disruption as much as possible.

Some parking suspensions will also be in place, although access to driveways will always be maintained where possible.

We’ll be working Monday to Friday between 8am – 4pm, and at weekends where required. We know that this is a busy area and wish to assure you that work will progress as quickly as possible and we’ll be doing everything we can to limit delays and disruption.

We will post regular updates on our website and using social media and traffic bulletins to keep everyone informed.

 

Is Edinburgh ready to tackle climate change with rain gardens?

 

Kerb

Directing polluted road runoff to on-street “Raingardens” is a tried and tested technique to reduce flood risk.

 

 

Earlier this month as part of my work outside the Council I gave an invited lecture in Beijing to engineers, planners and academics from across the developing world about managing the impact of climate change. Over the duration of the weeklong workshop I was humbled to learn more about the enormity of the risk facing places like Ecuador, Nepal, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Laos in dealing with a problem that is not their making. I returned from this trip determined to redouble Edinburgh’s efforts to tackle climate change.

The flooding Edinburgh experienced this year may have been localised, but the impact on individuals has was non-trivial. Although this weather is not a prediction of what our capital can expect in the future, it is a taste of what climate change may bring. I was therefore pleased to contribute to a motion which asks the Council to review its climate change preparedness and resilience. The text of the motion is as follows:

Climate Change Impact and Management

Council:
1. Acknowledges the severe weather conditions experienced by the city and elsewhere in recent weeks and recognises that these events may be a taste of what climate change could bring.
2. Recognises that these put significant strain on drainage systems and other infrastructure, causing some surface water flooding and damage to property.
3. Acknowledges that there is a need for the Council to be prepared and far-sighted in its approach to building in resilience in the city, alongside its work to make Edinburgh a net zero carbon city by 2030.
4. Acknowledges the comments of flood insurance specialist Professor David Crichton in which he indicated that many local authorities in Scotland have already been ‘good at managing risk’.
5. Requests a report to Council which indicates clearly the work already being undertaken and needed across the Council to meet heightened demands caused by extreme weather and future considerations, within 3 cycles.

Although this motion goes far beyond flooding, I am keen to push the Council to do more to manage runoff. Rainwater runoff from roads, roofs and car-parks in many parts of our Capital (esp pre WEWS Act) adds to flood risk and pollutes our watercourses, and tackling this problem at source as much as possible is the most sustainable approach.  I hope to amend the above motion to include two key changes.

Firstly,  as part of Climate Change Impact & Management report I will propose that Council Officers enter discussions with Scottish Water and the Scottish Government, and report on the feasibility of offering advice and incentives to property owners who wish to manage surface water within their own curtilage rather than discharging to the surface water or combined drainage system. This could draw inspiration from:

1. Portland’s Downspout Disconnection Programme (this disconnected over 56,000 roofs from the city’s combined sewer system)
2. The Puget Sound’s 12,000 Raingarden Project
3. Melbourne’s 10,000 Raingarden Project

 

Secondly, as part of Climate Change Impact & Management report I will propose that Council Officers investigate and report on the feasibility of installing on-street bioretention planters to intercept polluted road runoff and support biodiversity as part of the ongoing investment programme.  This could draw inspiration from:

1. Case studies developed by TfL
2. Water Research Foundation Guidance
3. Portland’s Green Streets Programme

These are small changes which will make our capital more resilient to climate change, whilst also reducing the amount of pollutants reaching water courses and increasing biodiversity. People will ask about the cost, but the reason other cities are taking this approach is because it is cheaper.

A cityscape like this is the alternative: