Leith Links putting greens gone with no consultation

Leith Links 1887

Recently there’s been some consternation among Leithers when it became clear that Edinburgh Leisure and the City of Edinburgh Council had quietly decided between them to withdraw putting from Leith Links.

In a blog post on the Leith Links Community Council website last week, the Chair Jim Scanlon asked “Where have all the putting greens gone?” and noted that Edinburgh Leisure had removed any mention of the game from its website – suggesting that even at the historic “home of golf” there was little intention of bringing putting back to the park.

Jim said: “It may seem trivial but why remove it when they have to employ somebody to be there for the bowling and tennis so it can’t be down to cost savings? I suspect the main reason is they can’t be bothered.

“In good weather the putting has been well used by local office workers and residents so Edinburgh Leisure lets have it back please?

“We keep talking about making Leith Links a premier park but it’s still a poor relation to the city centre. Another example of you’ll have had your tea Leith,” he noted.

Greener Leith got in touch with Edinburgh Leisure to find out what was going on, and in an emailed statement an Edinburgh Leisure manager said that a counterpart at the council parks department had told Edinburgh Leisure as far back as April that: “as reported and approved by Council, maintenance on all greens not identified for bowling was being reduced in order to realise savings demanded by Council.”

According to Edinburgh Leisure, the council officer said that “discussions during the consultation process had not identified any future need or demand for retaining putting on the bowling greens.”

The Edinburgh Leisure manager added: “As regards Leith Links, the holes do appear to still be in situ but as the green is not being maintained as a putting green there are no cups in place and the grass currently looks to be in a poor state. The flags are still in the building, and the attendant on site did put them out on a couple of occasions, but with the grass being in such poor condition we felt it was better not to offer a substandard experience.”

Now the odd thing is, if you actually read the last council report on Bowling Greens, which councillors considered in January, its really not clear that councillors agreed to cut putting on Leith Links at all.

Firstly, the report presented “draft” proposals for the future of each site, and claimed a further report with final proposals would be forthcoming, but to date no further report has been considered by the Transport and Environment Committee.

The draft proposals for Leith Links were as follows: “Leith Links: Implement Leith Links Tennis and Petanque Project, which will leave three greens. A subsequent proposal has been received from the Scottish Volleyball Association to convert one of the remaining greens into a beach volleyball court. Victoria Park, Balgreen and Powderhall would also be considered for this use.”

We covered the proposals to convert one of the greens to a beach volleyball court on this blog at the time. Clearly there is no mention of withdrawing putting on Leith Links in the main body of the report.

Leith Links Bowling Greens

But the January report also contains some detail of consultation undertaken prior to the “draft proposals” in the appendices. They set out what locals did agree to. It says: “There is currently a proposal, Leith Links Tennis and Petanque Project Edinburgh which has been drawn up in conjunction with the Leith Links Steering Group (made up of representatives from Greener Leith, Local Councillors, representatives from local sporting groups and officers from Parks and Greenspace, North and Central Neighbourhood Teams).

“This project would involve reducing the bowling greens from four to two (retaining greens C&D) and offering in place a putting green (green B) and three courts and a petanque area (green A). This project has been approved in principal and is awaiting the results of a funding bid to Sportscotland.”

According to our records the Leith Links Steering Group has not been consulted since on any proposals to remove the putting from Leith Links either, whilst at the December meeting of the group the minutes record that “local expressed concern at losing the putting,” if one of the four bowling greens were to be converted into a beach volleyball court.

So there you have it. Councillors did not specifically agree to withdraw putting from Leith Links and when locals were consulted on it records show they did not want to lose the putting greens.

Why does it matter?

Well, as Jim says, the greens are popular in good weather. All the equipment is still there, even the holes, and the building is staffed during the summer, so for a start the cost savings must be fairly minimal in the wider scheme of things.

But also, the key to a successful park is having a broad diversity of things to do. Having an area where people can try putting, bowls, tennis and Petanque all in once place will help the park appeal to a broad range of users and increase the chances of people getting out and active in the park.

Perhaps most importantly, if Leith Links is to be marketed as the “home of golf,” and a statue erected to make more of this, surely it makes sense to give visitors a chance to pick up a putter and give it a shot? It’s hard to imagine that demand would go down after the John Rattray statue finds a home on the Links

Projects such as our Leith Links Children’s Orchard have already helped to cut the maintenance bill for the council, as it took a huge area of grass out of the regular park mowing cycle. If further maintenance cuts are necessary on Leith Links, council officers could consult with park users on which areas could be left to grow longer, rather than trying to push cuts through without public discussion.

We’re pretty sure that, if asked, most people would not agree to letting a putting green go, simply because when officials did ask, locals said no. So why is it happening anyway?

Early Cala Homes plans for Brunswick Road site published

Cala Homes - Brunswick Road - eastview

Following the first public consultation meeting last week, we’re pleased to be able to share details of the early plans the firm has for the site in electronic form.

The proposals make a fairly significant departure from the roundly criticised – and ultimately rejected – plan worked up by Barrats.

There are fewer homes in the Cala draft, and there is also more variety of home types – with 1,2 and 3 bedroom homes included in the plans. The bulk of the site is taken up by 140 homes for private sale, with a block at the western end, at the point closest to Leith Walk, comprised of 45 affordable homes, and 2000 square feet of commercial space in a ground floor unit.

Cala Homes - Brunswick Road - plan

It would also seem the new developer has made serious attempts to address some of the criticisms leveled at the previous plans. The buildings all front onto Brunswick Street in this design. This will help to “complete the street,” and reduces the overshadowing effect on neighbouring developments.

Our contact at Cala has however made it clear that these designs are still in flux and may still be altered to take account of feedback from locals before a formal planning application is submitted to the council. They may even be altered before the next public consultation meeting on the proposals, which is scheduled for the 23rd of August in the MacDonald Road library.

At Greener Leith, we’d love to know your thoughts on these plans, before we consider putting in any comment ourselves. Let us know in the comments to this post, or in private here.

Customs house: Sold to the people for £650,000… so now what?

Customs House Leith

After weeks of speculation the council has confirmed that it has agreed a deal with National Museums Scotland to buy Leith Customs House for a reported £650,000, with a view to setting up a Leith Museum in the building.

Needless to say, the locals leading the Leith Museum campaign are delighted, despite arguing that National Museums Scotland should lower their asking price on account of the fact that they were gifted the building for free by Scottish Ministers.

After the news of the purchase was made public, Fraser Parkinson of the Spirit of Leithers Facebook Page, who has played a leading role in the Leith Museum campaign, said that if the project is to be a success it must gain widespread backing.

He said: “Our hard work appears to be paying off. We see this as the beginning of a long journey to achieve a Museum of Leith facility that will be forward looking, embrace the local population and reach out to the thousands of people who will visit and love the richness of Leith and its community.

“It is now absolutely vital that as many people as possible get behind the development of the Museum. This is a fabulous opportunity to build on the local economy as well as provide opportunities for the arts and education. This museum must be forward facing but with a grounding that is deeply rooted in the heritage and history of our Port. To achieve this we need many Leithers involved not just a couple of the ‘usual suspects’.

There is currently no clear plan on where the £10m needed to fit out the building as a museum is going to come from.

Raising the cash to realise a Leith Museum is something that Fraser acknowledged will be a “significant and lengthy undertaking.”

He added: “We now look forward to an accountable and representative group to be agreed to undertake this work. Now is the time for hard work, consultation, creativity and inclusion of Leithers in this ‘Grand Design’ of their own.”

The Culture and Sport Convener, Councillor Richard Lewis, welcomed news that the purchase had gone through but admitted that the council does not know how long it could take before any “heritage centre,” would open or what “help” was needed.

He said: “Now that the Council’s bid has been accepted by National Museums Scotland, we are determined to take the project forward and identify how and when we can help open the doors to a heritage centre for Leith.”

He added that the offer “should” secure the building for public use, “as a hub for the local community.”

If the final purchase price of the building turns out to be £650,000 then the bid will have made a considerable dent in the city Common Good funds. Last time the cash reserves were reported in August, the fund had ££1,615,184 in the bank.

The decision to spend £650,000 on the purchase of Customs House comes little more than a year after the council sold Leith Waterworld for £1m to a private developer, reneging on a deal they did with locals who were in the midst of putting together a business plan to run the facility. To sweeten the pill, councillors at the time then agreed to spent £125,000 on free swimming lessons – so the sale of Leith Waterworld ultimately raised £875,000.

No councilors mooted using Common Good funds to support Leith Waterworld at any point during the long protracted campaign to keep the pool open.

At the time of the Waterworld sale the very same Councillor Richard Lewis said of the “difficult decision” to sell the pool: “This coalition feels that the potential purchaser will create a high quality leisure facility that will greatly benefit the community in Leith and the wider Edinburgh area.”

“Ultimately this option ensures that the community in Leith has an accessible leisure facility for many years to come,” and he noted that closing Leith Waterworld would also mean that “the council gets best value for the taxpayers of Edinburgh.”

To date, the site formerly known as Leith Waterworld remains boarded up. Moreover, it would seem that the council has just committed to spending all the money, and possibly more besides, raised from the sale of Leith Waterworld on the purchase of Customs House.

Whilst many Leithers will be delighted to see the council get behind the Leith Museum project, Greener Leith folk included, the lack of similar council support for other important projects such as the now lost Leith Waterworld, and the still underfunded Leith Theatre remains something of a mystery.

The upshot of all this is that now the council owns at least three “community” buildings in Leith which all need millions spent on them if they are to become fit for purpose: Duncan Place Resource Centre – where officials won’t even spend cash on a lift to allow the building to comply with disability access laws, – Leith Theatre – where the Leith Theatre Trust must pay the council nearly £30K a year rent, whilst it works on raising cash from third-parties just to get the fabric of the building into a useable state – and now Customs House.

And of course there is another notable parallel between the sale of Leith Waterworld and the sale of Customs House. In both cases, the money raised from sale of these buildings is to be used to improve facilities in the south of the city – The Commonwealth Pool and the Chambers Street museum – that will be very much “fit for purpose.”

Perhaps the time to really celebrate will be when public agencies manage to come up with a costed plan to bring these publicly owned buildings in Leith up to a usable standard? Until then, it would seem the small pool of locals with the skills, connections and commitment to raise cash will be asked to roll their sleeves up and start fundraising once again.

In this context, what exactly does “best value” mean in Leith and who decides? Answers on a postcard.

Leith Theatre are holding a fundraising concert on the 26th of July. The acts on offer are definitely worth £10 of your hard earned pounds.

Photo: Ronnie Leask | CC | http://bit.ly/1mZemg1

So farewell then, Shrubhill House

Shrubhill House demolition

So farewell then Shrubhill House.

A Greener Leith supporter sent in this stunning image of the former city social work department mid-demolition.

In just a few weeks time it’ll be gone. By next year there’ll be a new building in its place.

For many people the building was always an eyesore – and latterly a focus for anti-social behaviour. But others saw things differently. For those feeling sentimental, there are some YouTube videos around, showing the inside of the derelict building.

This one, dates from 2011.

Whilst this one, uploaded in 2010 has slightly higher, and spookier production values:

As well as a series of posts on the planning shenanigans associated with the site, we also put out some posts that took a different angle.

In this post we shared some still photos of the graffiti in Shrubhill house and the adjacent tram depot.

But perhaps to remind us what a good urban designer could have done with the site, it’s worth re-reading this guest post from Iona Street resident, Michael Bryan, from 2011.

He drew up designs for the site which proposed that Shrubhill house could be transformed into “122 affordable homes, shared communal facilities and a community education centre through a combination of new-build and retro-fitting.” His designs won awards, but they’re a long way away from what is actually going to be built on the site.

Lazarowicz hopeful of handing Holyrood parking power

Park on the pavement and we'll walk in the road will we ???

Since 2010, various MSPs have been trying to introduce new laws at Holyrood that would make it easier for councils to regulate pavement parking.

The most recent attempt, by Sandra White, MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, saw 95% support for a change to the rules that would make it illegal to park on pavements, block dropped kerbs and double park on roads.

Despite this support, it fell at the final hurdle when Scottish Parliament officers decided that the power to regulate this was still reserved to Westminster.

But all is not lost. Now Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz has taken up the torch, and lodged a Private Members Bill that would devolve sufficient powers to Holyrood to allow MSPs to legislate on this issue.

Mark said: “This Bill would ensure that the Scottish Government has the power to make a real difference to our streets by tackling irresponsible parking that can block pavements, kerbs and crossings and choke the flow of traffic.

“It can be dangerous where for instance it pushes people into the road to get past or impedes a wheelchair user from crossing a street because someone had thoughtlessly blocked a dropped kerb.

“A Bill in the Scottish Parliament has had its progress delayed because of conflicting legal advice as to whether the power to legislate to tackle irresponsible parking is still reserved or not.”

“I want to cut through that with this Bill which would specifically devolve this power once and for all to make a practical difference to the streets in our towns and cities in Scotland.”

The Bill will be debated in Westminster on September the fifth, where it is reportedly 2nd in the queue.

Parking has not become a referendum issue yet.

But given the timing of the debate just a few days before the referendum vote, we can confirm that no-one is speculating on whether Mark’s pavement parking bill is part of a secret Better Together campaign plan to practically demonstrate more devolution is possible prior to the big vote. Not yet anyway.