City of Edinburgh Council

Improving the Local Development Plan

Leith Harbour Image

Since Greener Leith first got established we’ve seen a lot of plans come and go for the neighbourhood. The graphic above shows a long abandoned plan for Leith Docks.

At the moment the council is currently consulting, for the second time, on the next Local Development Plan. For those that don’t know, the Local Development Plan, when it is finally agreed in 2016, is likely to become the document against which all new planning applications are assessed for years to come.

If a developer tries to get planning permission for something which goes against the grain of the Development Plan then they are more likely to have their proposals turned down.

For this reason, it’s important that local folk have a look at the proposed plan, and submit comments if there’s anything that you think needs to be changed.

Greener Leith has proposed a series of changes to the latest proposed plan and we outline the reasons why below. During the development of the plan, in  January 2012, during the “Main Issues” public consultation, we also put in a lengthier response which you can find here.

The drawn-out nature of the consultation process has allowed us to have a look at what other organisations are also lobbying for, and we noted in March 2013, that Forth Ports were still trying to persuade planners to put in place regulations which would make it easier for the firm to resurrect their deeply unpopular plans for a giant power plant on the docks, even though their original plans were officially scrapped a year earlier, in March 2012.

Our post highlighting this lobbying has recently been circulated around a number of the local community councils and so part of our latest Local Development Plan submission has been informed by the responses we’ve seen from other organisations, such as Forth Ports.

In our response we’ve tried to show that Greener Leith remains supportive of genuinely decentralised, efficient, biomass powered heat-networks in the city.

However, as we’ve maintained throughout our opposition to Forth Ports Leith Docks power plant proposals, there is a world of difference between this vision and Forth Ports historic ambitions to build an inefficient, giant power plant.

Sustainble Energy

Campaigning against poor development

Campaigning against poor development

On sustainable energy, we have therefore proposed that the any new “Major Development” in the city is required to incorporate district heating infrastructure, with a local CHP plant scaled to the needs of the development. We add that this requirement could be waived if all the buildings in a major development are built to Passivhaus standards.

We also call on the council to add a further clause to the Local Development Plan such that any new large biomass power plant proposals must be designed to operate with a minimum 70% efficiency from the outset, as demanded by EU Directives on biomass.

Lastly, we also point out that the poor air quality on Salamander Street, where legal limits on particulate emissions are already regularly breached, may make the Leith Docks an unsuitable site for any form of waste-to-energy incinerator, although there is a site safeguarded there in the proposed Local Development Plan.

Together these three clauses do not rule out the development of a large biomass plant on the docks entirely, but if they were accepted, they would mean that any proposal would at least deliver genuine environmental benefits, without negatively impacting the quality of life of local residents.

These proposals would also “tip the regulatory balance” toward smaller-scale district heating projects. Sustainable heating is important, but we’d far rather see a series of smaller CHP plants, such as those installed at Cables Wynd House, eventually linked up to form a “heat network,” than one giant inefficient plant built on the docks. Aberdeen has shown how this can be done. 

Greenspace

Following the recent census, it emerged that Leith is now one of the most densely populated places in the UK outside London. This means that green space is under pressure in Leith. Back in the days when Forth Ports were going to convert Leith Docks for residential uses, there were proposals to create a number of new parks on the docks. Now that those plans are long gone, so are the new parks proposals, even though Leith’s population is still likely to rise, with considerable new areas of housing planned for Western Harbour and around the margins of the docks.

An earlier Leith Links Seaward Extension Plan

LLSE plan

Given this, we think it’s important that new areas of green space are created. In our submission to the Local Development Plan, we call for the Leith Links Seaward Extension to be fully realised. The current LDP proposals would see it truncated and reduced to a “cycle path safe-guard” in its northward section and this seems a wasted opportunity.

Current Leith Links extension proposals

Reduced Leith Links Extension in LDP

We also argue that a new park should be created close to Ocean Terminal, where more high-density mixed-use development is proposed.

It’s clear that there’s a need for another event space in that area, and a public green space close to the water could help to attract more visitors to the area, prevent that waterfront from being entirely privatised, and act as a buffer zone between more residential/office uses and the proposed industrial zone over the water.

Sustainable Transport

When it comes to transport we propose a number of alterations to the policies on private parking provision in new developments, proposing that new developments, close to good public transport links, such as anything built around Ocean Terminal, should not include extensive private parking facilities as the potential traffic caused could have a negative impact on the existing areas where air pollution is already breaking – or nearly breaking – pollution laws.

And lastly, we also call for the Local Development Plan to safeguard the route of a potential cycle route linking the Water of Leith, Pilrig Park and Leith Academy.

See our detailed responses

If you would like to see the exact wording of our responses, you can see them all here. 

You have until the 3rd of October to put a submission into the Local Development Plan Consultation. You can find all the supporting documentation on-line on the City of Edinburgh Council website. 

Leith still missing out on litter fines?

Rubbish Leith Walk

The number of litter fines issued to Leithers has fallen every year for five years, even though the area is among the dirtiest in the city.

In the last financial year to March 2014, the number of litter fines handed out by Environmental Wardens dropped by 19% compared to the previous year in the Leith and Leith Walk wards. Meanwhile, city-wide stats show that there has been a 17% year-on-year increase in the number of litter tickets issued.

Our regular readers will know that we’ve made a point of publishing performance data about the council’s environmental services in Leith, in a bid to persuade council service managers to adopt a more joined up approach towards management of litter.

Even though cleanliness standards have improved in Leith over the last twelve months, with both Leith and Leith Walk wards meeting minimum standards set-out by Keep Scotland Beautiful, the Leith and Leith Walk wards have still been consistently among the dirtiest areas in the city.

Despite this, these litter statistics suggest that city officials are still not deploying environmental wardens in the areas where they could make the most difference.

And it’s a similar story with dog fouling fines.

Last year, the Environmental Wardens managed to issue just 5 tickets for dog fouling in the Leith and Leith Walk wards combined. Indeed, in 12 months, just one dog fouling fine was issued in the Leith Walk ward, the lowest number in any ward of the city.

You’ll note from the chart above that the overall number of dog-fouling tickets issued city-wide also declined last year, which is odd, given that the council teamed up with the Evening News to run a high profile campaign where the paper claimed that “More than 1000 fines have been handed out recently,” adding “Council officials are standing by to take your calls and want to know precisely where and when repeat offenders are leaving their pets behind, so they can target them in a major new blitz.”

Judging by the actual number of dog poo tickets handed out by Environmental Wardens, clearly when the Evening News said “recently” they really meant “over the last four years,” and when the paper promised a “major new blitz” they didn’t know that the council would respond by actually cutting enforcement activity.

To add an extra frisson of irony, the paper launched their campaign last June with a case study from Pilrig Park, which is of course in the Leith Walk ward. That ward with just one fine in a year. Awkward.

Still it isn’t actually all bad news, unless you’re a small business in Leith with a habit of flouting waste disposal laws.

The number of tickets issued by Environmental Wardens for fly tipping has increased hugely in the last financial year – even in Leith. These tickets are often issued by the wardens if small businesses are caught out putting their waste in a place it isn’t supposed to be. In the 2012/2013 financial year, Greener Leith revealed that the city had seemingly stopped issuing these types of tickets.

Well in 2013/14, it would appear they made a comeback, with nearly 1000 issued in the city centre alone, and 80 tickets issued in the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership area.

To be fair to council managers we should point out that complaints received from residents in the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership area relating to dog-fouling, litter and fly-tipping have all reduced when compared the 2012/13 year with the 2013/14 year.

We’d be interested to hear what you think about the trends in these graphs. Do you think there should be more enforcement in Leith? Is there too much focus on fly-tipping and not enough done to tackle dog fouling? Or do you think the levels are about right?

About this data…

A great deal of emphasis is placed by the council on “partnership working” and community engagement in local decision making, and a key part of this is helping people to understand how services in their neighbourhood are working.

Yet sadly, even after Greener Leith volunteers have asked nicely for this data, we’ve had to use Freedom of Information legislation to access this information for three years in a row now.

How many more times will we have to use FOI to access this data before it’s published routinely by the council as part of its Open Data Strategy?

New recycling service rolls out to some Leithers

New recycling service sep2014 map

If you live near one of the squares on the map above then the chances are you’re going to be among the first 20,000 Edinburgh residents to be using a new recycling system come September the 1st.

But if, like many people in Leith, you use communal waste bins, then look away now. This post will only make you jealous.

Officials hope that the coming changes which will eventually roll out to 140,000 households in Edinburgh, will make it easier for folk to recycle, and therefore boost domestic recycling rates. If rates go up, then the amount the council has to pay in Landfill Tax goes down, which is a good thing.

As this graph shows, the proportion of city waste that is being recycled or composted is going up each year. Around 40% of domestic waste now does not go to landfill, but the city – like all Scottish Local Authorities – has a target of 70% to meet.

What’s changing?

The range of things you can recycle is increasing, whilst the size of your general waste bin is decreasing. The number of different containers you need to sort things into is also decreasing. This should make the whole process more straightforward.

Your green wheelie bin will now be used for paper, cardboard, cans, tins and plastics. Sorting out recycling should become more straightforwards as the new service allows you to recycle envelopes, aerosols, and probably most importantly, ALL types of plastic packaging.

Your blue box will be used to recycle glass, batteries and for the first time, small electrical appliances like kettles, hair-dryers or toasters.

There’s no change to the food waste recycling scheme, or the garden waste recycling scheme.

More details are available in this council leaflet.

If your household is affected by these changes then you should get an information pack with details of your new collection times through the letterbox. However, if you want to speak to a human being about the changes then there’s a Recycling Roadshow on Wednesday the 6th, at Leith Victoria Swim Centre, 9am-12pm.

 

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?

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