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.

Council plans for 20mph speed limits almost everywhere

Leith 20mph Map

This week the council are to be applauded for listening to local residents and publishing detailed proposals that would see the speed limit lowered to 20mph on virtually all the streets of Leith that doesn’t already have a 20mph limit.

Every road in the map above that’s coloured blue could be made safer.

If implemented, the proposals would help to cut road deaths, and cut air pollution, by encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

In fact, it’s probably about the single cheapest public health measure that’s available.

Professor Danny Dorling makes the case exceptionally well in this 2011 video.

We’ve shared it before, a long time ago, but now, given that the council is about to embark on a detailed 20mph consultation in the neighbourhood, it seems like a good time to share it again.

Lest you think, this all seems somewhat academic, and not really relevant to Leith, consider these salient points.

The roads around Leith schools have a poor safety record.

Road accidents are the biggest killer of young people in the UK, and we know that the roads around Leith Primary Schools have some of the worst records on road safety in the whole of Edinburgh and the UK.

The most dangerous roads are the “main shopping streets.”

We already know that it is that is usually the very old who are killed in road accidents in Leith, and that accidents of all kinds tend overwhelmingly to happen on the main roads – not the ones which are already 20mph, as this map shows.

20mph limits work in Edinburgh.

20mph limits do tackle the barriers that put people off walking and cycling. This evaluation of a pilot project in the south of Edinburgh shows that people felt the streets were safer for cycling, and that they were more likely to let their children play in the streets, following the introduction of the 20mph zone.

20mph limits on Leith Walk have virtually no effects on bus services

In days gone by, Lothian Buses were caught out lobbying against 20mph speed limits on bus routes. But after a bit of heroic citizen science which strongly indicated that a 20mph speed limit would make virtually no difference to the time a bus takes to move along Leith Walk, it would appear the firm is now supportive of 20mph limits, provided they’re not enforced using speed bumps.

Something needs to be done about air pollution in Leith.

Air pollution in Edinburgh is linked to 205 deaths each year. People living on key roads in Leith like Great Junction Street, Commercial Street, London Road, Salamander Street, Leith Walk and Easter Road all live with dangerous levels of air pollution. Here’s the stats in this 2013 report.

Community support for 20mph limits is already well established in Leith

Frankly, Leithers have been consulted to death on this already. Whilst, it would be wrong to say there’s a consensus, there’s a pretty clear view that has emerged in favour of 20mph limits on main shopping streets. This local support mirrors strong support city wide for lower limits, and indeed, more and more cities across the UK have implemented similar measures.

Not really so radical?

Given all this, a plan to slow traffic down a little bit, in an area where the majority of households have no access to a car, doesn’t really seem that radical.

That is, unless you’re the Evening News, who seem to think that despite all the evidence to the contrary, Leith Walk is “expected ” to remain at 30mph, and that Leithers will bin these “radical plans.”

Exactly who, other than the Evening News sub editors expects this, remains unclear, from their article.

Now might be a good time to contact your councillor

Whilst formal local consultation processes are still to be announced, if you think 20mph limits on all roads in Leith would be a good idea, it wouldn’t do any harm to make your views known to your local councillor.

We’ll update this blog when we know more about the formal local consultation proposals.

Can these maps help anyone improve the neighbourhood?

pointless ASB map

This is a slide taken from a presentation produced by council officials and circulated around local community councils in April.

On the face of it, it looks like pretty good news. Afterall, the map shows 7% more people are “satisfied” with the way anti-social behaviour is being dealt with, and there are even places where people are “very satisfied” about how officials respond to concerns over anti-social behaviour. Helpfully, the map shows places where people are less satisfied too, indicating those areas which might need a bit more attention.

But wait.

Greener Leith had an enquiry from a local resident recently who asked us to find the source of the data that underpins these maps, because the council presentation didn’t link to it. And now, we’ve found it, it’s not really clear these maps tell us anything useful at all.

People Survey accuracy

First of all, the map is based on survey results from 411 people in the area. This gives the results an accuracy of +/- 5% at Neighbourhood Partnership Level in Leith. And of course, the more you try to break the results down to smaller and smaller areas, the less accurate the results get.

The council report on the original survey results suggests that at ward level the results become +/- 7% in Leith Ward.

But these maps break the down to far smaller areas than wards. Each area of analysis in these maps must represent the views of a tiny handful of people, but the officials who made these maps and whoever put them into a presentation don’t seem to have put any caveat anywhere making this clear.

And what about the blank bits of the map? What can anyone say about them?

So it would seem that any claimed “improvement” in anti-social behaviour is pretty close to the margin of error in the survey. Some of the other indicators in the presentation were within the margin of error.

For example, can this map which claims to represent what Leithers think of how the council deals with dog poo really tell us anything at all? Even that 2% “increase”  is within the margin of error.

Dog Fouling map

The Facebook question and not really many answers session. 

Ironically, in the same week Neighbourhood Partnership staff held an online Q&A on Facebook, where we’d requested hard data on how many fines the wardens had issued on Dog Fouling, Litter and Fly-tipping in the last year.

Officials refused to provide the information then and insisted that the request be treated as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

This will be the third year that Greener Leith has had to use FOI legislation to get these same statistics out of the council about local council services. How many more years will we need to put in the same request, before this data is published routinely?

Good community engagement needs transparency from the council

Lest you think, this post is just bashing the council, it’s not. These two examples illustrate a broader point.

Last Friday, Leith Neighbourhood Partnership held a community conference in a bid to give local people the chance to influence the priorities of that public agencies will focus on for the next three years. You can read a more detailed account of it from Peter Mathews here.

At that meeting, there was a call for more accountability, and more information, from the neighbourhood partnership, as people struggled to make reasoned judgements over which issues should be priorities for action in the coming years.

If there’s a genuine desire to move from simple consultation to more in depth forms of community engagement that give locals more of a say over how local services work, it’s hard to see how “non-experts” will be able to participate meaningfully in these discussions if officials do not commit to providing timely, sensible, reliable information on service performance.

Opaque “sciencey” looking propaganda maps, don’t really help anyone.

Whilst Neighbourhood partnership staff have made a laudable effort to share census results for the area more widely, there seems to be little appetite for sharing internally held council, police or health data, and explaining what the information might mean for the people who use and depend on these services – even when this could help people to come up with better ideas for improvements.

Reassuringly, we understand that Councillor Deidre Brock, who is the current Chair of the Neighbourhood Partnership has asked officers to review the governance and representation of the body. Here’s hoping it also looks at the capacity building work that would be required to support broader participation in community planning. On this week’s evidence, there’s a bit of work to be done.

Reflecting on the Leith Community Conference

Leith Community Conference

The Leith Community Conference took place last Friday afternoon, in a bid to involve locals in setting the priorities for the next “Community Plan,” which will cover 2014-2017. This is a lightly edited/illustrated version of a blog post about the event by local Leither and academic, Dr Peter Matthews.  

So, I took Friday afternoon off as annual leave and went to our local neighbourhood partnership community conference as it was in the church hall across the road and there are quite a lot of issues in Leith, that are basic service-level issues, that need attention and can be solved fairly easily.

I went to the event very sceptical given the my experiences of community planning during my doctoral research – I always use my mum’s aphorism to describe these: “councillor, where do you stand on dog shit”, “I don’t stand on it, I slide in it”. Also because I generally think community planning has a long way to go before it is effective in doing what it says on the tin – see here and here.

Actually the event was quite good. So here’s why:

It was organised well and wide range of people attended – with crèche facilities for parents and a free lunch (if I’d known the “refreshments” were going to be that good I’d have been keen to attend!). The only things they could have done better would have been microphones and an induction loop. What’s even better was the extra information and consultation they are going to bring in, including attending the “soup kitchen” at the church on a Sunday morning to hear the views of the people who attend that.


Poverty mind map

Obviously this is not a good thing. We were broken up into discussion groups of around eight and we first of all had to see whether we agreed with the list of priorities established from a previous self-selection questionnaire (which I had already completed).

From two of these groups, one being the group I was in, came a focus on poverty in the neighbourhood. This continued with the discussion of another group during the next phase where we had to discuss what actions we should do.

Now, arguably, at a neighbourhood level there’s little we can do to tackle poverty, and problems such as the Bedroom Tax and benefits sanctions. However, it really impressed me that we were talking about it openly and there was no question that it was a horrendous thing that the foodbank at the church has 1,000 clients and that people have been seen scavenging in bins in desperation for food.

Healthcare services

Twice it was pointed out that GPs services are massively overstretched in the neighbourhood with people having to wait three weeks for an appointment. I also added my experience of how overstretched local pharmacy services are, even though we have three within 25 yards of each other at the Foot of the Walk.

This is an issue that’s been raised by our regional MSP Sarah Boyack, yet given it’s nearly 35 years since The Inverse Care Law was published I was shocked to hear how overstretched services are, and evidence of inequality compared to less deprived neighbourhoods. However, given how poorly the NHS has engaged with neighbourhood-level community planning structures across Scotland, I do really wonder whether this is something that the neighbourhood partnership can do anything about.

These concerns seem to mirror Scottish Government research into local’s satisfaction with GP services. This map shows that none of the GP surgeries in the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership areas scored highly on key patient satisfaction measures.

We won!

At the end we had to put sticky dots onto the actions we liked most and two of our group’s suggestions won. This is good because….

Leith Community Conference Results

Cleaner Air

One of the suggestions that got 17 dots was to make the air cleaner in Leith by planting trees and encourage walking by improving the built environment. This was prompted by someone from Greener Leith who have been leading a campaign on the issue. Even they admitted it was a niche issue, but as soon as it was explained people agreed with it. Which was fantastic to see.

Better environmental services

We weren’t the only group to suggest this, but the way we framed it got it the most votes. I drew on the Clean Sweep work the JRF funded to highlight that in a neighbourhood: with the highest population density in Scotland (as per the 2011 census), with a high rate of income poverty (so people can’t afford £20 for a pick-up of rubbish), with massive problems of trade waste, and footfall for an extremely busy town centre; we need very high density good environmental services across the board – bin emptying and barrow beats – to keep the neighbourhood clean and tidy.

This also got nods from one of the local councillors. Frustratingly, chatting to council officers they still slipped into negative stigmatising views of residents that completely ignore these massive structural reasons behind the problems of neighbourhood cleanliness.

Community empowerment

Another surprising theme that kept coming up in discussion was moving away from community planning as it is, towards community empowerment.

Leith neighbourhood partnership does it’s £eith Decides community budgeting event which is very good.

However, I suggested, if we’re going to do the sort of fancy co-produced, partnership policy making that cuts through complexity (the sort the Christie Commission dreamed of) we’re going to need more community power over local budgets and local priorities. We’re going to need something that aims to be like what Our Place aims to be.

The good news is, it seems in Edinburgh, we need to watch this space. However, depressingly, an idea along these lines from our group got dismissed out of hand. This was the suggestion that the £20 cost for a waste uplift should be removed in deprived neighbourhoods, as it does seem to cause fly-tipping as people cannot afford it. The council then spend more money doing reactive lifts in response to resident complaints. It got dismissed because of the view people would then think they can just throw things out for free. I pointed out that’s what they do at the moment anyway…

Could it have been improved?

My only minor disappointment with the day was the broader way it was organised. The independent facilitator was very good; however it was limited to two hours and was very structured – we had to obey what we were told to do.

I think I would have preferred it if it was a longer event with more deliberation allowed. In particular, I have a thing about sticky-dot voting. It’s easy, but it closes down debate and ignores that most people probably agree with all the points. What was telling for me was that as people stuck their dots on and stood back from the flipcharts, they then began to chat in small groups. I could help but think that the officers should have been ear-wigging these conversations to find out even more.

I ended the event chatting to the neighbourhood partnership convener, Councillor Deirdre Brock* and brought to her an idea I’d had at the end. A student at Heriot-Watt did their dissertation on the charetteplus process done by Planning Aid for Scotland.

One thing this highlighted was the process mopped up a lot of information of the sort collected here – concerns about local services and problems – which then went nowhere as they were not planning concerns.

I suggested that running a charette focused on Leith central and the Foot of the Walk could bring in some really valuable information on making the area better in a place-making way, turning the Foot of the Walk in particular into a place, not a road junction, and also place-keeping, maintaining the neighbourhood as a nice place to live in future. It looked like my idea fell on fertile ground.

Finally, we were asked to write anonymously on flipchart paper what we would do after the event. I wrote that I would keep an eye on how clean the neighbourhood was to see whether we had been listened to. And that is the key thing here – there were very good ideas, and many practical things that the Council and other service providers (the NHS and Police Scotland mainly) can do, with very little expense, to make Leith better.

Now we just have to see them do it.

If you want to see a bit more about the event, see the tweets here.

Next steps

Officials are planning to continue to consult local residents about their priorities for the neighbourhood at a few more community events over the next few weeks. If you would like to have some say, they’ll be at Leith Festival Gala Day.

* you might recognise her from her life as an actor.

You can find the original version of this blog post on Peter Matthews own blog, here. 

Friends of Montgomery Street Park seeks your ideas and committee members

Friends of Montgomery Street Park

The Friends of Montgomery Street Park need your help. Before they can embark on a new round of fundraising for more park upgrades, they need you to tell them what you’d like to see them focus on next. Previous consultation work undertaken by the group identified a number of top priorities, including improving the play equipment, adding a ball court, and improving the paths and seating. The group wants to revisit this work to check if these are still important, or whether there are other issues they should be tackling.

You can fill out the consultation here. It takes a couple of minutes, max. Also, the group plans to hold its AGM on the 28th of May at 8pm in the Abbeymount Centre. The group is hopeful of recruiting a few new members to the committee. Tasca Shadix, the current group secretary is stepping down, and said: ” It’s safe to say that this meeting — and the people who may want to step forward and get involved with a fun, friendly and committed group of local people — will have a great impact on the future of the group. “