Ahead of the Leith Walk by-election, Greener Leith volunteers put together some questions which they then put to all the candidates.
Not everyone answered, but here are the responses from Marion Donaldson (Scottish Labour), Gordon Murdie (Scottish Conservatives) and Susan Rae (Scottish Green Party).
1. In your opinion, what is the most pressing green issue concerning Leith Walk today?
Marion Donaldson: There are too many cars, lorries, buses, motorbikes and taxis on Leith Walk causing both air pollution and congestion. Other thoroughfares in the ward such as Easter Road and Pilrig Street also suffer from similar issues. Air quality is essential for the health of residents and environmental well-being of the area.
Gordon Murdie: The Local Government Benchmarking Framework brings together information on how the 32 Scottish Councils perform in delivering services to local communities. The information for 2013/2014 – and the “ruling administration” don’t boast of this – shows Edinburgh Council to languish in second bottom position for local refuse collection and a lowly 28th out of 32 for local street cleanliness. Tens of millions of pounds being freely squandered covering up the Statutory Notices Scandal whilst the duty of keeping the streets clean and providing (and emptying) adequate bins is abandoned.
Tackling these two basic and fundamental issues from day one will be my priority if people are bold enough to elect me!
In tandem, there is a pressing need for environmental improvements to the Leith Walk streetscape. It presents almost a third world challenge to cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles alike. Leith Walk needs and deserves well considered improvements – I would relish driving a transformation. Lighting, real cycleways, piazzas, hard and soft landscaping – all of that and more. And no shoddy repairs, potholes and sticky-up manhole covers in that scheme!
Susan Rae: There are so many pressing issues that choosing one is a challenge. Air pollution, road safety, litter and fly tipping, access to quality greenspace and tackling fuel poverty are all urgent problems the council should be doing more to tackle. If asked to pick one, I’d choose fuel poverty: nearly one in three households in the ward are in fuel poverty, according to statistics from the council. We need to make our housing more affordable, and that includes being affordable to heat. As a council tenant, I’m well aware that housing costs have risen faster than incomes for most people. If elected, I’ll work to ensure radical investment in more energy efficient housing across the city, and doing far more to improve the energy efficiency of our existing homes.
2. With the rising population in Edinburgh as well as the trend for more single-person households, there is an increasing pressure to build new homes. Taking into account that Leith Walk is already one of the most densely populated areas outside the London boroughs, if you are elected, how will you ensure that any developments are made with the preservation of green spaces and community assets firmly front of mind?
Marion Donaldson: Community groups such as Greener Leith are effective in helping keep environmental sustainability at the forefront of our thinking. If elected, I would be keen to organise an event with them and similar groups to identify green spaces locally which need protection, land which could be developed, and green principles for any future developments built in the area. I would also engage with the Planning Officers to ensure consultation with the community on individual applications.
Gordon Murdie: There is a need for more housing. Affordable and sustainable. The Town & Country Planning (Scotland) Act and detailed Local Plans are rightly protective of green spaces. Additionally, I am utterly opposed to developments which attempt to encroach on green belts or green spaces. The art of urban development to meet the need for more housing fills many learned text books. In essence, urban sprawl should be avoided – this leads to isolation, excessive commuting pollution, remoteness from leisure, health, retail etc in principle. The best solution is to utilise brownfield sites near good public transport links and such sites exist in the Shrubhill area. An informed Councillor on the Planning Committee is also rather a good idea!
Susan Rae: Leith Walk is the most densely-occupied ward in Scotland. So there should be a strict brownfield sites-only presumption for future development. We should aim to have every park or greenspace with a well-supported “Friends Group”, and encourage local traders to “adopt a park”. For community facilities the council must ensure that the way it leases or sells public assets is in line with the Community Empowerment Act. Greens have a long history of supporting community assets, including our campaign to re-open Leith Waterworld as a community-run pool. It’s a shame that Labour and SNP councillors preferred to sell the pool to a private developer.
3. Do you consider air pollution to be an issue along Leith Walk? If yes, and you are elected, what steps will you take to mitigate this?
Marion Donaldson: Clean air is vital for our health, welfare and to protect our environment. While working as a pharmacist, I was aware of the negative impact air pollution has on public health with children and the elderly most vulnerable. As a local resident myself, I personally experience air pollution problems in Leith Walk, largely caused by motor vehicles.
If elected as a councillor, I would work with the Capital Coalition to reduce pollutant emissions. This can be improved by investing further in the cities public transport network of which the trams are an important part, ensure priority for pedestrians and cyclists and the roll out of the 20 mph zones. The goal would be for Leith Walk to meet the statutory Scottish air quality standards. Also working with the Scottish Government to introduce low emission zones in the area. I would also facilitate community workshops in Leith Walk Ward to help residents make practical plans to reduce their carbon emissions.
Gordon Murdie Yes. I welcome the more demanding European Standards on air pollution. City of Edinburgh Council presently monitors Nitrogen Dioxide across the city on a monthly basis and has a number of Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA). That said, I believe that Edinburgh will not meet the standards set by Europe by the due date of 2020 and 2025 is the revised date. That seems to me to be a rather unsatisfactory timescale.
There is a general move in the right direction across the UK with low emission engines, more efficient engines, hybrid vehicles, improvements to bus fleets – in fact AQMA results found that the majority of Nitrogen Dioxide emissions in Leith Walk were derived from buses which makes “cleaner” buses a priority. Traffic light timings, congestion, diesel engines are all factors in air quality. Roads without potholes would also help!
If elected, I would support acceleration of the bus fleet clean up and other such achievable measures within the current action plan. The problem is that the internal combustion engine can’t be disinvented and when people complain of being “stuck in traffic”, they forget that they are the traffic.
What’s needed is a culture change and proper cycleways such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen have. I would suggest that air quality readings published regularly in the Edinburgh Evening News might well bring the wider public to realise that cleaner air is really down to them. People may think twice about taking a car to work or nipping 5 minutes down the road in it for a pint of milk if they were regularly reminded that Edinburgh’s air pollution is a serious issue. “Was your car journey really necessary – Edinburgh’s air pollution was x% yesterday” that sort of campaign. There are lots of local initiatives too that require support and publicity – for example the “walking bus” to school.
Susan Rae: Air pollution is a serious issue along Leith Walk which is leading to the premature deaths of too many people. My Green colleagues on the council’s transport and environment committee have consistently pushed for more action to tackle the problem.
The recent council decision to introduce 20mph zones along Leith Walk and many other streets in the ward will help, and Green councillors supported that decision. But there’s far more we could do, including doing more to promote and provide infrastructure for walking and cycling; accelerating investment in low-emission buses, and introducing a low emission zone to reduce the number of high-polluting vehicles coming into the city. Of course investing in a tram in Leith Walk will also help to tackle air pollution, which brings me neatly on to…
4. The decision on the extension of the Edinburgh tram service is now not due until autumn this year. What are your views on the benefits and/or challenges that an extended tram service could bring to Leith Walk?
Marion Donaldson:The extended tram service would fulfil a promise to the people of Leith to bring the trams to our community. Other benefits include environmental improvements, better mobility for citizens and local economic prosperity. Experience in other cities indicates that bringing the trams to Leith, would have a beneficial effect in raising investor interest and developer confidence in the area. There would however be some challenges during installation including disruption for the local community. There may also be issues with gaining residents and businesses support for the project given the failures in previous project management.
Gordon Murdie: A local Councillor, in the ideal world, is elected to represent the people who voted him/her in. I have spoken with people in Leith who have entirely opposing views on the possible tram extension so a lot of consultation and debate lies ahead.
My judgement is to wait to see the report before answering your question, but here goes:-
The challenges may include:-
- There is believed to be a long list of engineering work on service conflicts to be undertaken.
- Leith Walk suffered the first bout of works for no tram and the people may not want to go through all that disruption again.
- The people of wider Edinburgh may question the wisdom of more expenditure on the trams when the Council’s budget is pretty well maxed out.
The benefits may include:-
- An environmentally friendly extended tram service serving Leith and a possible reduction in buses and vehicles in Leith Walk.
- An efficient transport link to generate new life and business.
- The environmental improvements which I made mention of in question 1 could be incorporated in the project.
Increased tourism in Leith
And, to close
I look forward to reading the report and gauging public opinion which will be wide and varied. In truth, I have never actually been on a tram simply because they don’t currently leave from or stop at anywhere that I have needed to go to.
Susan Rae: Leith Walk has had all the pain of trams so deserves to see the gains, with improved access, reduced fumes and more business for local shops. However, the business case has to add up and the work to introduce trams needs to utilise all the previous work on infrastructure and utility diversion; not start again from square one. It’s also essential that any local businesses who suffer from any tram works are adequately compensated.
The Spurtle organised a hustings where the candidates received a grilling on a wider range of topics. You can read a summary report of the event on their website, and watch a video recording of the whole event here.
The results of the by-election were announced in the early hours of this morning.
The following two candidates have been elected:
Marion Donaldson, Scottish Labour Party
John Lewis Ritchie, Scottish National Party (SNP)
Returning Officer, Andrew Kerr, said: “I would like to welcome the two newest Councillors to the City of Edinburgh Council and look forward to working with them on matters affecting the Leith Walk Ward and the city as a whole.”
“I also want to thank our elections team for all the work they have put into ensuring this by-election runs smoothly.”
The turnout for the by-election was 25.1%.
Full results are available on the council website here.