Wednesday, 15 January 2014

End of the Green Belt line?

You might not have heard of the Edinburgh Local Development Plan (LDP) or the Strategic Development Planning Authority for Edinburgh and South East Scotland (SESplan) and its Supplementary Planning Guidance. Both of these strategic planning documents and the potential implications that flow from them not only could but in my view will lead to the destruction of Edinburgh's green belt and creation of car dominated suburban sprawl.

The crux of the matter is the perception that Edinburgh needs to encroach on its green belt to provide housing for its growing population. But hang on a minute I hear you say what about the Waterfront developments which were to provide Edinburgh with a 21st Century new town accommodating a population the size of Falkirk? Ah, well say the planners Forth Ports was taken over and the new owners want to concentrate on port activity and related industrial uses at Leith. There will still be houses but fewer of them and anyway the volume housing developers prefer to develop green field sites - its cheaper you see and consequently provides shareholders with greater profits. Simple really. The developers bleat on about the development economics of developing land which is now 'too expensive' while quite happily raising the value of agricultural land around the City fringe making land owners rich and providing their own profit margins. But don't worry it's alright because they are providing 'much needed' housing for the city.

Is this really the way to map out Edinburgh's future shape and how people live in this great city? Is there another way of coping with housing demand and strengthening the communities of the city in a way that is more sustainable. Part of the joke of the proposed expansion into the green belt at Cammo and Maybury is that people are told that the cars will stay at home as people flock to the Trams. It's an argument trumpeted in David Murray's contra plan to put over 3000 houses in the so-called 'Garden District' at Hermiston. It's a joke and the planners know it - the volume of cars on the roads in these areas will increase without the problems that already exist with congestion on routes into the city being solved.

The time is overdue for a wide ranging public debate on what the city should look like - how can the value of the dormant brownfield sites be unlocked, what density should housing be built to, can the city build truly green eco housing for the future, can we adjust our thinking away from dormitory zoning where people live at a) and work at z) resulting in travelling across town or region, is there a future for the green belt, can improved public transport and the routes they use answer the transit problems.

It would seem that the planning system as it exists is not minded to allow the space to think out a future as it lurches from one plan to another - the recent City Local Plan and Rural West Edinburgh Local Plan which are supposed to be in force and guide planning decisions already seem to be superseded by the as yet unadopted Local Development Plan. No sooner will that LDP be in place than work will begin on it's successor. These are not so much plans but transitional enablers of contradictory development. The process resembles a box ticking exercise that neither considers the neighbourhoods its creating nor the communities affected.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Stifled? 'A Happy New Year for Democracy'

A Labour party member recently told me that the Scottish Labour Party has never had an internal debate or discussion on the independence question. The line - anti-independence - had merely been established by the leadership and imposed locally. It is assumed all members will support the ‘Better Together’ campaign and pitch up to leaflet when they are told. Local discussion on the matter in branches is frowned upon if not entirely extinguished.

You could say ‘what do they expect?’ however like many on the left but not in the Labour party some Labour members might actually prefer independence to the union. Like many on the left they may feel that breaking the mould of ‘British’ politics is not just the way to build the progressive society they want in Scotland but also a means to awaken radical democratic change in England too.

Machine politics has stifled this home rule thread of Scottish Labour thought. Much has been made of people like Charles Gray, Alex Mosson and John Mulvey joining the YES campaign. All former local government leadership figures now retired and pointing the way to independence. Where are the current Labour politicians espousing independence and a YES vote? In the main they are cowed and careful. Some no doubt quietly threatened with deselection keep the head down. The exception was former Labour Councillor Alex Lunn in Edinburgh but he found he couldn’t campaign for independence from the Labour benches and jumped ship to the SNP.

You could say this is all conspiracy and Labour is a democratic organisation that lauds free-speech. Maybe it is but it doesn’t look like that from the outside and from testimony isn’t like that internally particularly when it comes to Scottish Independence.

So it was a brave man in Dave Pickering erstwhile reporter with the North Edinburgh News a community newspaper serving Granton Pilton Muirhouse & Drylaw when he posted an article on their website on the 12 January ‘A Happy New Year for Democracy’ where he articulated his reasons for supporting a YES vote. The article is brave and honest and reflected what a lot of Labour and ex-Labour voters have to say about their party, parliamentary politics and the opportunities of independence. The article promptly disappeared later that day and it seems along with it the North Edinburgh News twitter account - searching for @northednews_NEN brings an internal server message. Tweets to the author and the Chair of the board of the North Edinburgh News, Martin Hinds (also Chair of Edinburgh Labour's Campaign Forum) have so far gone unanswered. The article has been found cached here

The sad thing is that I know Dave Pickering from my time as a Councillor and he always seemed like a fair guy a Labour stalwart sure but nothing wrong with that. Maybe he had second thoughts, maybe he was asked to think again. Whatever the story is and I sincerely hope we find out what it is the article is testament to generations of Labour members and indeed Scots who see in the independence referendum a route to a new Scotland. A Scotland that chimes with the ideals they hold close.

Update: since the post above was published Dave Pickering's article has been republished on Really glad the article has appeared again.