Friday, 6 April 2012


Easter time already and despite a flurry of snow, things are starting to grow again around the city.
Not just the plants and gardens but maybe also a time to rethink how communities can grow.
Around the city community groups and initiatives are growing too.

The growth of social capital  in the city, which Josiah Lockhart from the Grassmarket Community Project describes as a culture of trust and tolerance, in which extensive networks of voluntary associations emerge, may provide some new solutions to old problems of unemployment, homelessness, poverty and the blight of failed developments.

Whilst the GCP has been able to start on the development of additional facilities to accommodate their growing programme of activities and services many local initiatives continue to struggle to find space to operate. There is still an obvious shortage of premises for both new initiatives developing within the city (eg. Remade in Edinburgh) and more established organisations and charities who have provided a range of facilities and who have become or are becoming homeless (eg. Forest Cafe and the Bongo Club).

The Bongo Club is currently under threat as it has to vacate its home at St Johns Street/Holyrood Road by September. Initially it was hoped it could find accommodation within the landlords(Edinburgh Uni) estate after it was announced they have to vacate to the existing venue as additional Uni staff facilities are needed there. However requests to consider the relocation to an abandoned church next door have been dismissed on the basis it is part of the Uni's long term development plans.

Surely creating a bespoke venue for the Bongo which reuses a historic building and has the potential to accommodate other charities/social enterprise ventures is exactly the kind of 'long term development' which should be supported - or do Edinburgh Uni really believe the continued neglect will enable demolition and so the site can be free for a large new block to serve as office/student accommodation/hotel etc?

Its time to ask candidates standing for election to local councils in May what they will do to support this growth in social capital and in particular how they will enable or support local initiatives to make better use of public assets and our cultural and architectural heritage

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Future forcast

Over the summer developers, councillors, officials and objectors will need to consider what would be best for the controversial gap site in the heart of Edinburgh.
What will the future bring?
Here's one view of the future for developments like the approved Caltongate plans

Real Estate from Jonathan Weston on Vimeo.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Artisan Investors planning more of the same?

Last week it was reported that new developers Artisan Investors had been bombarded with offers for the development of a 5* hotel at the failed Caltongate site despite reports to the contrary that only a couple of  hotel operators were seriously interested in financing the demolition of historic buildings to construct a hotel next to a huge gapsite.

The developers have as yet not revealed who they are engaging to undertake the management of the development and redesigning of the plans, however today Allan Murray was spotted giving the Investors a guided tour of the site. Has he got his old job back or just offering some free advice?

Many community and heritage organisations have called on the council to encourage the new developers to revise the masterplan for the area and find a more sustainable way forward that complies with new planning policy and frameworks for the area, and have sought to meet with the developers before any decisions are made. However,  it was  reported this week that Councillor Jim Lowrey, convener of the Planning Committee did not wish to see the developer 'inhibited' by recommendations in the UNESCO report and that the hotel must be located on the Royal Mile! This 'planning' advice from the convener fails to take account of the advice from members of AD&S, the Academy of Urbanism and many other professional bodies who acknowledge the failures of the Caltongate plans in being able to meet the new standards of placemaking and economic resilience.

This obsession with locating the Hotel in such a way as to require the demolition of 2 listed buildings and 18 homes was promoted by Allan Murray as the key justification for vandalising the World Heritage Site. The layout could easily be amended to allow a greater mix of sympathetic uses (including a hotel with a frontage to the Royal Mile) without requiring further demolitions.

Perhaps if the investors widen their net and consider using a different architectural approach than that of Mr Murray, one which uses the historic environment as an opportunity not an obstacle, a truly inspiring and successful development can evolve. Lets hope the Investors will allow some serious community engagement before finalising their plans this time.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Arts Attacked

Last week saw a flurry of activity across the country as a variety of community and arts groups got involved in celebrating World Community Arts Day.2012 on Friday 17th Feb

Events around Edinburgh included street art with The Wee Blue Box, poetry from Craigmiller Writers Group, and a craft market and tapestry exhibition at Cockenzie House to name a few but WORLD Community Arts Day has a much wider reach with events happening in Ireland, Poland, Mexico and many other countries.

However, all is not well in the Arts Community as new legislation is due to be introduced on 1st April which will make events like this much harder to participate in.
Not only is the arts and culture sector facing massive cuts but now grassroots organisations are going to be taxed for being creative and innovative too!
Already the opportunities which exist for new work to be displayed are limited as many gallery fees are exclusive to those on a low income and community spaces where emerging talent can be developed and shared are continually being lost as budgets are cut and assets sold.

 The new Public Entertainment Licencing Fees to be introduced through the controversial Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act of 2010 has huge implications for the licensing of small scale, temporary, free artistic or musical events.

It has caused uproar in the artistic community with Creative Scotland, numerous other arts organisations and individuals speaking out about the impact this will have on grassroots arts and culture initiatives.

A petition calling for fees to be scrapped has been set up now WHICH YOU CAN SIGN HERE!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Edinburgh's underground scene set to be buried

There was more bad news for Edinburgh's city centre as today the Bongo Club announced they were to be evicted by Edinburgh University.
The loss of this unique venue follows fast on the heals of news that another well loved venue which is home to a wide range of homegrown clubs, is to close for 'refurbishment' at the end of this month. The loss of  Cabaret Voltaire, is seen by many as a betrayal by new owners G1 who claimed to be pursuing a "hands off " approach when they took over the lease last year.

A petition to try and save the Bongo Club has been set up already in the hope Edinburgh University Management can be persuaded to review their decision CLICK HERE
A Save Bongo Club Facebook page to show support and share ideas for action has also been set up.

The Bongo and OOTB's home at New St (now demolished)

This is not the first time Bongo have been forced out the city. In 2005 Out of the Blue were evicted from New St along with their club the Bongo. Local traders and small businesses, New Street Studios, the Sunday Market and numerous crafters and artists were evicted from the old bus depot (now demolished) and Canongate Venture. Fortunately the old Bongo Club found a new home close by within  Moray House but OOTB moved to Leith. Many other artists, creatives and independent businesses from New St area were forced to leave Edinburgh as affordable workspace in the city centre disappeared.
The Big Red Door (now closed)
We have seen the loss of many community facilities, arts organisations and venues across the city centre in recent years (The Big Red Door, Forest Cafe, Dumbiedykes IT Centre, Panmuir House, The Venue and The Roxy to name a few) as the council sells off valued land and assets to encourage speculative redevelopment schemes focused on increasing land values. Edinburgh University, who want to redevelop the Bongo club for offices, already have permission for a significant amount of redevelopment for student accommodation and facilities around the Moray House area.

In the desperate drive to create more 'events space', tourism accommodation, luxury flats class 'A' shops and offices in the city centre, the council are forgetting to provide for people whose presence create the 'living city centre' used in so much of their promotional material. Their hope is it will stimulate the local economy, but this kind of gentrification is known to create little economic benefit to the neighbourhood.

Its time for a change!
Although the Scottish Government have expressed encouragement and provided some financial support for communities to take over management of local assets and have a greater say in the running of their neighbourhoods, some local authorities have proved they are not willing to support (or even listen to) community initiatives!

As we approach the Local Government elections it's time to ask your councillor what they have done to support community initiatives or facilities in their area, and ask candidates what will they do differently.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Community Visioning

Today Edinburgh Council launched their Canal Strategy to develop a new 'canal culture' across communities stretching from Tollcross to Ratho. This strategy was put out to consultation last summer and whilst many support the development of environmental and access improvements to the Canal, concerns were again raised by local residents of the 'planned' developments beside the canal corridor. Any concerns raised about the proposed canal side developments were dismissed as being the subject of Local Plan proposals and development frameworks.

But is the Local Plan working?
In the Local Plan the masterplans and development briefs (now more than 5 years old) for Caltongate, Quartermile, and Fountainbridge are identified as the development propsals which will deliver offices, leisure and retail units, tourist and business developments as well as (the only) new housing planned for the city centre. Whilst there are plenty of empty  available offices around the city centre, and continued intrest for developing additional hotels, delivery of approved housing development in the city centre has not been successful.

The recently produced Local Plan Monitoring Report states only 247 of the approved 1069 residential units have been completed at Quartermile, only 77 of the 1206 approved residential units have been completed at Fountainbridge and no development has been achieved at Caltongate.

Many communities feel it is now necessary to take a lead in the planning process and come forward with their own visions for the development of their neighbourhoods.
Acttive citizens in the Tollcross/Fountainbridge area are taking the lead in their community and are holding an event next Saturday.

It is time that Councillors listened to their constituents and ensure officials embrace community led initiatives to find solutions which are economically and socially sustainable.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Geddes - planner, polymath or protester

This week it was reported that a campaign to raise funds for a statue of Patrick Geddes was launched, but is a statue the most fitting tribute to the man who shaped the evolution of society, planning and education with his novel approach? Perhaps an arts project demonstrating cooperation between community and artist-intellectuals, which describes the social and cultural legacy of Geddes in Edinburgh and gives opportunity for skills development, would be more fitting.

Born in Ballater in 1854 without the privilege of a wealthy background, Patrick Geddes was to become a major influence internationally for developing a new type of evolutionary education based on his idea 'by living we learn'. He is many things to many people, having influenced direction and development of so many subjects like botany, biology, sociology, education, arts, civics, housing, environmentalism, politics and of course town planning which he developed through his methods of surveying and analysis, bringing together social science and evolutionary science
Patrick Geddes with Bombay students (image source The Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust)

He studied and worked in Paris, Montpelier, Mexico, Palestine and Bombay, as well as in Dublin, Edinburgh, London and Dundee where he promoted civic activism, education, cultural revival and preservation of heritage and craft as a key to social improvements. 

Believing that whether poor or prosperous, life would be improved by evolving to a higher, healthier cultural affinity with an aesthetically enhanced environment, he applied his methods of survey and analysis to understand the important links between the physical, environmental and cultural aspects of each place. He understood that urban development depended on a grasp of environmental context and historical and cultural tradition and that civic action and evolutionary education was required to redress social justice in our

'largely Paleotechnic working-towns with their ominous contrasts of inferior conditions for the labouring majority, with comfort and luxury too uninspiring at best for the few' (Geddes, 1915).

A key advocate in the development of visual arts and traditional crafts, through his work with the Edinburgh Social Union he promoted the Celtic revival and commissioned artists to undertake works of art, murals, drinking fountains which would uplift the spirit and reinforce the public connection with their national traditions and culture. This development in arts and crafts traditions complemented his programmes for local residents to improve themselves and their local environment through participating in childcare, household management and gardening classes.

It was through his development of methodology for survey and analysis, which also recognised the importance of art, heritage and culture, that the 'conservative surgery' approach to development and urban renewal was developed and reinforced by those who followed him and had responsibility for managing development in the city

The importance of the connection between public health and environment is again being recognised as society struggles to find solutions to the current global environmental, social and economic problems.

Geddes is today often celebrated through exhibitions, plaques and books but his influence can also be seen today in the work of his followers in the communities which continue to evolve using his approach. Whether restoring gardens or holding conferences, his influence is felt today not by gazing on pictures or statues of him but through discovery of the vast body of international work which he influenced. The continued activism of  citizens who carry on his work whether reviving a centre for Learning and Conservation or campaigning internationally on issues of environment, peace and social justice is a lasting tribute to him.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Are you engaged yet?

Back in 2005 Scottish Government endorsed the National Standards of Community Consultation this, along with new rules in Planning to for pre-application consultation, was intended to ensure fairness in the delivery and planning of services but is it being used?

Last week Edinburgh Council held a Charrette (the new jargon for stakeholder workshop) to engage with community and council about how to improve the Royal Mile.

These issues and many other urgent issues (lack of affordable and family housing, access to public land and parks, absence of community space closed off roads, management of city centre events, enforcement of planning and licencing policies, temporary uses for gapsites and empty property) have all been raised and discussed at previous charrettes and focus groups but to date there has been little real action taken.

Whilst the previous charrette led to a Area Development Framework (ADF) to guide action and development (which includes a proposal to 'develop the Royal Mile Project' as a big project for community engagement and improvements the area)  
This ADF framework is still out to formal consultation until 23rd Jan!

The existing consultation process is not meaningful, democratic or productive so it was no surprise then that a number of residents, SOOT supporters and the local Community Council decided to boycott the event 

Although some who attended claim that the event was a success the outcomes dont appear to be anything very inspired.
The Neighbourhood team will undertake a 'spring clean' to improve the appearance of particular hotspots (an annual event has been happening since they were established) and a new Royal Mile manager will be recruited to manage day to day management (surely the existing City Centre Town Centre Coordinator and Neighbourhood Managers jobs already cover this although clearly not being very effective at implementing improvements)

Although the charette and planning teams state support for the reuse of vacant property and use of rent controls to encourage better mix of shops, the councils own economic development and property teams are continuing to sell off assets for demolition, increase rents to long established local shops and encourage any tenant which will generate higher rents!

It would seem that others in the city are also feel that councils Charrettes and consultation are no more than a tick box exercise to distract from the bigger issues which people DO want an opportunity to comment on (like privatisation of services). Local Blogger Peter Matthews has also decided NOT to engage in the most recent consultation exercise for the Local Plan and development of the Leith Docks.

Maybe its time for communities to take control of the consultation process. Networks of common cause and concern are already gathering to see how Councillors and others can be held to account regarding how the whole city moves forward.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Activists call for Holyrood to intervene in capital row

Concerns about Edinburgh's World Heritage Status were raised by heritage bodies in the city when yesterday it was reported that the (new or revived) Caltongate scheme would require to go before the UN World Heritage committee.
The Scottish Government through Historic Scotland are required to protect World Heritage Sites and  therefore have a responsibility to ensure any revived development for the Waverley Valley takes due consideration of the recommendations made following UNESCO's visit in 2009.
The Scottish Government also have a responsibility to ensure Local government complies with legislation and policy and that best value is achieved for communities through public asset management. Will any of our representatives at Holyrood take up the challenge and question Edinburgh Council about so called benefits of flogging off much needed council housing on the cheep to developers who may demolish them with no guarantee of development?

Meanwhile Edinburgh Council provide 24hr security to 'protect' the gapsite

Today this article was published in the Glasgow Herald
by Brian Donally

"Members of the Canongate Community Forum, the area where the project is located, said Edinburgh City Council was wrong to approve the sale of land and buildings for £3.4M last month without further consultation.
Now the group plans to lobby Holyrood in an effort to prevent the sale. It includes nine flats for a total of £900,000, which the campaigners say is well below the normal market price.
One-bedroom flats in the area regularly fetch £150,000.
The sale will make way for a massive development in the medieval Old Town that will include a five-star hotel with 211 bedrooms, an 18,000sq ft conference centre, offices, shops, cafes and 165 new homes.
Resident and campaigner Julie Logan said there was strong opposition to demolishing a number of buildings at the Canongate to allow the develoment to go ahead.
She said: "The sale of these assets was approved just before Christmas, at a time when all of the interested groups did not have the time to put together formal objections.
"The issue is it was agreed to sell off the land without enough consultation or without providing any evidence this delivers best value in any kind of way for Edinburgh.
"There are groups who are deeply concerned about the proposals to demolish the buildings. We saw no need to rush this through. The flats have been empty for two years now and would need some work done, but they are not in great disrepair.
"The Scottish Government has got to play a role to ensure the best value is achieved."
The concern over the agreement of the sale of the assets to developers Artisan Real Estate Investors comes after The Herald revealed yesterday the entire project is to be scrutinised by Unesco after fresh fears it could jeopardise the city's World Heritage Site status.
Similar plans for the 640,000sq ft site previously prompted a UN mission to the capital that ended with Unesco telling then developers Mountgrange to redraw its plans or risk damaging the critical component of the accolade, the area's "outstanding universal value".
Director of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association said the council was "rushing this (sale) through at a very bad time to sell".
Artisan Real Estate Investors says it comprises a "powerful consortium of South African investors which is set to breathe new life into a project that has been dormant for more than a decade".
When first mooted, it was claimed the project could create 2000 jobs.
Artisan has taken over the project two years after the previous developer Mountgrange folded. Dave Anderson, head of city development, said the sale would help lead to more affordable housing for the area.
He said: "The capital receipt will be credited to the Housing Revenue Account and re-invested in the provision of affordable homes.
"In addition to the capital receipt, Artisan will transfer, free of value, a plot of land earmarked for the majority of the affordable housing on the consented scheme directly to the council. This plot of land has planning consent for 36 affordable housing units and will count towards the overall affordable housing requirement of the consented scheme.
"The commencement of the project has the potential to be a catalyst for Edinburgh's commercial property market and should encourage further overseas investors. The completed development will deliver much needed new commercial space to the city including offices, retail units and a five-star hotel."
Edinburgh Council security checking the gap site and Canongate Venture yesterday