Throughout the last year, the Chairman and members of the Cramond and Barnton Community Council have continued to work diligently in representing the views of the population of the community’s catchment area in its efforts to work with partners to challenge and improve local services. Among the issues which continue to represent the focus of these efforts are:
- Roads and Transport (inc. Bus Services)
- Edinburgh Airport
- Health and Social Care
- Police and Public Safety
- Other Services and Issues
- Environmental Projects
- Governance (inc. Engagement)
The details of the considerations regarding these issues can be found in the approved minutes of the various Board meetings which are open to members of the public and which take place on every third Thursday of the month (excluding July, August and December). These minutes may be found on the Community Council website. Also, on the website are some of the more notable correspondence and reports which are produced, for example when a substantive input is being made to a controversial or vexatious issue. Some of these may be found in the appendices to this brief report and are offered as examples.
The single most important planning issue impacting on the community has once again been the proposed housing development on the Cammo Fields site. The presence of the proposed development in the current Local Development Plan has meant that in many respects the decision to proceed with the development had already been taken by the City of Edinburgh Council and approved by Scottish Government.
With that in mind the inputs of the Community Council have been designed to best influence the shape of the development – and to try to secure reasonable assurances that the necessary infrastructure will be provided by the Council to a timetable that is meaningful and reasonable and does not result in existing services collapsing under the weight of the additional demands which will arise.
While we have achieved some limited success with the developers who have acted with professionalism, integrity and a genuine preparedness to listen and to adjust the same cannot be said of our engagement with the Council and its officials who have displayed an unerring determination to approve developments which have been the subject of a weight of local objection, including on what have on occasion been material grounds, and to press ahead. The presumption in favour of development is one which it is difficult to argue against but what has become more of a concern is the determination to press ahead with no real clear and funded action programme that will provide the necessary infrastructure to a timetable that is meaningful against the programme for the development and other coterminous developments. Included within the appendices is a paper which the Secretary produced following the June approval of the application and which offers his insight into the process and the decision.
On other occasions, during the year the Community Council challenged and/or offered suggestions regarding various other smaller developments – again with limited success.
The Community Council were pleased to note the refusal of planning proposals for sites north of Craigs Road and at Craigiehall, for sound planning reasons. In many respects, these were speculative proposals, intended to influence the decision in the forthcoming preparation of City Plan 2030 – the new local development plan for Edinburgh.
On other occasions, during the year the Community Council challenged and/or offered suggestions regarding various other smaller developments – again with limited success. The demolition of traditional houses on large sites and their replacement with townhouses or blocks of flats, with designs which fail to recognise the settled character and density of the local area and provide inadequate on-site parking, remains a continuing issue of concern to our community.
Roads and Transport
Linking into the Cammo Fields development, a paper was prepared by the Community Council. With the support of a professional roads engineer, and was provided for the consideration of officials and of Councillors which offered various suggested improvements to the Barnton Junction — designed to severally and collectively improve the flow of vehicles through the junction the paper was well received by the developers and by their professional traffic advisers.
A more muted response has been received from the Council. Some very small improvements have been implemented (principally around the exit from Cammo Gardens into the Maybury Road). While a meeting with members of the Roads Service gave hope of progress, this has been frustrated by the Council’s decision to undertake a study of Maybury Road and adjacent roads. It may be questioned why this is being undertaken after, rather than before, approval of the Maybury and Cammo developments.
Our efforts in relation to the Barnton Junction have been progressed not just with the interests of our own community at heart but with regard to the other community council areas in the north-west of Edinburgh especially those dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the A90 Queensferry Road corridor including Kirkliston, South Queensferry as well as the Davidsons Mains and Silverknowes Association as their means of accessing the city centre.
The year did not get off to a good start with the decision of Lothian Buses to route the new A200 service from Victoria Quay in Leith to the airport using a route which did not feature the Queensferry Road to the Maybury Road and over to the A8 and the Airport.
Our challenge on this came to nought. Undaunted we looked to the possibility of the City’s subsidised services, and early discussions with Council officials looked very promising in the context of an extended western route for the service 13. This and other subsidised services will shortly be put out to tender, and we shall wait and see whether any improvement comes our way. If not, then a formal complaint is likely to be made to the Council (citing a process pursued which may be considered to be anti-competitive).
Support for – and resistance to – some Traffic Restrictions Order also occupied the minds and efforts of members, and one of the appendices relates to the concerns regarding the prospect of another proposed Care Home in the community – and the traffic consequences of such a development.
Good progress was made earlier in the year with the Airport’s consultation on possible changes to incoming and outgoing flight paths. The robust engagement had brought the prospect of some adjustments to the outbound flight path where wind direction supported northbound departures. The scope for adjustments to inbound flight paths was pursued but ultimately was not supported on technical (flying) grounds.
Obsolescence in the consultation process, however, resulted in the Civil Aviation Authority rejecting the proposals that emerged and a fresh consultation process following the new CAA guidelines is now underway. Night flying continues to be a matter of concern with the Airport, thus far, demonstrating little inclination to either self-regulate these increasing flight numbers and the City of Edinburgh Council failing to show any inclination to respond to this by moving to introduce regulation.
However, Edinburgh Airport Limited has intimated that there are some signs of the trend arresting with the introduction of increased charges on airline operators during the night time period. This will merit continued close monitoring.
Health and Social Care
A stop-start year or perhaps start, stop may be the most appropriate way to describe progress on this matter. Following a very positive meeting with the executive and clinical leads for the local integrated structure in December, our efforts to build on this engagement have been frustrating. The Community Council will continue to seek to engage in its efforts to influence the local delivery of this integrated agenda in the interests of patient care.
Police and Public Safety
The routine reports from the local police at our meetings continue, and in general, the locality suffers little from the rates of criminality that feature elsewhere in Edinburgh. Rates of housebreakings and attempted housebreakings along with car theft are low while the growing issue of concern relates to antisocial behaviour typically involving groups of youths congregating and on occasion leaving a trail of disruption and damage, including when the Police disperse them.
Gathering points in the locality include Lauriston Castle, Cammo Park and Cramond Kirk grounds and the walled garden. Targeted police resources supported by CCTV have helped to mitigate some of the more unwelcome behaviours that attend these gatherings.
Other Services and Issues
Changes to the refuse arrangements took time to bed in, and there were many weeks of poor service before a satisfactory service emerged. The Community Council and local Councillors played their part in ensuring that Council officials were fully appraised of the unacceptable service that prevailed for some time.
The Cramond Inn became an issue of concern to the Community Council as it closed again to the public in September following the dismissal of the management team by the brewers. The regularity of such dismissals and closures in the past years prompted the Community Council to pursue the matter with the Licensing Board. The Inn was in the past one of Edinburgh’s fine dining establishments. That reputation was earned and deserved, and patrons came from far and wide to enjoy the food and drink at the Inn. Such an establishment should be an asset to the community – and to Edinburgh and beyond.
It has now re-opened albeit currently with more limited service (no food) while kitchen refurbishment remains pending. Also, the Inn is currently operating on a cash-only basis. A programme of improvements works to the building and grounds has begun, and we would wish the current managers every success in their efforts to turn around what has been a sleeping giant for too long. Given the freedoms and support required from the brewer and they may be successful.
Cammo Estate Local Nature Reserve – CBCC’s representative on Cammo Estate Advisory Committee had led the development of an interpretation strategy for Cammo Estate in partnership with representatives of the City Council and Friends of Cammo. Proposals for enhanced directional signage and interpretation of Cammo House ruins are likely to be implemented in the coming months. He has also had inputs to a strategic development plan for the Estate, including improvements to footpaths.
Dowie’s Mill Weir – Community Council representatives have given strong support to Friends of the River Almond Walkway in its submissions, and made its submissions, objecting to the City Council’s proposed removal of Dowie’s Mill Weir and supporting an alternative approach to maintaining the Mill Pond and enhancing fish passage on the river.
Granton Waterfront Project – CBCC is represented in a community consultee group for this major project which extends to Cramond Harbour Improvements. The Community Council has sought further extension of the sitting and amenity area in front of the Maltings and played a major role in getting the “Hole in the Wall” repaired, thereby resolving a major eyesore. The pressure is being put on the Council to manage overgrown vegetation at this site better.
Governance (inc. Engagement)
We began last year with a new raft of governance arrangements introduced by Waverley Court, and we concluded the year with these self-same arrangements being dismantled and the seeds of new arrangements being sown. The Council and its officials had determined that last year’s arrangements had not proven as pleasing as it would have liked. What is our perception? Yes, they were proving probably more demanding of the time of officials than was desirable – or sustainable in the longer term.
But insofar as this Community Council area was concerned, we would argue that they were working in that from our perspective, engagement felt more real, meaningful and influential. The North West Locality Committee was well controlled by the sitting Chair and was taking issues of concern to the relevant policy committees – and that is where we would suggest the problems began. Difficult questions were being raised, and difficult questions are often difficult to answer.
The administration was facing a challenge, and it was uncomfortable. So, we now have new arrangements designed to provide for greater community engagement of far more local bodies and groups feeding into Neighbourhood Networks who will appoint one representative (covering several CC equivalent areas) to be the voice on the new locality committees where real influence begins. The difficulty is the chasm that exists between the issues which these key localities committee will consider and the types of minutiae that may try to permeate up from the Networks. (Think of taking an ice cream into the Sahara). It may look like a determination to engage more widely, but we believe that any impact or influence of the Community Councils as statutory bodies will be so far diluted as to render it meaningless.
The Council’s latest corporate governance directive to Community Council’s demands the appointment of a Community Engagement Officer which implies that Community Councils have not been engaging with the community they represent. This charge is not true of the Cramond and Barnton Community Council. Our routine means of communication within our community is we believe comprehensive, especially given the voluntary nature of our position:
- We have two notice boards on which notice of all our meetings are displayed together with minutes and details of current planning issues.
- For all significant planning issues in our area or likely to affect our area we convene meetings and exhibitions usually with the developer in attendance to keep the community aware and get a formal endorsement on the CC position we are presenting.
- Our CC is represented on the Cramond Kirk Session, the Airport Consultative Committee and Noise Advisory Board and the local Probus club facilitating two-way communication.
- Our Chair convenes two monthly meetings with our four sister organisations where all current local issue are shared and, if necessary, a lead organisation agreed to avoid duplication.
- We maintain an electronic database of all individuals who have attended any of our meetings or expressed interest in the CC activities and used this for routine communications.
- We intend to prepare a quarterly newsletter to issue to interested parties, but as our finances and human resources are stretched to the limit, this remains outstanding.
- We are represented on the Cramond Collaborative Group along with five other local groups, on the Cammo Estate Advisory Committee and on the Forget Me Not Garden Committee.
Conversely, we are concerned at the support for the Community Councils afforded by the City of Edinburgh Council. The extent and timeliness of the publicity for the forthcoming Community Council elections is an example in relation to governance, and operational examples of our concern are referred to earlier in this report.
Summary and Conclusions
The efforts of the members of the Community Council are often unstinting and selfless. They are borne out of a genuine desire to try to influence service delivery and development for the best for the people who live inthis community. Within the City of Edinburgh Council there has been much change and churn – and cuts in administration staff – and its ability to manage all of the projects that are often a consequence of what is generally needed development has suffered as a consequence.
They continue to try to engage and be seen to be talking to and taking communities with them, but at the end of the day, little signs of influence appear in the final decisions. Much is made of community empowerment and the opportunity for community councils to take responsibility for some of the budgetary decisions. This may be challenging and demanding of the time of members. Much will depend on our membership and the capacity and qualities we have after the forthcoming elections. But it may be the only way to influence progress at community council level for a community such as Cramond and Barnton where too many outsiders there is no perceived need for service development. Next year will be telling.
The Secretary’s Perceptions
Planning Decision on Cammo Fields
On Wednesday 22 May 2019 I gave up another morning of my time to attend the “deliberations” of the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee into the planning application from Cala/David Wilson Homes for the construction of more than 700 new homes on Cammo Fields.
The hearing provided for evidence to be heard from the Community Council (CC), and there were also representations from others including Alec Cole-Hamilton MSP, Councillors Lang and Hutchison as well as from Duncan Fraser for the Davidsons Mains and Silverknowes Association and a lady resident from Cammo. The stately dance having run its course the Committee moved to approve the application. Done and dusted.
Suffice it to say that the process had as much integrity as Donald Trump’s golf scorecard!
A cheap shot – well maybe but warranted – certainly.
What stance did the various players take? The Ward Councillors comprising Graham Hutchison and Kevin Lang – and our MSP – all argued for absolute rejection of the application. The reasons given were varied.
- It was the worst possible site (the juxtaposition of A90 Queensferry Road and Maybury Road) for such a development where traffic was already operating at capacity. The Council had demonstrated little inclination to action the various CC suggestions around the Barnton Junction (designed to try to mitigate pressures and ease flow). This was notwithstanding the preparedness of the developers to fund the improvements (which improvements also had the support of the developers’ traffic assessors).
- Other infrastructure gaps included schools’ provision with a clear emerging expectation that would see children from the new development having to go to Cramond Primary and the Royal High Secondary for an undefined period – both of which were operating at capacity. The risks for primary school children in particular in having to traverse the Queensferry Road to travel down Whitehouse Road made the platitudes of the officials about “active travel” opportunities via walking and cycling no more than empty rhetoric.
- Additional pressure on GP surgeries was singled out for special mention by our MSP – who was quick to correct the riposte of one of the Councillors on the Committee who said that he understood there to be no problems with GP Practices in the area.
The dependency on the car was an issue which the lady from Cammo majored on in her presentation along with the challenges in living in an area for which car access and egress is a daily “life in your hands” experience. She was one of many who used Cammo Walk as her means of exiting the area – rather than risk exiting on to the Queensferry Road or Maybury Road. Would the Cammo Walk route still be open to her going forward? No one from the Council was able to say.
Duncan Fraser roundly challenged the dependency on “smart traffic lights” as a cure all to the congestion in his presentation on behalf of DMSA. The need for detailed traffic modelling was highlighted, and a regional approach to the traffic flows into the City from the North and West emphasised.
What was our stance as the lead Community Council? To acknowledge that following the approval of the Local Development Plan the likelihood of the development not progressing was infinitesimal and that our focus should be on trying to encourage the Committee to require officials and the developers to provide a comprehensive, costed, funded infrastructure delivery plan along with an approved report on traffic management measures for the affected roads and junctions. That the Councillors should not approve the application until they were satisfied with these issues.
The developers gave an impressive presentation on the mix of housing, landscaping, community centre, bus turning circles and engagement with various stakeholders. They presented themselves as developers keen to deliver a high standard of housing (including around 160 or 25% of which would be affordable) in a manner sensitive to the environment and the locality. They are acutely aware of the heritage of the site and come over as genuine in their engagement. They recognise the value in working with the community and in striving to work Council officials to try to secure the necessary infrastructure and with minimal time-lag.
What of Council officials? They played fast and loose with facts when questions were raised by Councillors – on occasion glossing over the paucity of infrastructure plans and funding gaps — or pointing to wider Area Wide transport considerations to be given – to no clear timescale and at other times blatantly giving factually incorrect information.
What is my analysis? Could we and or the other “presenters” have done anything differently and what difference might it have made to the decision. Well, yes to the first question but I would suggest no to the second.
The development is in the Strategic Development Plan (SES Plan) and the Local Development Plan (LDP). This along with the overarching presumption in favour of development makes it exceptionally difficult for Councillors to reject such major developments. And if they do, then they know they face the likelihood of an appeal and the requirement that they will then have to justify their position to Scottish Government via an Inquiry Reporter.
Could they have rejected it and if so, what might their grounds have been. The guidance to Councillors on the Committee offers some possibilities in the description of material considerations. These include critically “infrastructure” detailed as “drainage and water supply capacity, education, access and transport, parking and safety”. Surely grounds enough for them if not to reject the application then to at least have postponed any approval until they were reassured about the timetable for delivery of the infrastructure plan, including a funding programme.
The fact that the new schools identified as being required for this – and the other prospective local developments – are identified in the Council’s Capital Investment Programme as “Unfunded Capital Pressures” seems of insufficient concern to the Councillors. Neither is the as yet unquantified impact on traffic nor the health system. Evidently – money and clinicians – do grow on trees! I wonder what they tell their grandchildren. Where will the accountability fall within the Council when the infrastructure is not delivered – or is not delivered until years after the development is complete.
The outcome is not unexpected, but the preparedness of the majority of the Councillors on the Committee to pay scant regard to real concerns about infrastructure pressures and requirements is disturbing and does them no service.
Of course, money does not grow on trees, and we are, after all living in a Council area where again the City is still striving to square the books following various austerity reductions in funding. I started thinking about this following a comment made by a lady at an event I attended on 15 May which was run by the Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC) and which marked the launch of a new Strategic Plan for the Edinburgh Integrated Joint Board.
The lady was one of a number attending who represented a local voluntary group which had lost Council funding following a recent round of applications. She challenged the officers on the justifications offered for the reduced support funding reminding people that the perception of many is that Edinburgh is thriving and prosperous and that there should be adequate funding for projects. I can see her point.
More and more tourists are coming to the City and throughout the year; we have more Airbnb than London; we are haemorrhaging new hotels – and across the City, more new houses and flats are being built all the time. I don’t pretend to understand where the money goes that is collected via rates and how that is calculated against the Rates Support Grant that comes back from Scottish Government, But my gut instinct is that there must be a lot more being generated into the system from all of the developments. Also, perhaps the Council could be smarter in obtaining development gain monies from developers.
As the heading suggests, these are my comments and reflections on the Cammo Fields decision (and process). The issue is one which will be an agenda item for discussion at the next Community Council meeting on Thursday 20 June.
11 June 2019