Green candidate for the Leith Walk by-election, Susan Rae, argues that there is nowhere quite like Leith Walk.
As a local resident, naturally, I think Leith Walk is unique. Nowhere else has quite the same mix of people, local businesses and community groups in such a compact area.
Now the council ward of the same name has its own claim to distinction. On 10 September, there will be a by-election for, not one, but two of the four council seats within its boundaries: the first time this has happened in Scotland. Election geeks from across the land are getting quite excited, apparently.
And that makes the choice interesting. The SNP, with its current stratospheric poll ratings, will feel pretty confident about a straight replacement for new MP Deirdre Brock. The real battle is for the second vacancy, to replace the Greens’ Maggie Chapman, the pioneer of £eith Decides which gives local people a real say over how council money is spent. That is a battle between re-electing a Green councillor, who will stand up to the Labour-SNP run council and its programme of massive cuts to services; and electing a third Labour councillor on top of the two existing Labour councillors in Leith Walk.
Whoever the voters choose, there are some real landmark decisions. Looming over the top of the Walk will be the new St James Centre. Much of the attention so far has been on whether the stonework will be limestone or sandstone. Appearance matters but focus is also needed on the impact of the billion-pound development. How will the jobs and training on offer go to residents who most need them? What place will there be for distinctively Edinburgh businesses and social enterprises? And how can visitors to St James be encouraged to use public transport to reduce traffic congestion?
That last point is important because only a minority of people in Leith Walk own a car and more people walk or cycle to work than drive. It’s called Leith “WALK” for a reason! There have been some bold statements about how local streets can be made safer and friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians; these need turned into action. Could Leith Walk be a little more Dutch or Danish? Let’s believe so and make it happen!
And, of course, there’s trams. I live a stone’s throw from the Walk. I know first-hand the pain felt by the residents and local shops and businesses at the botched tram works in the past. Leith Walk has had the pain, so a lot of locals now want to see the gain of trams – but only if the numbers add up and without having to dig everything up again.
But, really, it is the day to day stuff that looms largest. Making Pilrig Park a prize asset for the area with more investment and more support for the local Friends group. Campaigning to save “Women onto Work”, at Norton Park, the latest victim of a slash and burn approach to public and voluntary services. Backing the vast majority of local residents over planned public toilet closures at London Road and Canonmills. Making sure the 40% of Leith Walk residents who rent privately get a fair deal.
Some big choices indeed. As ever, it’s the voter who decides.
Susan Rae lives in Pilrig and is the Green candidate for the Leith Walk by-election on 10 September.