The Union Canal runs like a green thread through Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart. It’s a safe traffic free route for school children, pedestrians and cyclists. Runners and rowers find space to exercise. Dog walkers find a quiet space, fishers fish, ducks are fed, wildlife thrives, and people live.
I live a couple of hundred of yards from the canal and it is important for me and my family. I use it for cycling out into West Lothian and for making my way around the city. Travelling becomes a pleasure on the canal, not a chore. And, of course, there is that classic view, travelling west towards Polwarth Church with the Pentlands behind.
When I was working on the school travel plan for Craiglockhart Primary School one of the major themes was how we can use the canal more to encourage children to walk or cycle more to school and I’m delighted that we have “walking buses” and “cycle trains” up and running.
Another recent innovation has been Canalside magazine which I write for regularly. It does a great service by publicising what a fantastic asset the waterway is. And, in the last two years, the Canal Festival at Lochrin Basin has been an important date in the community calendar.
So it is strange to reflect that when I moved into the area, nearly twenty years ago, things were so different. The canal was an eyesore, not an asset. Shopping trolleys and traffic cones were widespread. The re-opening of the canal link through Wester Hailes at the millenium was a turning point and things have never looked back.
We cannot rest there though. There is still a lot to be done. The failings in planning and development on the old Brewery site have stalled improvements in the path and access towards the east end. Our local community council heard about encouraging plans a couple of months ago but these need to be followed through.
And there’s the vexed question of competing uses. As a cyclist myself, I get annoyed by that tiny minority of cyclists who mis-use the canal – I’ve spoken to cycle groups, Spokes and Sustrans about their excellent “Bike Polite” and related schemes. There is room for all – but future development needs to recognise and make space for multiple uses.
The City Council and British Waterways are preparing a strategy for the canal which will guide its future development. They have just launched a public consultation on this strategy. As well as a written document which poses a number of set questions, there will be a number of community workshops, as follows:
- 3rd November at 6pm – Ratho Community Centre
- 17th November at 6pm – Wester Hailes Library
- 22nd November at 6pm – Polwarth Church
- 24th November at 6pm – Tollcross Community Centre
Please do make your views on how this integral part of our community is developed known.
Finally, I’d recommend “Adrift in Caledonia” by Nick Thorpe – a highly entertaining account of the author blagging his way around Scotland by boat – a journey that has its modest beginnings right here at the start of the Union Canal.