A community woodland for Edinburgh

Local Green councillor Gavin Corbett hails the possibility of a community woodland in south west Edinburgh and urges local people to respond to a current consultation to make it a reality.

UPDATE:  further to me posting the blog below the consultation deadline has now been extended to 31 March 2013.

I have written before about the excellent proposals from the Craiglockhart community to develop a community-owned woodland on Easter Craiglockhart Hill. The land is currently owned by the City Council and the Craighouse Partnership and they are joined in a management arrangement by Friends of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail whose energetic chair, Robin McLaren, has put forward the idea of community ownership of the whole site, much of which is a Local Nature Reserve.

The consultation, which is backed by my fellow ward councillor and Council leader Andrew Burns, puts forward a range of possibilities, from status quo right through to full community ownership of the hill, albeit with a period of public ownership initially to allow community capacity to develop.  I am very much behind the idea of a community body owning the land and relish the prospect of my own backyard pioneering the kind of land ownership models which have been so transformative in rural Scotland these last 20 years.

Now, at the same time, the Craighouse Partnership has put forward very controversial proposals to develop the former Napier University buildings at Craighouse and build 89 new homes on open space there.  At the last count, there had been 1,000 submissions to that proposal, the vast majority of them objections (myself among the objectors).  The Partnership has made clear that it will only transfer the woodland and upper slopes of the hill (the part not proposed for development) if it gets planning permission to proceed.  Since the application has only just begun its journey through the process we cannot know the final outcome and it is simply to state the facts that it is uncertain.  But the important point is that the planning process and the issue of land ownership are wholly separate.  The merits of the planning application will be decided quite apart from the question of ownership and management of the hill as a whole.

That’s why I hope there is a really positive response, meantime, to the idea of a community-owned woodland.  I am slightly alarmed at the rather limited nature of the consultation, however.  There are several thousand households who live within easy walking distance of Easter Craiglockhart Hill yet the consultation letters have only gone to the 600 homes nearest to the hill.  I appreciate that there are practicalities to deal with but the local community is very much larger and we need to be sure that, if and when, proposals go forward they have been tested for both depth and breadth of support in the locality.  That, after all, is the purpose of the consultation.

It is sometimes said that there is a consultation fatigue.  I don’t buy that.  When the issue taps something that people care about (and witness the 12,000 plus responses to the issue of Portobello High School) there is plenty of enthusiasm.  And 1,000 responses to the plans at Craighouse show how many people care about Craiglockhart Hill and woods.  So please, everyone in the area, respond to the consultation, come to the public meeting and make sure we have a solid foundation to build upon.

The consultation closes on 28 February (now 31 March). There is a public meeting to discuss the proposals at Meggetland Sports Complex on Thursday 21 February, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.