This week I have been infuriated and enthused.
I have been infuriated by the City Council’s ICT set-up which seems based on councillors sitting at desks in the City Chambers and ill-adjusted to the reality that councillors are accessing information and seeking to respond quickly to queries in a variety of settings, locations and using a range of technologies. But, there, I have said my piece. I shall now confine myself to working constructively and patiently with officers to find solutions.
I have also been enthused. By the talent, commitment and passion of community activists. As a councillor, and as a council, we work best hen we paddle with the tide of that talent – rather than, as can sometimes seem to be the case, acting as a brake on it.
So hats off to the good people of Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative, first of all. The Union Canal, running from Falkirk to Tollcross at the east end of my ward, has undergone a real renaissance in the last 10 years. The latest canal strategy has just picked up a national award, reward for everyone who has worked hard on it.
That’s not to say it has all been good. For a prize-winning asset, the eastern end of the canal is determinedly reclusive at Lochrin Basin, shut off behind tall buildings. Visitors to the city would need to know what they are looking for. Or tantalisingly out of reach, as in the access that never is, at Yeaman Place. One of the things that FCI want to do is make the canal access more porous, by securing new access from Tollcross (long-promised) and, much more significantly, seizing the opportunity in the masterplan for the site between Gibson Terrace and Lochrin Basin. One of Edinburgh’s most important large sites, it is a litmus test of how much we can learn from canal regeneration elsewhere in the UK and Europe and how much we can create a genuinely thriving new place, characterised by exciting design, generous use of space and access and making the canal an asset not an adjunct. I am excited by ideas to create a new canal basin around which we could cluster social enterprise, community space and local businesses (sorry Starbucks and Sainsbury, but you already have your share of Edinburgh and more).
I am equally excited by proposals from Friends of Craiglockhart Woods to look at community ownership of the woods around Easter Craiglockhart Hill. It is bold, perhaps, even audacious, but my instinct is that opportunities like this come along very seldom. That is why I am delighted that, this week, new Council Leader (and fellow ward councillor), Andrew Burns signalled his willingness to explore community ownership options more fully. The big challenge will be to capture the affection that thousands of local people have for the woods and see if it can be distilled as support for community ownership. There’s a lot of work in that but I am convinced that there is long term commitment as well as vision. And that can go a long way…..
….. In later blogs I hope to be equally enthusing about the ICT set up. I really do.