Questions I have been asked.

  • Tram extension along Leith Walk
    Trams – like bridges or ferries, lorries or tunnels – are only as good or bad as the people who build and operate them. The question to ask is: has the Council the professional competency or the money to extend trams to Newhaven? Even with a very hypothetical Yes to both questions: Leith Walk has undergone too many operations – some badly botched – over the last 10 years. The patient needs a rest to recover from this trauma.
  • St James Quarter and 44 weeks+ Leith Street closure
    As the Edinburgh coalition partners SNP and Labour keep reminding us: this is the “biggest private investment in Scotland ever”.
    I am not beholden to party policies and say: a private investment – big or small – is neither good nor bad. But I do ask: is it necessary to achieve the potential public benefits and definite private profits from the St James Quarter on the backs of the battered patient that is Leith Walk? Is there not a way to give the area a breather and rebalance the outcomes for everyone?
  • Flood defences
    … are paid for with public money to secure private property built in flood plains. By their very nature they shift the problem downstream, rather than tackling the root causes. They must always improve public access to the Water of Leith. Most importantly – like trams and major works like the current Leith Walk repair programme – they must be competently managed.
  • Affordable housing in Leith Walk ward …
    … is under pressure. That’s why it is so important that remaining large sites are carefully husbanded through planning policies that stand up and not fire-selling sites currently in public ownership (Council, NHS, police/fire service, school buildings).
  • What are the issues that school parent councils are concerned about?
    They want properly maintained school buildings – inside and out; jargon free communication about pupil’s progress; well-managed schools, ie sufficient support staff for head teachers to allow them to lead and inspire the teaching and non-teaching staff; more learning support resources to deal with the shocking 20% functional illiteracy rate.
  • Scottish Government consultation pavement parking
    This is a no brainer and action is long overdue.
  • It’s not all about dog shit and overflowing bins!
    Indeed. But in a densely populated area, such as Leith Walk ward,  it is vital for everybody’s quality of life, to get these basics – along with pavements, roads, street lighting – sorted out. Who needs daily irritation?
  • Bus journey times
    These are often disappointing, especially if you are a daily commuter. We need enforcement of bus lanes and bus stops during peak times; we need a “21st century” bus fare and boarding system (the current single-file decanting and refilling a bus can take 5 minutes); we need proper bus stop placement and design and bus driver training (they often block traffic behind by not pulling in completely).
  • What are you views on the 20mph speed limits throughout the city?
    Simple enough question – complex answer. I limit my reply to the area where I am standing as a candidate (Leith Walk ward).
    a) speed above 20mph for cars is potentially fatal for other users, ie a speed limit is a good thing in principle
    b) speed for public transport with professional drivers could be over 20mph (required bus lane enforcement during peak hours and a modification of the 20mph Traffic Regulation Order to exclude buses)
    c) current implementation in Edinburgh is largely value gesturing: putting up a few signs, but next to no enforcement may contribute (but not achieve by itself) to a long-term culture change, but will achieve little in the short term.
  • Cycle path/walkway extension
    The closure of the Powderhall depot is a brilliant opportunity to add green infrastructure and make St Mark’s and Lochend parks accessible right from the centre of the area. High priority! Could have been financed from developer contributions in the past, but Council missed many tricks. Frustration with the latter is one of the reasons that made me decide to compete against sitting party-councillors in this election
  • How to improve the planning system (warning: quite geeky)
    • There is widespread dissatisfaction about appeal decisions made by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA). Likely reasons are (a) lack of DPEA visibility (perceived as “remote”); (b) inadequate space for third parties during appeals. In addition, planning councillors are sometimes shying away from “political” decision because of exaggerated fear of an appeal
      This can be remedied by better resourcing of the DPEA (for publicity and education) and under certain circumstances for third party participation in appeals.
    • Planning fees are far too low to cover real costs of processing (incl defending appeals and enforcement). Fee caps for large applications are absurd: if there are demonstrably planning inefficiencies of scale (where is the research?), fees could be tapered. But not capped. Arguments that this hinders development can be easily set aside: as long the fees go into resources, applications will also be processed at a speed more likely to encourage development. Fees should be set locally, not nationally.
    • much higher emphasis needs to be placed on design quality and build quality, as well as a systematic assessment of the infrastructure requirements associated with the development: each development – however small – should make a proportional contribution to education, health, transport and green infrastructure. The present system of hoping for rateable value increases is not delivering the required infrastructure. In addition, there needs to be a requirement to deliver most infrastructure up front or at least in parallel for all large developments.
    • Planning authorities need to have statutory rules regarding the quality and robustness of their planning IT (recently very poor in Edinburgh); their also needs to be a statutory enforcement regime with teeth. The current system is not fit for purpose. Funding has to come from increased fees.
    • Planning authorities should be required to reflect on and report annually on the quality of their decisions: not how many went to appeal, but by visiting completed developments shortly after completion and 2 years later.
    • Planning permissions need to have to come with keener timelines: expiry between 18 months and 3 years (in exceptional and transparent circumstances); extensions only in the form of another application with full fees; abolition of ridiculous definitions of site start (recently, a dropped kerb qualified as site start).
    • Planning authorities should be required to make annual/biannual capacity assessments of existing infrastructure (and in the immediate pipeline) for each neighbourhood

The above answers hint at a larger problem: too often a good idea is poorly or incompletely implemented, thereby defeating the original idea or even creating new problems.