Merchiston Community Council: Minutes of Public Business Meeting (Zoom meeting)
Date: 16th March 2021
Chaired by Ian Doig, Chair of Merchiston Community Council (MCC)
Ian Doig, Chair of Merchiston Community Council (MCC), Vivien Kitteringham (MCC Vice-Chair), Jake Horsburgh (MCC – Zoom Host), Daniel Cairns (MCC Secretary), Frances Hawarden (MCC Treasurer), Bridget Stevens (MCC), Joan Houston (MCC), Peter Brett (MCC), Ewan Klein (MCC), Saul Sutcliffe (MCC), Mairianna Clyde (MCC), Michael Lugton (MCC), Roma Menlowe (MCC), plus residents Mr & Mrs Wightman and John Colledge.
City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) Councillors Neil Ross and Gavin Corbett also attended.
1. Welcome and Introductions
Ian opened the meeting and extended a warm welcome to all participants attending by Zoom. Apologies were received from Helen Zealley (MCC) & Daniel Cairns (MCC). There were no declarations of conflict of interest.
2. Previous Minute
The Minute of the meeting on 16 February was agreed as an accurate record and approved. There were no matters arising that were not on the agenda.
3. Chair’s Report
This had been circulated in advance. The key points were as follows:
Covid 19: there had been a welcome decline in new cases and deaths across the country. But the risk of a resurgence was real and care still needed to be taken to minimise risk of infection. The meeting noted the announcement that day by the First Minister about the timetable for the relaxation of Covid restrictions; details can be accessed here –
https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-timetable-for-easing-restrictions/pages/timetable/. These dates were not guaranteed: each stage depended on continued success in suppressing the virus in earlier phases.
MCC would trial a switch to Microsoft Teams as the meetings app. This was the preferred platform for several outside organisations, including Police Scotland and CEC; and would facilitate engagement with MCC by City Councillors and others.
Ian drew attention to the Scottish Government guidance on tradesmen and building work during this phase of the pandemic – https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-general-guidance-for-safer-workplaces/pages/work-in-other-peoples-homes-faq/.
The SW Community Grants Funding Panel had disbursed its full allocation of £45,000 from the City Council to assist community projects. The scheme had been significantly over-subscribed with requests totalling over £107,000 against a budget of £45,000, so difficult choices had to be made between competing project requests for grants and not all project requests could be grant aided.
There had been numerous residents’ complaints about the state of the roads: potholes, broken surfaces, blocked drains. These created hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Leaf clearing would be discussed under item 7.
Police Scotland had agreed to resume provision of aggregated crime reports to community councils and might also be willing to attend future CC meetings remotely on Teams. Since MCC straddles two police divisions, some discussion would be required to ensure that the statistical reports were meaningful for our area.
Suggestions for topics for discussion at future MCC meetings were always welcome. In line with previous discussions, David Spaven of Living Streets Edinburgh would offer a presentation and discussion to the MCC public meeting on 18 May. Ian drew attention to the Polwarth Streets audit, which can be viewed here –
https://www.livingstreetsedinburgh.org.uk/2021/03/01/local-volunteers-put-the-spotlight-on-polwarth-streets/. Action was in hand to organise a joint meeting with neighbouring CCs at which Petra Biberbach of Planning Aid Scotland would give a presentation to a future public meeting on Local Place Plans. The meeting agreed that a presentation about Waste Management – focussing on insight into current CEC recycling and waste management activities – should be pursued.
4. Licensing Report
Bridget Stevens had little to report since the last meeting. She referred to the progressive relaxation of licensing restrictions outlined in the First Minister’s statement. The situation at McLarens was discussed under item 5. It was noted that McLarens are not generally open for business on Mondays.
5. Planning Report
Mairianna Clyde reported. The main points were as follows:
- The development at Ettrick Road would be determined by the CEC Planning & Development Committee on 17 March. There had been a substantial number of detailed and cogent objections.
- At McLarens, the pink canopy had been dismantled; but the current application for retrospective planning approval, which was identical in purpose to its predecessor, had not thus far been withdrawn. The situation was confused. Those wishing to object had been advised still to do so before the closing date of 13 March. Canopy apart, there were still several breaches of planning conditions which had not apparently triggered effective enforcement action by the City Council. Chief amongst these was the Right of Way (RoW), whose maintenance had been a CEC condition of the original consent for the pub/restaurant development. Local residents contributed to the discussion and voiced their concern over pedestrian congestion and safety risks at the Holy Corner intersection, which the RoW had previously relieved. Staff at McLarens seemed unaware, or in denial, of the RoW; also, the forecourt furniture would likely make it impassable again to the general public. Several members expressed surprise that the Council’s Spaces for People exercise had not extended to improving pedestrian safety at Holy Corner. Cllr Ross reported that there was an on-going officer-level enquiry into the frustration of the RoW at McLarens. The responsible officer was however over-stretched. The Chair emphasised that Holy Corner had become a dangerous area for pedestrian congestion and action by the City Council was needed quickly. Residents also voiced concern over the appearance of the re-purposed ski cabins in the forecourt, and the food van parked in the forecourt – and that delivery vans for food and drinks had to reverse out blind on to the busy main road. Mairianna explained that some items – such as large umbrellas – were considered ‘moveable’ in terms of development control and appeared not to need planning permission.
- Mairianna thanked Mr Colledge for the detailed paper he had supplied on long-term difficulties over local developments in another part of the city and the inadequate response the community felt it had received from City Council planning officers and from the Public Services Ombudsman. Similar, though perhaps less dramatic, planning irregularities had been experienced by MCC, and she noted that inaccuracies in the material supplied by developers’ agents was a very real problem. Fresh thinking was required on the issue of accountability for planning mistakes. MCC would respond in due course to Mr Colledge’s paper.
6. Transport Report
Peter Brett spoke to this item. He reported escalating concerns from residents concerning pedestrian safety at:
- The Polwarth Crescent roundabout
- Yeaman Place and its junction with Granville Terrace
- Merchiston Avenue
The imminent closure of the northern section of Viewforth (for water pipes) would displace traffic on to Yeaman Place and Merchiston Avenue and exacerbate problems. In addition, there was as yet no solution to the crossing warden deficit at Granville Terrace/ Merchiston Avenue. In combination, these factors posed a real and present hazard to pedestrian safety (including the safety of young children being taken to Bruntsfield Primary School).
Cllr Corbett observed that the fundamental problem was the excessive volume of vehicle traffic along residential streets, which were not designed to bear the environmental load now being placed on them. He referred to the Living Streets Report on Polwarth (see above). He understood that a pedestrian crossing at the foot of Yeaman Place had been due for construction last year; but had been postponed. (In discussion it emerged that the status of that crossing and CEC’s plans in relation to it need to be clarified). Cllr Corbett kindly undertook to obtain comments from transport officials within CEC to the Living Streets Report before the next MCC meeting on 18 May.
On ‘Spaces for People’, Peter reported that parents of children attending Bruntsfield Primary School were generally supportive of the closure of Montpellier Park at its junction with Bruntsfield Place. But the road closure barriers had been repeatedly vandalised, despite strengthening. Peter took an action point to pursue this with the Headteacher and the Head of the Parent Council.
Michael Lugton referred to his report to MCC members on the presentation given by CEC to representatives of community councils across the City on 10 March. The key points were –
- the CEC consultation on the future for Spaces for People had been extended to 4 April;
- it was likely that the CEC would seek to extend the programme since it was in line with the Council’s wider environmental agenda;
- the Transport and Environment Committee (TEC) might decide to proceed by way of a trial extension of 18 months, coupled with experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), which would not be halted by public objections;
- CEC was monitoring traffic displacement, congestion levels, air pollution and traffic speeds;
- In this connection, Michael had raised the issue of heavy volumes of vehicle and commercial traffic using the residential streets of Merchiston, as part of a north/south corridor involving Yeaman Place and Merchiston Avenue. With school resumption and the easing of lockdown, the problems were set to increase. The problems of congestion, speeding and pedestrian safety had all been aired at MCC last year; but CEC officials had not identified within ‘Spaces for People’ any viable measures;
- Michael had previously listed a range of possible measures (developed in the context of changing traffic patterns at Viewforth) for coherent traffic management improvements in Merchiston streets. He had drawn attention to the Polwarth Streets Audit, undertaken by Living Streets;
- David Sinclair at CEC took these points seriously; and had encouraged Michael to convey his concerns formally. Michael confirmed that, following this sympathetic hearing from David Sinclair, he had submitted his concerns in writing. MCC members endorsed this action.
7. Leaf Clearing Project
A detailed paper had previously been circulated to members. A summary paper was provided for this meeting to provide the basis for a formal decision by MCC in public session. In brief, two MCC members – Helen Zealley and Joan Houston – proposed to develop, coordinate and manage a pilot project scheduled for autumn 2021 to clear leaves from those parts of the MCC area with most tree cover. CEC no longer had the resources for thorough leaf clearing; they would however support a volunteer effort by providing equipment and disposal of bagged leaves. A pilot area with a map had been identified; schools’ participation had been secured in principle; neighbours in the Grange Association (where a similar project has been underway for several years) were willing to advise on practicalities; and arrangements for digital marketing and communication between organisers and volunteers would shortly be set up. The project’s success would depend crucially on volunteers’ and residents’ support. The organisers hoped that the project would provide a highly visible example of MCC engagement and that family groups and neighbours would all get out into the streets and help with the clear-up.
The Chair proposed a motion to approve the pilot project; this was seconded by the Vice Chair and unanimously agreed by members. The Chair expressed MCC’s appreciation of the work that had gone into the design of this initiative.
8. Communal bins and barbeque damage in Parks
Bridget Stevens spoke to this item, which reflected residents’ complaints and long-standing problems in certain areas. Communal bins – in Harrison Park, the Meadows and many other locations – were regularly overflowing. Problems multiplied when hot barbeque trays (the disposable kind) were thrown into communal bins, setting the contents alight. There was a wider issue of barbeque damage more widely in parks: unsightly patches of scorched grass took months to recover. The concrete slabs put down by CEC in the Meadows to encourage responsible barbequing were not a solution: people wanted to cook in family groups apart from others, not clustered together. There were no signs forbidding barbeques in Harrison Park outside certain designated areas: this had not helped matters. CEC had too few park officers to do any kind of effective monitoring; besides, most of the barbequing took place in the evenings.
In discussion, the following main points were made:
- during the recent lockdowns there had been a rise of some 20% in domestic waste;
- trade waste had been displaced, in part, into domestic waste, thereby exacerbating overspills;
- the bins along the canal, which were the responsibility of Scottish Canals, were not serviced frequently;
- there was a problem of poor signage in some areas (e.g. Bruntsfield Links), which led some dog owners to enter children-only zones;
- the overflowing bins in Montpellier Park were a recurrent problem;
- MCC was keen to promote responsible barbequing, provided it did not cause damage to parks.
Bridget undertook to compile a list of useful telephone numbers and e-addresses which would be put on to the MCC website, so that CEC could be alerted to specific and urgent problems. Cllr Corbett offered to help with this.
9. Speeding complaints: Ashley Terrace and elsewhere
Vivien Kitteringham spoke to this item. CEC had so far been unresponsive to complaints about speeding, arguing that average vehicle speeds were “not beyond tolerance levels”; however, the complaints from residents were about INDIVIDUALS speeding excessively; average speeds were a red herring and did not provide assurance that roads were safe, especially for pedestrians and children. Two pedestrian crossings were planned: these might ease risks, if implemented.
Cllr Ross confirmed that ‘average’ speeds were meaningless. No-one knew the basis on which the calculations were made. A mean average would certainly underplay the speeding problem; the median would be more useful, as would the number of instances of modal values. The way forward lay in more engagement with CEC officers and Police speed checks.
Councillor Ross and Cllr Corbett both took on board the MCC’s concerns on this topic.
10. Treasurer’s Report
Frances Hawarden reported there had been practically no financial activity since mid-February. There were two modest pending payments. MCC would likely end the financial year with a credit balance of around £2,500, to which would be added the expected annual grant of £1,000 from CEC. Bridget reported briefly on the memorial bench in memory of Robin Morris, a previous MCC Chair, which would lead to minor expenditure for MCC. Overall, MCC’s financial position was perfectly healthy.
11. CEC Councillors’ Reports
Cllr Ross reported that the Boroughmuir High School extension project would start in April. The target completion date is August 2022.
The City Council budget approved on 18 February was the first tranche of spending decisions. There would be implications for all councils of the Scottish Government’s recently announced budget for next financial year. In addition, there would be Barnett formula consequential additional funds for Scotland arising from the Chancellor’s recent Budget statement: those would probably become available in May. CEC had been looking at a projected deficit in 2020-21 of around £85 million. But this shortfall had been filled by Scottish Government subventions, so there would be no need for the Council to dip into its reserves. Next year would be another challenging period, with Covid-related additional expenditures and much loss of income from curtailed services. Cllr Ross confirmed that council tax rates for 2021-22 would remain at current rates; but bills for next year would show increases because Scottish Water had decided to levy increases.
Cllr Corbett updated the meeting on the redevelopment of the boathouse near the bridge at Ashley Terrace. The structure was in very poor condition and its fate would be discussed at the AGM of the Canal Society on 29 March; several MCC members agreed to attend that meeting. With the Society’s bicentenary in prospect, the Society might want to bring forward proposals for the building’s redevelopment.
Litter problems along the canal persisted. The clubs using the canal would probably organise another annual clean-up in May.
Shandon would be brought fully within a controlled parking zone. The process from committee approval to implementation was fairly lengthy: new traffic Orders would likely come into force in early 2022.
Cllr Corbett helpfully undertook to alert the relevant park officer to damaged seating at the circular bench near the Harrison Road entrance to the canal towpath. There being no issues raised by residents, or other reports (item 12) and no other business (item 13), the Chair closed the meeting with thanks to all at 21.06.