Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"Commuting is a migraine-inducing life-suck."

"Commuting is a migraine-inducing life-suck." I couldn't agree more. There's plenty of evidence that people with lengthy commutes suffer more from pain, stress, obesity, and dissatisfaction.

Living in Musselburgh the commuter culture is obvious to see, with our town centre snarled up every morning and evening. I'd love to see the High St filled instead with adults and children, walking, scooting and cycling as they head to and from work, school, shops and homes.

But even if we accept that there will always been a need for commuting through and out of our town, how do we adapt it to become less stressful and instead a positive contribution to health, the economy and quality of life?

At the moment you couldn't pay me to cycle up Musselburgh High Street, and my own commute by bike into Edinburgh most days is great but not plain sailing.

And if I make a note of all the risky junctions, bad parking and lack of priority for cyclists in the area I end up with a town map more spotted than a Chicken Poxed child.

What other improvements do we need to see in Musselburgh to make it a cycle-friendly community? If we can make a start on these issues we can start to change our "life-suck" commuter culture. Who'd be against that?


Monday, 25 May 2015

Levenhall Lagoons - The Journey Continues

"The ornithological Serengeti of Western Europe." That's how the Levenhall Ash Lagoons are described by some. There's no doubt the area is a magnet for twitchers but to me they are a precious green space on the doorstep of East Lothian's biggest town.

At the weekend the Big Nature Festival (what was the Bird Fair) took over part of the Levenhall site. By all accounts it was a success and I hope it returns next year. The Bairn was hugely impressed with the owl pellet dissection class and we loved looking for weevils in the mini-beast hunt.

If the festival returns next year there may be some industrial-scale activity on site as the lagoons complete their journey from ash sludge piles to landscaped wildlife havens.

It's been a couple of years since Cockenzie power station ceased operating so Scottish Power is understandably keen to hand over responsibility for the lagoons and the associated sea wall. The plans to turn the westernmost ash pile into a wet site for wading birds, and the easternmost ash pile into a slightly-squelchy site for plants and bugs, have support from countryside rangers, RSPB and others.

Over the weekend I helped staff the Friends of Musselburgh Links stall at the festival. The amazing Craig Yorkston from Scottish Power talked himself hoarse by explaining the plans to those who stopped by. I was pleased to see plenty of folk signing up to get updates from the Friends group - we're a real mix of interests but all with a central aim of preserving and enhancing what we've got on our doorstep. We should have some events and activities in the pipeline. Our AGM is at the end of August so I hope to see some new faces.

Meantime you can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

The Serengeti may have prides of lions but Levenhall has the Cuckoo Bumblebee and the Marmalade Hoverfly! Small is beautiful, after all.

Friday, 22 May 2015

East Lothian "Sustainable" Partnership Drops The Sustainable Bit?

What does the word "sustainable" mean to you? It's a bit jargon-y, yes. But it's so easy for those who speak fluent jargon to insert it into documents and project descriptions and get away with creating a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Sustainable as I understand it refers to environmental sustainability, that is not depriving future generations of a good quality of life by depleting the resources they will need. Increasingly I find the word gets used to mean strength and growth.

Take for example the recently established "partnerships" in East Lothian. These talking shops replace the former community planning groups, and as well as having geographic focus (there is a Musselburgh Partnership and others for each council ward) they have themed partnerships including "Sustainable Economy".

I think most folk would agree that developing an economy in East Lothian that does not deplete resources and deprive our kids and grandkids of quality of life would be A Good Thing. The Sustainable Economy partnership raises this hope by defining the local authority "outcomes" it seeks to support.

These are:

-East Lothian has a growing sustainable economy
-The cycle of poverty is broken for individuals and families in East Lothian
-Communities in East Lothian are able to adapt to climate change and reduced finite natural resources

But wait, what's this? Looking at the minutes of the partnership it is clear they have chosen to focus on a narrower range of outcomes, namely:

-Company growth

Where's the sustainability? And where's the adapting to climate change and preparing for less reliance on finite resources?

I'm further alarmed to discover how this would be measured, even if it were reinstated as an aim of the group.

They are looking at greenhouse gas emissions per person (these have been increasing rather than falling), passenger numbers at local train stations (increasing), recycling of household waste (falling) and single person car use (data not available).

There is no statement of policies to pursue to reduce GHG emissions, and in fact the council have been pursing policies that can only increase emissions, such as a new fossil fuel plant to replace Cockenzie, a bigger Edinburgh city bypass to increase car use and planning permission for housing developments and supermarkets which again encourage car use.

As for passenger numbers at rail stations, how will the council ensure the quality of service keeps up with the demand? Peak hour services are already overcrowded. And when can we expect data on single person car use? The stream of traffic through Musselburgh each morning seems to me to be mostly made of such.

The partnership also appears to have nothing to say about adapting to climate change. In other words, flood prevention, local food networks, better insulated housing, better routes for walking and cycle through and between our communities.

Meantime the council is chipping in up to £75,000 for a City Deal involving Edinburgh and neighbouring authorities. As far as I can tell this would simply try to encourage further growth in the economy and not tackle inequality or sustainability - environmental sustainability. We are the Garden of Scotland and we ignore our impact on resources at our peril.

I'll be keeping an eye on these partnerships to see if they change tack.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Avoid, Shift, Improve: The Musselburgh Transport Mess

Transport within and through Musselburgh is a messy affair. You'd think East Lothian's biggest town, on the doorstep of Edinburgh, would be well served. In many ways, it is but it's also struggling to cope with its unique position, and there's huge potential going to waste.

For some years now I've been campaigning on the issue of air pollution in the town centre. I notice CCTV cameras have now appeared, monitoring traffic flows. I remain to be convinced that will be helpful. The majority of the traffic in Musselburgh is passing through, so we need to find out where it's coming from/going to and why the alternatives aren't being used by these motorists. We also need to get the bus companies to make their fleets less polluting. There are 500 buses a day along Musselburgh High Street.

I recently spoke to a crew from Edinburgh College making a film about the problem. It's an issue I intend to keep pushing on, given the impact on public health, not to mention the general ambience of our town centre. It should be a place to linger, spend time. At the moment it feels like somewhere you either sit in traffic fuming or scurry along on foot trying not to inhale the fumes!

When we look at other towns and cities around the world and how they have tackled similar problems we see they have pursued three main themes, and we should start to think how these could be applied in the Honest Toun:

Avoid the problem - Can we create more local jobs, services and shops in East Lothian to avoid the need for commuting through Musselburgh into Edinburgh?

Shift the problem - How do we make it easier to walk and cycle rather than drive through our town and between neighbouring communities? How do we make fast, affordable, pleasant bus and train journeys the easy option?

Improve the problem - To my mind this brings us back to buses. We need low emissions vehicles to replace the ageing "belchers".

Other ideas welcome!


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Few Remaining Sections Of Green Space To Be Swallowed Up?

Last week Edinburgh City Council approved its Local Development Plan.

My Green colleagues on Edinburgh council voted against it. I recommend the wise words of Nigel Bagshaw here. He rightly highlighted poor air quality, congestion, and pressure on local infrastructure.

Thousands of homes are now set to be built in areas including up to 595 houses at Newcraighall and 1,330 at Brunstane, both of which border Musselburgh.

Residents have warned that acres of precious greenbelt will be lost, roads gridlocked, and local services will struggle.

My own view is that given the existing problems in Musselburgh town centre with traffic congestion and air pollution I am concerned that Edinburgh city council has earmarked development nearby without considering the impact on East Lothian's biggest town. 

I am also concerned that East Lothian Council doesn't appear to have made representations on the city's plan - or if it has it has kept quiet about it. I certainly couldn't find anything on either council's website.
It doesn't seem like there's been much joined up thinking between the authorities. Musselburgh is clearly part of the wider Edinburgh city region. (I know we like our "independence" but we have to be honest about the connection to the city.) However, we shouldn't allow the few remaining sections of farmland and green space between our communities to be swallowed up when the city itself has alternative sites it can explore.

The LDP now goes to the Scottish Government for "examination". Let's see what that brings.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Musselburgh Ticket Snafu Is Due To Firewall

The saga of the broken ticket machine at Musselburgh rail station continues...

I asked Scotrail about it on the 15 of April.

I asked them again on Sunday and here is the response I got yesterday:

"Unfortunately there appears to be an issue with the firewall between the network provider and the authorisation server for the card transactions.  Our IT team and the network provider are still investigating the root cause of the issue."

We can put a man on the moon...

I'll post any update I get.


Friday, 15 May 2015

Fair Chuffed

“Fair chuffed for you.” A text from Mum following the election result last Friday morning.

I’m incredibly proud to have run for election in my home county. 1,245 people across East Lothian voted for me – a 2.1 per cent share of the total vote, up from 1.8 per cent in 2010. The Conservatives seemed pleased with their increased number of votes, but their share actually fell.

I was pleased to get close to overtaking the Libdems, and delighted to beat Ukip. At the count in Haddington I congratulated George Kerevan and told him to use his new status as MP for East Lothian wisely! I’ll be watching his actions like a hawk. I also thanked Fiona O'Donnell for her work over the past five years and wish her well with whatever comes next.

I really enjoyed the campaign, the public debates and the hundreds of emails! In the space of a few weeks leading up to the vote I replied to over 300 contacts from voters on everything from Trident to immigration policy, animal welfare to transport spending.

The campaign and the result are a great platform for Greens in East Lothian to build on. Next year we have a Scottish Parliament election to contest, and given the fairer voting system for 56 of the 129 MSPs we can expect the “Green Surge” to turn into more Green MSPs. In 2003 we got 7 MSPs with 6 per cent of the regional vote; opinion polling over the past year has put us pretty consistently on 10 per cent. And given the ongoing demise of Labour in Scotland, there’s a real chance for the Scottish Greens to become the progressive opposition party at Holyrood. Of course, a year’s a long time in politics and there’s a lot of hard work to do.

Not only do we have a growing membership, good opinion polling and a highly popular figurehead in Patrick Harvie, we have lead candidates in place already. East Lothian is divided between two of Holyrood’s eight regions: Musselburgh sits within Lothian region while the rest of the county sits within South of Scotland region. As a Musselburgher I look forward to campaigning for the lead candidates for Lothian region – that’s the current MSP Alison Johnstone and the renowned land reform and local government writer Andy Wightman. In South region our party list is headed by Sarah Beattie-Smith and our East Lothian branch co-convener Eurig Scandrett, a strong campaigner on Palestine and Bhopal who also brings his experience as a university union rep and chair of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

In the meantime I intend to continue campaigning on the local issues I’ve been raising here in Musselburgh for the past few years. We still have problems with traffic congestion and air pollution in the town centre, we still need to see Levenhall Links restored and handed back to the community, and I still want to see East Lothian get a fair share for funding from any city region deal, and for that funding to be used on sustainable infrastructure and local jobs.

I’m also still involved in the local cycle and rail forums and will continue to push for better cycling links through Musselburgh and better rail services. If I could just get Scotrail to fix the ticket machine at Musselburgh station I’d be “fair chuffed”!