Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Ofcom’s decision to grant UKIP priority status in May’s European elections is an insult to Scotland, writes Patrick Harvie. (more…)
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Last week, The Trump Organization announced it was withdrawing its planning application to build a second golf course at Menie and has abandoned its scheme to construct a large golf resort at the site.
This is not a huge surprise, given Mr Trump’s track record elsewhere. For the last few years, the very slow pace of progress on the Menie development, the procrastination and delay, have strongly suggested Mr Trump was seeking an exit strategy – but wanted to be able to blame someone else for his decision not to proceed. His way out has been to blame the Scottish Government.
Mr Trump has now used the First Minister twice. Back in 2007, to help progress his planning application. Now, as the scapegoat for his decision to stop work on the development. Mr Salmond has been played.
Mr Trump is claiming the proposed wind farm in Aberdeen Bay is the reason for his decision. It has been suggested by some that the proposed wind farm should have been moved or abandoned to appease Mr Trump. Firstly, the turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay will not be an ‘ordinary’ wind farm, but a test centre crucial to developing the renewables industry in the North-east, and so of great economic importance to the region. Secondly, Mr Trump has been making threats and unreasonable demands from the start. You don’t appease an arrogant, irrational bully. It doesn’t work. They only come back wanting even more.
Mr Trump’s tendency to change his position and contradict himself, means we cannot be sure that he will not say something quite different next week. But I do think this probably is Mr Trump walking away from continuing work on his Menie development.
Of course, the Scottish Government should never have stepped in to grant Mr Trump planning permission in the first place. We have lost an important and beautiful natural area that was legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Our duty, as I saw it, was to hand this natural heritage over to following generations intact, so they could enjoy it and wonder at and better understand nature. Instead, it has become a golf course. The justification for allowing this damage to the environment was the jobs and economic benefit the proposed golf resort would bring. While the scale of the economic benefit promised by Mr Trump was clearly ridiculously exaggerated, there is no doubt that, had the resort gone ahead, there would have been some job creation and economic activity as a result. As it is, the North-east has got the worst of all possible worlds. We have lost our irreplaceable, natural, mobile dune system – for negligible economic return.
Mr Trump, clearly, should never have been given planning permission.
Friday, February 14th, 2014
This is the text of a speech given by Fabio Villani at the Lossiemouth Independence Information Meeting on 7th February 2014
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen … thank you very much for inviting me here tonight.
It’s great to see so many of you willing to come out on a this bright but chilly February night to discuss the future of Scotland. (more…)
Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
The Scottish Parliament has just voted same-sex marriage into law 105-18! We are absolutely delighted – Greens all over the world have been campaigning for marriage equality for decades.
It’s been a long road to this historic achievement. Patrick Harvie made his first speeches in Parliament demanding marriage equality a decade ago, before there were even civil partnerships. Here he is speaking almost exactly two years ago, at the start of the campaign for the law Holyrood passed today:
And you can read his speech in the first Holyrood debate on the new Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill, and watch it below (begin at 28 minutes 55 seconds):
This morning, Patrick said:
“Holyrood may have taken a little longer to reach the final stage today, but for once we’ve ended up with better law as a result. The rights of transgender people as well as same-sex couples are being respected, and I’ll be delighted to see the Bill pass with a substantial majority.”
We’ll have the video and transcript from his barnstorming speech this afternoon up here as soon as it’s available.
Monday, February 3rd, 2014
When the SNP took up the reins of government in 2007, one of its flagship promises was to freeze council tax.
Since council tax is a local council responsibility, this was a promise that Scottish Government had no direct means to deliver. It had to persuade councils to freeze council tax through making an annual payment or “holdback”, which, in Edinburgh, is just short of £7 million. (more…)
Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
At Transport and Environment Committee this month, Edinburgh City Council adopted its Local Transport Strategy for the next five years. It may not be on everyone’s must-read list, but it is important in that it sets out the transport policies which the Council hopes will contribute to its ‘vision of Edinburgh as a thriving, successful and sustainable city.
And there is much in it to commend, in particular the efforts to reduce the need to travel, encouragement of the use of alternatives to the car, the push to reduce emissions from motorised travel, and the prioritisation of walking, cycling and public transport.
However, there are also considerable gaps in it and areas where I believe the Council could and should have gone much further.
For example, it sometimes feels that the city is simply juggling one set of pressures against another, within an overall unshifting or even growing volume of traffic. So I would have liked to have seen much greater efforts to reduce road traffic volumes, with a fixed target and timetable.
There’s clearly an appetite for the introduction of physically segregated cycle paths, to enable cycling to go beyond just confident on-road cyclists and to ensure that everyone from 8 to 80 feels safe enough to travel anywhere in the city by bike. I’ve called for 20-mph zones as standard with exceptions on a case-by-case basis, together with greater physical traffic-calming measures and genuine and consistent enforcement.
I’d urge proper integration of land use and planning with a lowering of parking provision in new developments and greater support for local shopping facilities; and enhanced priority given to pedestrians over road users, to allow them to cross and move around with ease; and concerted action on air quality.
In other words, although progress will undoubtedly be made over the next five years, the Council’s vision could have been much more far-reaching and delivered greater improvements to our beautiful but sometimes fragile city which is still blighted by heavy vehicle traffic and has many shortcomings for pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility problems.
The Local Transport Strategy points in the right direction, and I’ll be seeking to make sure it delivers on its modest aims; and, just as importantly, builds on them.
This article originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.
Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Green Councillor Steve Burgess previews 2014 in Edinburgh.
I have five capital priorities for 2014.
It is the year of the tram – at long last. Greens support a public inquiry into the shameful mismanagement of the tram project but we also want to see the city reassert its capacity to undertake the projects which are desperately needed: dedicated cycle-ways in the main routes into the city; revamping high streets to unleash the potential of the “pedestrian pound”; a strategic approach to roads and footway maintenance. And is 2014 not the year when car-sharing really takes off?
Jobs are top of the Green agenda – particularly for those shipwrecked by short-term, blinkered austerity cuts. A flourishing, living wage, economy is the best way to ensure that odious welfare cuts like the bedroom tax can be rejected. So we want to see Edinburgh’s vision of a sustainable economy delivered, creating thousands of jobs in transforming homes and buildings, investing in clean green technology, building on our fantastic sector of small businesses and social enterprises.
And harnessing that green potential is not just good for jobs, it’s good for the city’s own besieged budgets. A twin approach of community and publicly-owned energy generation, will challenge the monopoly of private energy companies, tackle fuel poverty and, like other European cities, yield millions for the public purse at a time when vital public services like schools are otherwise being hit.
But Edinburgh is not just a city, it’s a network of neighbourhoods. There’s a creeping trend of centralisation whether in health services or police presence which Greens want to see reversed. New life needs to be breathed into council support for local high streets, matching young innovators up with vacant premises. And there’s absolute political consensus on the blights of dog-fouling and litter – let’s turn that consensus into real progress on these bread and butter concerns.
Finally, it is not just what the city does, it is how. Edinburgh still has a long way to go to transform a “we know best” culture into one which truly listens to citizens. Petitions Committee, webcasting of council meetings and early draft budgets are a good start. But we can go further: handing decisions over local budgets to residents throughout Edinburgh; giving greater support to community councils and other community bodies; involving more residents in the management and improvement of our precious parks and green spaces.
Ambitious? Maybe. But here’s to 2014!
This article originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.
Sunday, December 22nd, 2013
This time last year, the first application to develop the Craighouse site at Easter Craiglockhart Hill had been submitted, after a long lead-in period. This year – deja vu.
After a year of waiting, and almost 1200 objections, the developers, the Craighouse Partnership, have submitted a revised set of proposals - so-called scheme 2 proposals. Once again, they are out to consultation over the Christmas and New Year period, with the closing date of 16 January.
Has it been worth the wait? Has the year been used to produce proposals which are more palatable? Critically, has the developer been able to demonstrate that the minimum possible quantity of new-build is recommended to offset the higher costs of renovating and maintaining the cluster of grade A-listed buildings which are one of the defining characteristics of the site?
There are some significant changes. Gone is the mooted 8 storey tower at the apex of the site to be replaced with a shorter, but fatter, building. The area of sloping lawn known as the orchard sees less development on and around it. And there’s other changes which pay due and welcome heed to public feedback although, at times, somewhat grudgingly.
But there is still an awful lot of new development planned – 125 new homes, rather than the 89 previously planned. That means almost twice as many new homes as the number of dwellings (64) being created from the existing 16th-19th century properties. Is that consistent with being the minimum necessary? And many of these new homes are contained within two rather monolithic blocks near the main entrance at Craighouse Road, to my eye, hemming in what is, at the moment, a very open-feeling landscape.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the new plans is the financial calculations set in out in the case for “enabling development”. It is very commendable of the Craighouse Partnership to have agreed to publish this level of detail. In essence, the document shows that renovating the buildings alone can turn a profit of £1.2 million; adding the new build brings that profit up to over £17 million or 18% of scheme costs. But, the developers will argue, those figures are only true if the actual price paid for the land (in effect, £13 million) is discounted to £4.7 million – an estimate of current value if parcelled up and sold off.
So there are two fundamental points which emerge from this. The first is that the developers have way over-paid for the land. At the time of the land being sold bidders presumably took a risk that they would be able to update a 10 year old consent to develop the site for educational purposes into a new consent to develop it for private housing, to a similar level. Based on what we know now it would have been more reasonable for would-be developers to go to Napier University (the former owners) and say, “look, this site, in market value terms, is essentially a liability, you should be paying us to take it off your hands” Anyway, that risk was taken. Whether that is a reasonable risk or not is in the eye of the beholder but it cannot be the job of the planning system to cover that risk. After all, where would that stop? What if someone had paid £25 million? £30 million? If planning decisions were expected to cover all such risks, it would simply encourage even more reckless land values and we have seen how disastrous that has been for the UK economy in the last five years.
So, as far as purchase price goes, the developers have gambled – and lost. That’s what gambling means. And that leads to the second point. Development in a commercial market is a risky business. The greater the risk the higher the return needed. That is why a modest profit of £1.2 million is argued to be insufficient and a profit of £17 million (18%) is needed before investors will stick their hands in their pockets. I am told that 20% is an industry standard.
This feels to me like very very difficult territory for a planning authority. Planning is about assessing the acceptability of a physical development in relation to the location and the policy context set by the Council through the Local Plan and other policies. From that point of view, there is little prospect of new development being permissible at Craighouse, or at least to any significant level. In essence, the developer is asking for these protections to be set aside to allow new development to produce a scheme which financiers, within the context of a high risk-high return market, will back. That puts the planning authority not only as arbiter of reasonable profit, but making judgements about market models.
All of that is for March, when the planning hearing into the Craighouse development is expected to take place. For now, I’d urge everyone who cares about Craighouse, whatever your views, to respond by 16 January – how to do this is set out in a letter to residents from me and Green MSP Alison Johnstone.
This post originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website
Friday, December 13th, 2013
Yesterday, the City of Edinburgh Council remembered Nelson Mandela. In addition to a motion seeking an appropriate memorial to Mandela in the city, after a moment’s silence, each political group was invited to contribute some thoughts. Here is what Maggie Chapman said.
So much has been said about Mandela in the last seven days, but I would like to say a few words here today as a fellow South African.
Mandela was truly a remarkable man. We have heard much about his grace, magnetism, personal sacrifice. He has become the personification of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Had it not been for him, it is possible that the transition to majority rule in South Africa would have been very, very bloody. Had it not been for him, it is possible that the role of reconciliation in South Africa’s politics, and indeed global politics, would have been much diminished.
And, in many, much smaller ways, his political actions highlighted a deep commitment to justice and fairness. His first proper job was as a nightwatchman at a mine but he was fired when they discovered he’d runaway from home to escape an arranged marriage. He was branded the Black Pimpernel by the South African media when he defied orders not to travel around the country of his birth, doing so disguised as a chauffeur.
In prison he was elected to a four man “High Organ” which must have had some influence as they were able to get the Commander of Robbin Island reassigned for overuse of violence against the prisoners.
A few years prior to his release Mandela had rejected an offer of release as it came with the condition that he have a “cooling off period” outside the country; he was not prepared to leave his country. And he was the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize and the first recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.
All of these show personal strength in the face of adversity, a commitment to his people, his country, and his beliefs, and I think a devious cheekiness which certainly served him well in his role as a global statesman.
So, a great man, certainly.
However, he himself rejected the deification of him, as a person, as the single figure responsible for the development of the new South Africa. He understood that the narrative of the great statesman depoliticised the struggle to which he devoted so much of his life. It is much easier to focus on the great personal characteristics of one man than it is to stare inequality and injustice in the face.
It also undermines the work of millions of others, across the world, who stood with him, fought with him, against oppression and for liberation. It is incredible to me that the rest of the anti-apartheid movement has been so utterly forgotten – when Denis Goldberg spoke at the Edinburgh World Justice Festival earlier this year, he did so to an audience of less than one hundred people.
So, let us remember a more complete legacy of Mandela, his human fallibility, his role as a soldier, his role as a radical.
Let us remember, too, that, during his time in government he did not fulfil all of the revolutionary promises to his people, and to hold him as infallible would be an insult to one of the principles he fought so hard for, that of human equality. It is clear that there is still so much to be done in that beautiful country.
His message, that we collectively have the power to make change in our society, should be what we take from his life. That real democracy and real equality are the bedrock of a truly fair society. That injustice of all kinds, whether based in racism, poverty or any form of oppression is something that we cannot tolerate and must oppose.
I want to end with a quote, not from Mandela, but from his great friend and fellow activist, Chris Hani, who, when asked whether or not he was looking forward to being in the new government in the new South Africa (which he never saw, being assassinated in 1993), replied:
“The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody, of course, would like to have a good job, a good salary, and that sort of thing. But for me, that is not the be-all of a struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle – and we must accept that the struggle is always continuing – under different conditions, whether within parliament or outside parliament, we shall begin to tackle the real problems of the country. And the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet, or a key minister, but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our people.”
Colleagues, we still have much to do. Our struggle certainly continues.
But for now, hamba kahle Madiba. Amandlha!
Maggie Chapman is the Green Councillor for Leith Walk Ward. Maggie has lived in Edinburgh for more than 15 years, having moved to the UK from Zimbabwe where she was born and brought up. You can follow maggie on twitter @MaggieEdinburgh, and read her blog at http://maggiechapman.wordpress.com/
Friday, December 6th, 2013
As retailers gear up for the busiest shopping weekend of the year, I’m encouraging people to do what they can to support local firms.
I’m backing the Small Business Saturday campaign which is urging the public to shop local on 7 December.
High streets and small businesses across the Lothians are under sustained pressure from the big chains, so it’s important we do what we can to level the playing field. As people gear up for Christmas I’d urge them to consider how their spending decisions affect local firms and their local communities.
And for those going online I’d encourage seeking out local alternatives. Longer-term I will continue to campaign for greater support for small and micro businesses in Lothian region, both in terms of revitalising our local high streets and improving access to public procurement.