Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lobbying Bill still needs changes

Today (22 January) the coalition government's controversial 'Lobbying Bill' returns to the House of Commons after it has been debated and amended in the House of Lords. The government has been forced to make concessions in response to the strength and breadth of opposition. It is nevertheless likely that the Government will seek to overturn at least some of the amendments made in the House of Lords which have gone some way to improve this ill-considered Bill.

It has already had to drop its proposals to cut the total that charities are allowed to spend on campaigning in the run-up to a general election and concede that the election period is specified as the period from the day after the referendum here in Scotland rather than a full 12 months.

These changes are welcome but they simply make a bad bill slightly better. So far, the Government has refused to accept other amendments such as the one excluding background staff costs from the spending limits and requiring lobbying of special advisers to be included on the statutory register.

I was pleased to see that both of these were passed in the House of Lords despite the Government’s opposition and I and my Labour colleagues will be voting to keep these two Amendments in the Bill if the Government seeks to overturn them.

Charities are already forbidden to campaign in a partisan way by existing legislation on the way they operate and as a spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has pointed out, it is hard to see the problem that this Bill is seeking to solve.

          There are many other things wrong with the Bill. It would have been even better if the
          government had dropped it entirely and rethought its proposals after proper consultation
          with charities, NGOs, and trade unions, but the Commons does at least have the chance
          to make it a little better today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Improved access to public transport for disabled people requires a government lead

New Edinburgh buses and trams now have audio-visual announcements for passengers, and the government should be making this compulsory for all new buses.

This was one of the points which I made in a Parliamentary debate on access to transport for people with disabilities. Here is the main text of my speech:

....First, I take up the point made by my hon. Friends about the need for more and better audiovisual announcements on buses. I fully support the Committee’s recommendation that the Department for Transport should require all new buses to have audiovisual systems and for that to be phased in over no longer than 10 years—hopefully, quicker than that. Of course, that issue applies not just to England, but throughout Great Britain and perhaps Northern Ireland. It is certainly relevant to my constituency, and I hope that the Government will reconsider their refusal to make the provision mandatory.
The argument that there is no business case for the mandatory introduction of audiovisual systems—that a mandatory rule would place new financial obligations on operators in a difficult economic climate—is one that I do not think we can accept. First, no one can say that a transitional period of perhaps up to 10 years just for new buses will in any sense place excessive burdens on operators, unless the Government think that there will be a bad economic climate for the next 10 years; that is another issue.

Phasing such a system in will surely not be impossible for the vast majority of operators. We do not accept that buses can go around without having destination boards or numbers; it should be as automatic that new buses should have audiovisual information in them. I do not see that there is a case against that. As many hon. Members have said, the provision of audiovisual information benefits not just passengers with visual or hearing impairments; the public as a whole benefit from such provision. We see that in London when we travel on buses. I represent another city that has many tourists. We can see how it benefits tourists, and others who are not used to the city, to have that information available. It is obvious to me that that should be mandatory. Another reason why it is important is that otherwise we will be penalising the operators that are prepared to put the facility in place.

I am fortunate, in that Edinburgh has Britain’s largest municipally owned bus company, Lothian Buses, which, like many operators in London, is increasingly providing audiovisual announcements on buses. On five routes, they are provided as a matter of course, and they will be added to other routes in the summer. I am glad to say that the new Edinburgh tram system will be fully operational within a few months, and audiovisual information will be provided on the new trams as well.

That decision has been taken by Lothian Buses itself. The company has not been made to do that by the Government and nor has it had any assistance—from the Scottish Government, in this case—in providing that help. It has made the facility available because, as a publicly owned operator, it has a commitment to providing as accessible a transport system as possible. Indeed, Lothian Buses won an award from the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance a couple of years ago for its work in this area. Of course, it is common sense to provide all passengers with the facility. There should be no difficulty in the Government making it mandatory for all new buses over a period.

My second point is about provision on buses for people with disabilities and particularly those who require wheelchair access. As we know, the regulations provide that all bus and coach operators will have to make their vehicles, both new and old, accessible to disabled people over a transitional period, but in practice that is taken up much more actively by some operators than others. I am glad to say that again, in Edinburgh, Lothian Buses has a good record in this respect: 100% of Lothian buses are now wheelchair-accessible and that will also be the case for the trams in the future. Again, that has been done without any assistance from any governmental source.
However, as we have heard, the situation is not as good in every part of the UK. I certainly support the recommendation in the Select Committee report that the Department for Transport should introduce financial incentives for bus operators to replace older non-accessible buses, particularly where no alternative bus route is available. We all know of cases in which a route is meant to be accessible, but then suddenly the bus operator, for some operational reason, puts on a service that is not accessible. That means that a person who wants to get on the bus with a wheelchair may have to wait half an hour or two hours or not be able to travel at all in a rural area, because the so-called accessible service has not been provided.

That takes me to my third and last point. Much more work must be done to create a seamless journey for all passengers, but particularly for people who have disabilities and especially, in this context, those who require access for wheelchairs, although not only them. For example, a passenger travelling in my constituency on one of the new No. 10 buses, with full wheelchair access, to Edinburgh’s Waverley station can look at the mobile app that has already been developed by Lothian Buses ....

The passenger gets to Princes street in the centre of Edinburgh, gets into the new lifts, which take them down to the platform, and gets on to a train with a wheelchair-accessible place run by East Coast Trains. They go to London, use the lifts at the new King’s Cross station and get on a wheelchair-accessible bus to wherever they are going in London in due course. Then, at the end of their journey, they find that they cannot get off a bus or they have difficulty because they cannot get to the kerb, as someone has parked in the way.

Alternatively, the passenger gets off the bus without difficulty but then has difficulty getting across the road at a pedestrian crossing because of the limited time allowed for pedestrians to cross. As hon. Members, we all know the Streets Ahead Campaign, which began recently and which, among other things, wants to extend the amount of time allowed for pedestrians and others to get across pedestrian crossings.

We must have an integrated approach, a seamless approach, to travel planning. That means, in particular, much better integration of the needs of disabled people into planning at an early stage, tackling issues such as street clutter, thoughtless parking and broken kerbs, which are, in their own way, just as important to providing accessibility to transport for people with disabilities, because that is all part of the whole travel experience. I therefore strongly support the Select Committee’s recommendation on the need for co-ordination in this area.

I would like to conclude by recognising that the Government did think again on the abolition of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. I was one of the hon. Members who raised that issue with the Minister’s predecessor and I am glad to say that the Government reconsidered the proposal to abolish the DPTAC. The issue was raised with me by campaigners in my constituency. As someone who is always ready to criticise the Government when they do the wrong thing, I am also prepared to recognise when they have done the right thing.
I am glad that the Government have listened to disabled passengers’ organisations and other groups that wanted the DPTAC to be retained. I hope that they will now take the next step forward, which is to listen to the views expressed by disabled persons organisations and transport organisations generally and to make the changes that will improve the transport experience for passengers with disabilities in the way that the Select Committee has recommended.

I urge the Minister in particular to change the Government’s stance on audiovisual announcements on buses. That is an easy thing to do. The necessary legislative changes could be made quickly and would make such a difference to so many passengers—those with disabilities and others—throughout our country. I urge the Government to think again on that point in particular.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Edinburgh's record in the campaign against apartheid

Edinburgh was one of the many towns and cities around the world which gave recognition to the struggle and achievements of Nelson Mandela. In Parliament, we paid tributes to him, and I referred to the way in which Edinburgh had awarded him the freedom of the city, and the other ways in which so many people in Edinburgh had supported the campaign against aparthied. Here is what I said in my speech:

I am glad to have a chance to say a few words in tribute to Nelson Mandela. Edinburgh was one of the many UK cities that paid homage to Nelson Mandela by offering him the freedom of the city, which he gave us the honour of accepting. That award from Edinburgh came fairly late in the day—much later, I am afraid, than that from our friends in Glasgow—because Edinburgh city council required a two-thirds majority to grant someone freedom of the city and at the time the award was first suggested in the 1980s, as an act of solidarity, the council chamber did not, to put it tactfully, share the same political consensus on Nelson Mandela’s virtues as that shared by this Chamber today.
I am glad to say that when the freedom of the city was proposed some years later, shortly before the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh, the council agreed unanimously that it should be offered to Nelson Mandela, and President Mandela, as he then was, found the time to accept the award in person when he attended that Commonwealth meeting.

Although that freedom of the city came late, I can say with pride that we did not have to wait as long for the support given by many of the people of Edinburgh to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Like many communities up and down the country, many people in Edinburgh gave their support in many ways to the campaign against apartheid.

I want to mention three groups in particular. First, the Scottish trade unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers, headquartered in Edinburgh, played a leading role—similar to that played by the union in Wales, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis)—in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Scotland.

As in Wales, the Scottish churches played a leading role in the movement.

I should also mention the Scottish academics and students, not least those of Edinburgh university, who were at the forefront of the disinvestment campaign, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) also played an important part.

Edinburgh also became home to many exiles from South Africa during the apartheid years, no doubt because of those historic links and solidarity. In many cases, they were political activists who would, of course, have faced heavy penalties if they had conducted that activity in South Africa. They took part in, and inspired others to join, anti-apartheid campaigns in Edinburgh and elsewhere. Some of those South African exiles still live in Edinburgh. Although they will no doubt be in mourning, they will also be immensely proud of what Nelson Mandela did in his life for the country and for the world. As one of Edinburgh’s representatives in this Chamber, it is a great privilege and honour to have been able to offer my tribute to him today.

Monday, December 02, 2013

What will be this week's government U-turn?

The term 'U-turn' is one of those sometimes over-used political cliches, but over the last couple of weeks it seems the best way to describe some of the sudden changes in Coalition government policies.

First, we saw the sudden announcement that Chancellor George Osborne was in favour of a cap on pay-day loans - something the government had steadfastly argued against before. (All 'credit' to Stella Creasy MP and Kez Dudgale MSP for the campaigns they have been leading on the issue - and also to the Archbishop of Canterbury whose voice in the House of Lords was apparently threatening a government defeat).

And then, again apparently in the face of another Lords defeat, the twists and turns on the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes. There, we were told that the government was going to support plain packaging - and then a day later, it was going to have a review only, which MIGHT lead to plain packaging. Not so much a U-turn here, rather two successive U-turns - as someone remarked, an O-turn!

And today and this weekend, the announcement of measures to cut energy prices, which was absolutely definitely not government intervening in the market! (Measures which in fact won't lead to a cut overall this year, but are clearly being 'spun' to desparately show that the government is doing something, anything, to respond to Labour's plan for an energy freeze as a prelude to a reorganisation of the market and the establishment of a tough new regulator.

All three examples, of course, where Labour has been setting the agenda. This week, we will see George Osborne giving his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons. It's a fair bet we will see other attempts by the Tories and the LibDems to steal Labour's clothes - but I suspect any such attempts will merely remind the voters that Labour has been coming up with answers, and the government has not.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Small businesses also hit by cost-of-living crisis

The House of Commons yesterday debated small business. Many small businesses are hit by the cost-of-living crisis, so the actions being taken by Edinburgh Council to support small business are welcome. Here is my speech in that debate:

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and her colleagues on persuading the Backbench Business Committee to grant the debate.
Small businesses play a major role in all our constituencies —mine is certainly no exception. They are important to the economy not just in their own right, but because they provide vital underpinning for many larger businesses in other economic sectors. They also play a vital role in maintaining healthy local communities through, for instance, their presence in shopping centres.

It is understandable that Members want to be positive in such a debate. Most of what I say will certainly be positive, and Government Members will obviously want to highlight what they see as the Government’s achievements. However, we should not forget the mixed experience that many small businesses have had over the past few years. Many have survived, and are surviving now, only with great difficulty. According to the Forum of Private Business—we will all have received its briefing yesterday—94% of small businesses are reporting increases in cost pressures, and many small business proprietors have managed to survive only by cutting their own wages and those of their staff. Small businesses are not in any way exempt from the cost of living crisis that is affecting so many of our communities and constituents.

As I have said, however, I want to be positive and to focus on what can be done to strengthen and support small businesses, which I have discussed with representatives of various small businesses in my area. Several hon. Members have talked about the need for more sympathetic treatment by the banks. I do not have time to repeat the horror stories that we have all heard, but some of my constituents have reported awful experiences with RBS’s global restructuring group. I hope that the Minister will be able to update the House on what his Department is doing in response to the allegations about that organisation. Even if we leave aside some of the more dramatic examples, it is clear that businesses need more sympathetic treatment by banks. The banks should recognise the difficulties that have been caused by branch closures, and, of course, there needs to be more competition and choice in banking. Labour has made some important proposals in that context.

Other organisations, and indeed areas of government, can also provide funds and other support for small business, and Edinburgh city council has taken a number of important steps in that regard. It has provided the Creative Exchange, an incubator space that opened recently in Leith to provide affordable work space for up to 80 staff. A further example is the council’s procurement policy, which covers a £20 million information technology tender. The council wants at least 25% of the work to go to small businesses; the present contract is held by a single large company.

Small business lending is also important. I was pleased to learn about discussions between the council and Capital Credit Union about the possibility of the union contributing an extra £1.3 million to the East of Scotland Investment Fund, which could provide loans for small businesses. The credit union is able to do that because of changes to corporate lending rules that allow community-based mutuals to offer loans to businesses. As someone who has a very small investment in Capital Credit Union, I am glad that it is at the forefront of that project. It is important to point out that the European regional development fund is also providing support, given the rather negative comments about Europe that we hear from certain Members in the House.
Mr Bain: In Edinburgh, as in Glasgow, there are many small exporting companies. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should be doing much more to establish a more proactive relationship with such companies through UK Trade & Investment? I had to draw the attention of a company I visited recently to the services provided by UKTI. Would not such action by the Government benefit small exporters in Edinburgh as well as those in my constituency?

Mark Lazarowicz: It would obviously benefit businesses in constituencies throughout the United Kingdom.

Another initiative undertaken by the city council is the Edinburgh guarantee, which brings together local government, businesses, colleges, the voluntary sector and national programmes at Scottish, UK and European levels to create opportunities for our young people. Since its establishment just over two years ago, it has generated more than 1,000 job, apprenticeship and internship opportunities for school leavers. Many small businesses have been closely involved in the project, and I congratulate the council on what it has achieved.

However, if councils are to provide all the support for small businesses that they ought to be able to provide, they need to have the powers that would enable them to do that to the full. Local government powers in Scotland are obviously the responsibility of the Scottish rather than the United Kingdom Government, but the fact remains that local authorities can perform an important task in supporting small business. Those that are already doing a good job should be congratulated, while those that are not should learn from them.

Although I want to be positive, I should add that we must not ignore the real pressures on small businesses. Cost pressure is an important factor that needs to be addressed. During Energy and Climate Change questions, the Government once again refused to accept the merits of Labour’s proposal for an energy price freeze, which would be of real benefit to small businesses as well as householders. It is disappointing that the Government still refuse to accept the strength of our argument, but in a world of Government U-turns, who knows what their policy may be next week?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mediterranean death-toll is an issue for all of Europe

Another week, another tragedy in the Mediterranean as a boat carrying would-be migrants from North Africa to Europe sinks with heavy loss of life. This week, at least 33 died – and a little over a week ago, at least 350 died in a tragedy which for once reached the front pages of the world’s media.  400 dead in a couple of weeks – contributing to a death toll in the Mediterranean which is estimated to have reached at least 25,000 in the last 20 years. No wonder that the Prime Minister of Malta has warned that the Mediterranean is turning into a cemetery.

The rising death toll highlights the desperation of those taking such risks in an attempt to evade border restrictions and enter the European Union. (It’s not, of course, just an issue for the EU – there are deaths at sea amongst those trying to reach the USA and Australia, but the death toll in the Mediterranean is almost certainly the most numerous and is obviously an issue where we in the UK have a responsibility to act, as many of those crossing the Mediterranean want to travel further north into the EU to countries including Britain).

And because of that, Europe needs to act together. Firstly, to try and stop the death toll. Common humanity demands no less. That means more effective patrols, with a duty to provide better and quicker rescue in case of disaster as well as interception of the vessels involved. It also means effective working on a multi-national basis to identify the illegal traffickers, and where possible stop the vessels from leaving the countries of departure in the first place. That is not easy in a situation where many of the countries concerned are in a state of domestic upheaval, and sometimes in a state of civil war like Syria at the moment. It highlights how much it is in the interests of the EU as a whole, including the UK, to do what it can to encourage economic and political stability, and the settlement of conflict in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. And not just in these countries on the EU’s marine border, but further afield as well. Just as the Syrian conflict has led by all reports to a big increase in refugees from that conflict seeking to enter the EU by illegal means, it would not be surprising if the stream of refugees prepared to pay vast sums to traffickers and risk a death at sea includes many escaping conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To that, of course, can be added to the many who are attracted to Europe and the other richer countries of the world by the possibility of earning a decent living compared with the poverty of their own country.

So the Mediterranean migrant death-toll also underlines the need and the case for the world community to tackle the underlying poverty and underdevelopment which drives so many to seek a better life in the richer world. Some will always no doubt seek to enter the EU and other richer parts of the world, and take great risks in doing so, often being exploited by ruthless traffickers – but peace, security, stability and development would certainly reduce the pressure to do so.

A fairly obvious conclusion, perhaps, but one which needs restating at a time when the immigration debate in our country can too often blend impractical gimmicks with anti-migrant rhetoric, without for one minute considering the wider context.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Syria deal should be first step

The deal brokered between the US and Russia could, if implemented properly, provide an opportunity on which a wider and more extensive peace process can be built. One of the reasons that I was opposed to what I saw as a rush to military action in response to the use of chemical weapons was that I feared this would only further exacerbate the desparate situation in Syria. I believed that the efforts to work through the international community and international organisations such as the UN had not been fully explored, and the fact that there appears to have been progress towards a deal in my view justifies that conclusion. If, and I know it's a big if, the deal is followed through, then we will hopefully see the removal of a chemical weapons stockpile whose very existence, particularly in a situation of instability, is a threat not just to the people of Syria but also other countries in the Middle East and indeed the whole world if stocks went adrift.

Of course, it will no doubt be said that the threat of military action is what has forced the Syrian regime to agree to a deal. I'm sure that is true, but equally a united response by the international community could have achieved that, as it appears now to be doing. If the Syrian regime were to back track on the deal, then I accept that will need an international response which ultimately might require the use of military action. But such action must only be a last resort, and should only be utilised to enforce a legally binding decision of the UN, and only with the sanction of the UN. The priority now should be to use the window which has opened to, first, conclude and implement the chemical weapons deal, and to build on that to try and work towards a cease fire and then a settlement in the dreadful Syrian war. If the world community and the powerful states in the region can achieve that, then it gives hope that they can similarly begin to deescalate and work towards settlements of the other conflicts in the region. I am under no illusions as to the great difficulties and obstacles to that path - but it is the only path I can see that leads away from a future of perpetual conflict and war.

Marion Morton

It was  sad to hear the news at the weekend of the death of Marion Morton. Marion was a long-standing member of the Labour Party in this constituency, for a long time in the Stockbridge area and more recently in Trinity. I served with Marion for a number of years on Edinburgh City Council where she represented the Tollcross ward. She also served with distinction as the City council's Deputy Lord Provost for four years. Strongly committed to her constituents and to public service, she was always kind, courteous, and considerate but also firm in her views and principles.

Hers was a full and active life, and I would like to express my condolences to her husband Andrew and her family.  There is to be a celebration of her life on Saturday 21 September at 1 pm in the Lorimer Chapel at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cycling provision on Leith Walk - and beyond

There's been quite a bit of discussion about the Council's revised plans for the upgrade and improvement of Leith Walk, particularly with regard to the provision for cyclists. The plans do now include improved facilities for cyclists - not as much as some would like, but in my view still a considerable improvement in the situation at present. One big defect in the latest revision, however, is the cutting back of the 'two-way' cycle lane just to a short length between Picardy Place at the 'Omni' down to the London Road junction. This means any cyclist travelling north down Leith Walk would have to use one of the busiest bus stop areas, at Elm Row. The two-way section should be continued from London Road down to the Montgomery Street Junction at the very least.

Similarly, there need to be proposals for how cyclists travelling south into the City Centre once they reach the end of the cycle lanes are expected to continue their journey. The Picardy Place has been one of the most dangerous areas in the city for cyclists for years - and when the area is fully reopened      shortly with the new tram stop, it is likely to get even busier. There are various plans to redevelop the area, and one day the tram will no doubt be extended down Leith Walk, and the plans for both of these would include improved cycle provision in this area. But all this is years away, and uncertain.  The planners need to come up with some ideas, now, for how getting across this dangerous junction can be made safer for cyclists (and actually for drivers as well). An 'interim' solution won't be perfect, but surely something is better than nothing, if the benefits of changes further down Leith Walk are not to undermined by poor conditions at its top?

On the theme of making cities fit for cycling, I'm pleased to see that the report 'Get Britain Cycling', with which I was involved, is to be debated in the House of Commons on 2nd September. I'm certain there will be a lot of MPs who will want to speak, but I hope to be able to get into the debate for at least a few minutes, drawing on the Edinburgh experience, both the good and not so good!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Extra cash for bedroom tax losers only highlights failure of policy

The government keeps saying that the bedroom tax is working, yet there is increasing evidence that even in its own terms (I.e. saving money) it isn't actually getting the results the government wanted. A few days ago, the government quietly announced that it was going to give local councils an extra £35 million to help councils meet the cost of paying more for 'Discretionary Housing Payments' than it had originally planned to do. This is on top of an existing extra payment of £30 million which it had already announced it would pay.

Most of these discretionary payments in the current year are going to provide interim compensation for those who have been hit by the 'bedroom tax' - people whose housing benefit has been cut because the government says they have a spare room, but who can't move because there aren't houses available for them to go to.

Now normally, you might expect the government to highlight the fact it was making extra payments of this type, but the news was released very quietly indeed. (In fact, most of the publicity in the media was for the fact that the extra sum of money included payments for councils covering rural areas, and - surprise surprise - the biggest winner was the Council which covers much of the constituency represented by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, LibDem Danny Alexander MP!),

That is presumably because it reveals that not only is the bedroom tax causing a lot of people to suffer, it's also not freeing up 'over occupied' social housing, it's also going to save the government a lot less money than it expected - indeed, when the costs of paying private landlords higher rents to house people who previously lived in lower rental social housing are taken into account, it looks very much as if the policy may save the government very little money at all.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

At last! - Road and path repairs and long-awaited pedestrian crossing for Leith

It's good to see that Edinburgh's Labour-led Council is beginning to tackle the backlog of road, pavement, and pathway repairs. I've just been sent details of the latest update on Leith Walk improvements, with a focus on what is being done in Constitution Street, here.

As Greener Leith point out, this includes at last the long-awaited introduction of pedestrian crossing facilities at the dangerous junction at Bernard Street/Constitution street, with detailed proposals here.

Along with the Council's announcement (below) about tackling defective road and pavement repairs, it looks like a lot of long-awaited problems are now set to be dealt with.

[extract from Council press release]

More utility firms are set to be brought to book for defective road and pavement repairs in the capital.  

The pledge comes after the City of Edinburgh Council boosted the number of inspectors in their Roadworks Support Team to six, with two new officials taking up their posts today (Monday 1 July 2013).

The team currently carry out 13,000 inspections a year on sites where work is ongoing or has been completed by organisations such as water, gas, power and telecom firms.

Now with the extra inspectors they will be checking all re-instatement works carried out during the year and expect to increase the number of inspections to 20,000.

Around 80% of the roadworks in the capital are carried out by utility companies with around 15% of these proving to be defective. Last year 1,511 defects were reported to utility firms following inspections and there are currently 550 defects awaiting repair.

The extra inspectors come after the Capital Coalition pledged last month at the Transport and Environment Committee to invest a further £12m in improving the city’s roads and pavements. This is in addition to the £13.9m capital investment for roads, pavements and street lighting allocated for this year.

 Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport Convener, said: "The state of roads and pavements in Edinburgh is a high priority for the public and the Capital Coalition, and it is extremely important to make sure that disruption caused by re-instatement works is kept to a minimum.

 "The public, quite rightly, get very frustrated when they see roads or pavements deteriorating because of poor workmanship by utilities contractors. By increasing the number of inspectors we hope to achieve a long term reduction in the failure rate and an improvement in the condition of the road network. 

 “It is also vitally important in terms of public safety that roads and pavements are reinstated properly, as defective repairs can be dangerous.”



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quiet vehicles and a simple idea that can save lives

There are gradually more and more hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads. Their introduction has been supported by government because of the reduction in carbon emissions that results from the use of these articles. That is important both to reach wider carbon reduction targets, and also because they can help reduce pollution in heavily polluted areas.

The fact that they are quiet also means that they can reduce noise pollution. But their very quietness raises another problem, namely the fact that they can make it harder for pedestrians to notice motor vehicles. This problem was highlighted today in an event at Westminster organised by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. They are campaigning for a European wide law to make it compulsory for a minimum noise level for all vehicles, and a mandatory installation of an alert system in quiet hybrid and electric vehicles.

This seems like a very sensible proposal. Obviously it's good to have quieter streets, but it shouldn't be at the expense of pedestrian safety. This is not just an issue for cars of course; we also have hybrid buses, and electric trams.

As the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association points out, this is something that potentially affects many pedestrians, not just the blind and partially sighted - those with hearing difficulties, for instance, and children.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Housing, transport, community facilities, and green space are key issues for Edinburgh Local Development Plan

Edinburgh City Council has just completed the consultation process for its new Local Development Plan.

Here are the comments which I have submitted:

"Comments on Local Development Plan

I wish to submit comments on the proposals contained in the Local Development Plan for Edinburgh. My comments are directed at those elements of the plan relating to the Edinburgh North & Leith Constituency.

The plan envisages continuing major redevelopment of the waterfront area from Leith to Granton. The new plan envisages a more extensive continuing use of Leith docks for industrial, port, and manufacturing purposes than had previously been envisaged for the future. If that is to be the case, then it is essential that amenity is protected for neighbouring housing areas, particularly as many residents will have moved into area on basis that industrial activity would be reducing. In particular, steps should be taken to minimise use of residential areas by heavy lorries, construction traffic, and general docks traffic. Similar measures should be taken in other areas which suffer heavily from exhaust and/or noise pollution from vehicles. Early consideration of whether there should be further Air Quality Management Areas, and implementation of measures to ensure existing AQMAs see a reduction in pollution. (Such an approach should also be followed in other areas with high trafffic concentrations, such as Leith Walk and parts of the New Town and West End. The situation should also be monitored in other areas with increasing traffic volumes such as Stockbridge, Easter Road, and Ferry Road).

There should be early provision of alternative access routes to the docks, particularly to allow access to the eastern section of the city bypass without that access in itself impinging upon other residential areas; seeking to keep such traffic away from residential areas and busy shopping streets, including where appropriate lorry bans and measures to exclude vehicles which cause heavy exhaust and/or noise pollution; consideration of upgrading existing rail access into Leith docks to allow more freight and industrial traffic to reach the docks area by rail; measures to shift heavy traffic reaching the docks by road to travel by sea.

I welcome proposals for new parks in waterfront area at Leith and Granton, and the creation of green space and pedestrian/cycle paths along the front in the Leith/Seafield area. The opportunity should be taken to create a major new network of paths of this type all along the waterfront, and steps should be taken to encourage this provision at an early date, rather than dependent on other development proposals.

Steps should be taken to ensure that new residential areas are not left with their surroundings in an uncompleted and semi-derelict state pending further development, as has happened in the case of a number of existing developments along the waterfront. It is not acceptable for people to have to live in such conditions for many years, as has happened to many residents in these areas.

The increase in population in the Leith and waterfront area which is likely to come about if the LDP is implemented must be accompanied by the provision of the necessary social infrastructure. This includes facilities such as schools and local shopping centres as identified in the report, but it must also cater for all other aspects of community life. It is important that there is adequate provision of public community halls, public sports pitches, and other leisure activities, which could perhaps be provided through community facilities at new schools as well as through stand-alone sites.

Existing public sports and leisure facilities which serve the Edinburgh North and Leith area, such as Ainslie Park, Meadowbank, and local swimming pools should be retained and where possible enhanced to cater for the needs of a growing population.

Provision should be made to encourage the development of tourism and heritage facilities to serve both visitors and the local community, in particular to ensure the provision of a Leith heritage and maritime history centre, and other historic sites within the area.

The proposals to create further green space in other areas of the constituency, such as at Inverleith Depot, are also to be welcomed. Furthermore, as a general policy, the provision of publicly accessible green space should be considered, for example in redevelopment of the Shrubhill/Shrub Place sites. Proposals which have been developed in recent years by the local community in Leith for development of ‘pocket parks’ and green routes in heavily tenemental areas should be provided for in the new plan.   

Finally, I note that the plan makes a commitment to ensuring a housing mix in terms both of type and tenure. I support that commitment and the Council should take the initiative through long term agreements with housing providers, central government, and developers to make sure that commitment is fulfilled. 

I would be grateful if you would ensure that these comments are considered as part of the consultation process on the Local Development Plan, and would ask that they be taken into account when the final plan is produced.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

'New homes slump even worse than in great depression'

I wrote a post a few days ago about the lack of new housing in my constituency. There's an article in today's 'Herald' which says it all: