Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Wester Hailes Representative Council (FCS 8)

  The section of the Union Canal passing through Wester Hailes was culverted and covered over prior to the estate being completed towards the end of the 1960s. When it was first suggested in the mid 1990's that it might be re-opened, reaction was at first mixed with many legitimate concerns over safety, environmental factors, and disruption during the construction period.

  An intensive local consultation process was then carried out by the Wester Hailes Representative Council. This included contact with all households in the area and a large number of open meetings attended by all interested parties. With many residents swayed by assurances given over the employment opportunities that the proposal would bring—during construction and once operational—this culminated in over 85 per cent of those participating voting in favour of British Waterway's bid for Lottery funds to re-open the Wester Hailes stretch as part of the larger Millennium Link project.

  Now that the work has been completed, there is widespread acceptance that the actual number of local jobs created as a direct result of the canal has been disappointing to date. Also, many of the original estimates presented are now seen as having been, at best, rather optimistic. However, this has to a certain extent been compensated for by a genuine sense of pride in what is a major local asset and in particular, the proactive contribution that the community made not only regarding its own stretch but in helping to determine whether the entire project went ahead or not.

  It is recognised that the real task now is to ensure that full use is made of the facility, whether for leisure and recreational purposes or to eventually provide a significant amount of new and higher quality jobs as originally anticipated. A working group of the Wester Hailes Partnership has therefore been set up for this purpose. This comprises a range of different agencies and organisations and also has a strong Representative Council presence to help take forward many of the ideas and proposals that have emerged from within that organisation over the years.

  Accepting that some of these may take several years to come to fruition, or may not happen at all, some initial thoughts have been around how to encourage existing businesses and services to make the most of their location. This might be either to attract canal users as customers or, perhaps more imaginatively, to try and link their trade to its existence. One important possibility is the re-developed town centre which includes a multiplex cinema, bingo hall, library, hotel, 24 hour petrol station and shopping centre. Assuming additional recruitment requirements as a result, some action will be necessary to ensure local access to these jobs—further increasing contacts with employers generally.

  In terms of higher quality employment opportunities, a canal side location is also seen as desirable for office developments and there are in fact two major examples at the Calders area of the estate. Again though, this does not automatically ensure local recruitment but it is hoped that the new physical link that has been created will lead to further discussions over how this might be enhanced, especially if further canal side office developments can be encouraged elsewhere along the route.

  Finally, there are several longer term projects in the pipeline. These currently include a social enterprise micro-brewery (in association with nearby Heriot Watt university), a hostel facility, and a "social firm" providing environmental and catering services. No doubt others will emerge and there is a quiet confidence that initial promises may yet be met if all relevant parties and funding authorities can be convinced of the necessity of developing the canal to its full potential in partnership with the community that helped make it happen.

December 2001

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Prepared 19 December 2001