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
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 bringduring construction
and once operationalthis 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
jobsfurther 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.