Mars set to build Wester Hailes underpass

Community councillors, from left, Reginald Agu, John Aitchison, Ivor Browne and Maud Wylie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Community councillors, from left, Reginald Agu, John Aitchison, Ivor Browne and Maud Wylie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A LONG-RUNNING dispute over a vital link to a state-of-the-art health centre in one of the most deprived areas of the Capital has finally been resolved thanks to an unlikely saviour.

The original plan for an underpass link to the new £12million Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre was branded unfit as it was too steep and narrow for wheelchairs or parents with prams.

A more suitable design was settled on following a community campaign, but progress stalled as the leaseholder of the Wester Hailes shopping centre plaza demanded £10,000 a year to compensate for the loss of parking spaces that needed to be removed to build the expanded approach.

However Mars Real Estate Investments – which invests pension fund cash on behalf of the confectionary giant – took over the freehold from Anglian Water Group in March.

City health leader Ricky Henderson said the new bosses had quickly given the go-ahead, meaning a firm producing sugary treats including Mars and Snickers bars, Skittles and M&Ms has come to the rescue of a health project.Cllr Henderson said: “There are still a couple of technicalities to be ironed out with the owners of the car park, but we have an agreement in principle. It’s going to be an open, visible and disability-friendly ramp under the railway and right to the Healthy Living Centre.

“The previous owner sold its interest to the Mars pension scheme and they have been very helpful and supportive and waived their right to any revenue from the car parking spaces.

“It’s something that really should have been resolved long before now, but it’s a relief to get to this position.”

Once the contracts have been signed, work will take up to a year.

Despite the positive development, there have been concerns raised over the cost of the underpass, which will link the two sides of Wester Hailes separated by the railway line.

Cllr Henderson said the work, to be financed through borrowing, was predicted to cost between £600,000 and £800,000. However other sources suggested it could eventually rise to closer to £1m.

Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon Macdonald had previously raised concerns the original underpass design could lead to it becoming a crime hotspot. However Cllr Bill Henderson, a Pentlands councillor and Mr Macdonald’s SNP colleague, said they were both satisfied with the resolution. “I’m delighted we have come to an agreement that will see a safe method of access created for the new Healthy Living Centre that is acceptable to the community,” he added.

“Now this is sorted we need a solution to how people will get to the centre on the bus while the underpass is being constructed. Lothian Buses are being helpful but we haven’t come up with a solution yet.”

Mars Real Estate Investments could not be reached for comment.