Gerry Coppola: Show the red card to losing more green space

Many people have fond memories of City Park
Many people have fond memories of City Park
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Ask any visitor what it is that makes Edinburgh so special and along with the Castle, Princes Street 
 and other obvious attractions they will almost, without exception, mention the green open space.

Edinburgh holds a unique geographical setting in Europe, bounded by the Firth of Forth, the Pentland Hills and glorious rolling countryside. Like Rome, it is built on seven hills but remains relatively unspoilt, whereas Rome has succumbed to aggressive urban development, leaving only a few isolated pockets of green parkland amongst its mix of ancient and modern buildings.

City Park played host to then SPL side Livingston in the 2004 Scottish Cup

City Park played host to then SPL side Livingston in the 2004 Scottish Cup

It is this unique semi-rural character that makes the city what it is and helps draw visitors from around the globe. Edinburgh is peppered with green oases from the huge swathe of Queen’s Park to Dean Village, Corstorphine Hill to Calton Hill, and the Water of Leith. Numerous other open spaces, ranging from cemeteries to cycle paths and beaches to playing fields, make Edinburgh one of the greenest cities anywhere.

City Park is a small park with a big reputation. This 1.5 hectares in the north of the city was originally farmland and orchards until the late 1940s when it was turned into a football ground. Since 1951, it has been the home of Spartans FC. The club used the ground beyond their move to a new facility in 2008 until earlier this summer when, instead of football, what kicked off was the first stage of development. The removal of the small stand on the east side of the pitch, sadly condemned and demolished around ten years ago, did not detract from the quaint charm of City Park.

The pitch itself is bound by grassy banking on the west and north flanks, created to allow a clear view of the pitch for standing spectators, who came in large numbers over the years. I am neither football historian nor expert, but there were several important matches played there over the years with radio and television coverage. You don’t have to go far in Edinburgh to find someone with fond memories of playing on this pitch.

In the wake of the post-London Olympics fitness fervour, our government placed great emphasis on the fitness of the nation and particularly that of its children. But where are we to play sport and get fit if our playing fields are developed?

The park, once relatively open, is now closed in on three sides by development – West Winnelstrae built in the 1970s, Morrisons supermarket built on the brownfield site formerly occupied by the Northern General Hospital and the recent Strada built on the brownfield site once occupied by Bruce Peebles (latterly Parsons Peebles) which manufactured electrical transformers. City Park is therefore a “last bastion of green” in a grossly overdeveloped area.

It is a haven for wildlife and has also provided a safe play area for children for generations, and is used regularly by children for football “kick-abouts”, as well as by dog walkers, joggers and, in summer, picnickers.

Sadly, City Park and the adjoining meadow behind West Winnelstrae are now under threat from a proposed housing development of more than 200 flats by Link Housing Association and builders Smart. Public consultations with a very biased PR slant by the developers were set up and a public meeting hosted by the local community council was well attended. Of the 60 or so who attended, only two were in support of the development. We are now advised that the formal planning application will be submitted around Christmas time, apparently a common ruse to minimise objections from an otherwise seasonally preoccupied public. If granted, it is estimated building works will start around October 2013.

The designs lack any style and would not look out of place in a 1970s Soviet Bloc suburb. Large hulking, boring building-block flats, squeezed into a tiny space is not quality design, and will block sunlight and natural air currents, effectively destroying the existing semi-rural ambience.

The entrance/exit to the proposed development is planned for the 
existing overburdened junction at Ferry Road/Pilton Drive/Morrisons supermarket, which will create traffic chaos on one of the city’s busiest arterial roads. There will also be an inevitable knock-on effect on local services, including rubbish collections, doctor surgeries, dentists and schools.

We are not against housing development, either social or private. The developer advises only 70 per cent of the proposed development would be social housing and the rest private. However, there are countless brownfield sites in north Edinburgh on which to build social housing, including land at Muirhouse, Granton waterfront and the old Royston school site a stone’s throw from City Park. The developer informed us that none of these “stacked up” but offered no clarification of what that means.

We have been labelled Nimbys by a minority of critics, but our supporters come from far and wide, from the footballing fraternity as well as people with environmental concerns.

We believe that the council has lost its moral footing with its current development ethos. Consider all those in Edinburgh who have recently or are currently fighting development of valuable and irreplaceable green space at Inverleith Park, Craighouse Hill, Raeburn Place and Portobello Park. If this is allowed to continue unabated Edinburgh will become just another concrete wasteland of a city. Our children and future generations will wonder how it was ever allowed to happen, just as today we wonder how those who churned up swathes of green belt and Georgian architecture in the 1960s got away with it.

We must make a stand and halt this trend now. Please support us by signing our e-petition, spreading the word and by lobbying local councillors, MPs and the planning department at the council. Contact details can be found on our website, www.savecitypark.co.uk.

• Gerry Coppola is chairman of Save City Park Action Group (savecitypark@gmail.com, @savecitypark on Twitter and Savecitypark on Facebook)

NATURE’S HOME GROUND

CITY Park is a haven for wildlife, writes Gerry Coppola. Mammals such as foxes, badgers, voles and bats visit and are resident. It supports numerous birds including woodpeckers, curlews and raptors such as owls, sparrowhawks and kestrels. It provides a habitat not only for native birds but an important resting place for migratory birds. The park forms part of the city’s green corridor, allowing wildlife to freely move around the city’s open locations in relative safety.