Gina Davidson: No barriers to future success

Penicuik councillor Adam Montgomery on the old Borders line. Picture: ian Georgeson
Penicuik councillor Adam Montgomery on the old Borders line. Picture: ian Georgeson
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THERE’S a lot of fun poked at Midlothian Council. If it’s not a provost buying an expensive kilt out of council coffers and then declaring not only that he had “eff all to answer for” but that his clothing allowance wasn’t large enough, it’s a demand for the Tartan Army to be considered bigoted against the English, or it’s the bizarre fallings in and out of the SNP group and its leaders currently running the council.

Yet despite all the nonsense, Midlothian seems to be an authority which wants to get things done and is looking very much to the future.

It’s as though Edinburgh’s little sister is starting to find her own feet and become more than just a butt of political jokes. Let’s not forget it made an audacious bid to snatch the Olympic rings from Edinburgh last year when the idea of them being attached to the Castle ramparts went awry.

For instance, just this week a new £500,000 cycle path from Edinburgh to Midlothian was announced, which will enable cyclists to ride under the City Bypass as far as Rosslyn Chapel. The funding for that piece of infrastructure may be coming from Sustrans and Edinburgh City Council but it was Midlothian Council which instigated the whole plan by spending £80,000 on the cycleway up to the bypass at its side of the 
demarkation line.

It’s also spending cash upgrading the roads for cyclists around Beeslack Community High School and there’s feasibility work being carried out to improve links to the planned Newbattle Abbey station.

Then there’s the suggestion that Dalkeith should be the next stop on any extension to the tram line if it ever does get to run past the Royal Infirmary. Another audacious idea – it is supposed to head down Leith first if another line is ever built.

And a £150 million rail line which would connect Penicuik to Edinburgh is being discussed as a possibility when the new Borders rail link is finally operating. Heriot-Watt University will carry out a study into opening ten miles of track to connect the Midlothian town to the new Shawfair station.

Of course, while the tram idea might be “pie in the sky” given the current financial situation of the yet-to-be-opened single line from the city centre to the airport, the idea that 20,000 people could be served by rail from Midlothian to Waverley has more potential.

In April, the county was trying to make as much noise as possibly about its tourism attractions at the VisitScotland Expo, riding high on the back of this being the Year of Natural Scotland. Then there’s Hillend ski centre which has had a £600,000 revamp, making it world-class standard and calling a halt to its interminable decline which looked like it would end in closure.

Employment in the area is apparently remaining fairly stable and at the start of May it was Midlothian which recorded the highest percentage increase, at nine per cent, in average house prices in Scotland – up from £168,552 to £183,751.

It has also run fortnightly bin collections including recycling with no problem.

Of course, the council is not immune to the recession – the Shawfair building plans have halted – or to the budget cuts facing every local authority. It needs to find £25m of cuts over four years so already it’s reduced the mobile library service, music tuition in schools has been hit hard, staff numbers are being reduced, and so on.

Despite it all, though, big things are happening in Midlothian. I’m beginning to think I moved out of Edinburgh in the wrong direction.

MSPs must get policies in gear

THIS weekend sees the second Pedal on Parliament, when hundreds of cyclists will try to make their demands for safer cycling heard over the loudness of their neon jackets.

In the light of the recent death of Audrey Fyfe, above, and the lenient sentencing of the motorist who knocked her from her bike, as well as the deaths of many others on Edinburgh’s roads in the last few years, it’s an issue which has never been more pressing.

While I don’t cycle, I hope that their demands are heard and met. The cycling lobby is increasingly powerful. Politicians need to take note.

Now teachers are on red alert

WHO would want to be a modern studies teacher at a secondary school in the run-up to the independence referendum? Guidelines – rightly – are being issued to make sure teachers are fair and balanced when they discuss the topic as many young people will vote.

Good luck with that. I recall one of my modern studies teachers was never shy of personalising politics. His nickname? Red Ed.

Bridge too far

At 57 metres high, the view from Edinburgh Airport’s tower is spectacular as I once discovered. But climbing to the top of the Forth Road Bridge, 156m above sea level? You’d have to pay me more than £50 to do that.

City’s failing our packed schools

SURELY there were many, many parents with their heads in their hands at the news that nine primary schools are in need of extensions because classrooms are bursting at the seams. This on top of extensions already approved to be built.

It felt like only yesterday council officials were saying the city needed to close 22 schools.

It didn’t happen, but seven did bite the dust. Drumbrae went and now Fox Covert is overflowing. Royston closed and now Wardie and Granton are bulging. Burdiehouse shut and the impact is being felt as far as Liberton. Serious questions need to be asked of the officials giving planning info on school rolls.