Residents hail Moredun and Hyvots regeneration

The Moredun and Hyvots area has been transformed. Picture: Esme Allen
The Moredun and Hyvots area has been transformed. Picture: Esme Allen
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The houses were literally tumbling down. There were cracks in the walls, leaking roofs, persistent damp.

Floors were uneven, windows weren’t flush, doors wouldn’t close and infestations of insects were commonplace in the stairs and flats.

Those living in Moredun and Hyvots put it down to a lack of money being spent on their properties. Little did they know the ground they were sleeping above could crumble away beneath them without any warning.

What turned out to be the United Kingdom’s most significant subsidence issue began in 2000 when an elderly resident noticed cracks in her bungalow walls.

A landslide in autumn 2000 at Ferniehill revealed the true extent of the problem – old limestone mine works underneath the houses were collapsing.

People were swiftly evacuated from the dangerous flats and hundreds of homes were demolished.

The subsidence did have one positive impact, as it meant action had to be taken to upgrade the neglected flats and bleak public space, which had caused residents’ attitudes to turn sour.

Now, more than a decade on, people are proud to be living in the area, where more than £67 million has been spent on sprucing up the houses and surrounding environment.

“I felt like it was a bit of a ghetto land,” resident Maureen Smith said.

“There’s more of a friendly atmosphere again among neighbours – you’re all looking after one another’s properties.”

She and her husband have lived in the area for most of their lives and they intend on spending the rest of their days in their new two-bedroom downstairs flat in Moredun Dell.

She said: “They’re really nice, they’ve used environmentally friendly grass roofs, there’s a lot of wood used on the outside. It’s definitely a lot better than it was before.”

People also feel safer.

“It’s a lot harder to commit crime in this area because of the way these houses have been built,” she added. “It’s a lot more difficult for people to break in unnoticed.”

Chairman of the Hyvots and Moredun Residents Association Bryan Pitbladdo said the local community police officer had also reported a decline in petty crime and antisocial behaviour.

The 65-year-old, who moved to Hyvots in 2011, said people respected the area and, while there was the odd bit of graffiti, all in all it was a nice place to live.

This is a dramatic contrast to the state of the area in the 1990s, according to former housing leader and Moredun ward councillor Sheila Gilmore.

In the lead up to the underground ticking time bomb being identified, Edinburgh City Council had flagged upgrade works.

But while it was decided how to revamp the 1950s and 1960s housing, the area became run down.

She said: “The physical fabric had problems because it didn’t have good insulation, was difficult to heat and very expensive to go about it.

“I think the general feeling of a lot of residents and council officers was that it would be much better to do a substantial piece of work rather than make the best of what there was.”

But the delay in upgrading the area affected residents.

“If you’re living in a place that’s beginning to become run down and is difficult to manage and people start to perhaps think, ‘I don’t want to be here, I want to move away’, it just has an impact on people’s general commitment to the area.”

This led to high turnover and people not knowing their neighbours, which in turn meant residents were disconnected.

Community morale picked up once residents were involved in planning the redevelopment, however it was short-lived due to a stall in funding.

The residents’ committee kept the pressure on and “their perseverance was a big part of the success”, Mrs Smith said.

“They helped ‘get things right’ making sure that the homes built reflected people’s preferences, and that every effort was made to ensure that older residents in particular were assisted to keep stress to a minimum.

“They acted as a means of keeping the wider community informed as well.”

The project was granted Scottish Executive funding and the housing stock was handed over from the council to Dunedin Canmore Housing, which was appointed lead developer for the project in 2003.

Creating sustainable housing was a major focus during the six phases of the redevelopment – and that drive has paid off, with the award-winning project offering super-low energy bills.

The Quarries, which is home to 58 people aged over 55, was the only Scottish project to be nominated at last year’s UK Sustainable Housing awards. Residents’ heating and hot water bills are £35.20 per month, due to solar panels and having just three domestic sized boilers servicing the building.

It has shared lounges, emergency alarms in each flat and a courtyard with exercise equipment, a pond and park benches.

Ralph Richardson, 75, moved from sheltered housing in Oxgangs to the Quarries in early 2011. He said: “It’s lovely and warm and nicely laid out. It’s a lot better.”

He enjoys the social aspect and has made friends with fellow residents.

“Oh, I love my bingo and coffee mornings,” he said. “I just feel I can get about and do things I never used to do before.”

He also got involved in a special series of gardening days last summer, after a grant was given to build raised garden beds and a glasshouse, which was overflowing with tomatoes and cucumbers.

A parliamentary reception was held on Wednesday to celebrate the success of the project and pay tribute to those who worked on it.

WATERLOGGED MINES TRIGGERED COLLAPSE

The Gilmerton limestone mines collapse was caused by a number of old limestone quarries dating back to the 18th century.

Some of the caverns were up to 40 feet deep and had filled with water.

The first collapse at Ferniehill in 2000 showed that when the mines became waterlogged, the limestone pillars supporting the roof could fail, triggering serious subsidence.

Because there were no detailed records of where the mines existed, techniques such as borehole drilling and sonar were used to find out exactly which quarries had workings leading off them, and which workings were flooded. Any with both mines and flooding were deemed a potential risk.

Before existing houses could be refurbished or new homes built, concrete had to be poured underground to stabilise the mine.

This grouting cost nearly £2 million and the scale of the subsidence can be seen from the height of the ridges in the new Ferniehill Community Park, built above the initial mine collapse.