Kezia Dugdale: Fight for Leith puts people before profit

I was out campaigning on ­Easter Road at the weekend when a lady refused my leaflet and said: 'You politicians are all the same.' I said: 'I look nothing like Jeremy Corbyn.' She laughed and we started to chat.
Save Leith Walk campaigners Karen Greig and Adrian Graham at the City Chambers. Picture: Ian GeorgesonSave Leith Walk campaigners Karen Greig and Adrian Graham at the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Save Leith Walk campaigners Karen Greig and Adrian Graham at the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

She was born in 1933. “Same year they built those shops on Leith Walk they’re trying to tear down – that’s a disgrace!”

She didn’t want her name known, she’s not one for the limelight, but we had a lovely long chat about her life. It was tinged with sadness, but she was full of fight and keen to tell me she’d signed the petition to Save Leith Walk.

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Her signature joins thousands of others in an attempt to protect a ­section of the Walk’s heritage. Read the campaign’s website and you’ll find the whole history of the buildings and their link to the old railway yard that sat behind it. You’ll also find details of the man who designed it, information about the materials used and its architectural importance – which is not insignificant.

Empty shops boarded up on Leith Walk. Picture:  Martina Cannon-Ball from Save Leith WalkEmpty shops boarded up on Leith Walk. Picture:  Martina Cannon-Ball from Save Leith Walk
Empty shops boarded up on Leith Walk. Picture: Martina Cannon-Ball from Save Leith Walk

Ultimately though, the campaign is a battle for the soul and diversity of Leith. Leith Depot’s live music offerings sit comfortably next to the Punjabi Junction – an amazing social enterprise designed to bring Sikh women out of their homes and into the community. I’ve had the best dal of my life there, and made the worst chapatis in their kitchen during a cooking lesson.

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If the plan to knock these buildings down and replace them with a block of student flats that will sleep 500 succeeds, all this will be lost. Yes, curries can be made in another kitchen, and songs can be sung in another place, but it will fundamentally and irreparably change this community.

Shops come and go, trends rise and fall, but this is an issue of planning for the future. It’s structural and fundamental. It will set the tone for who will live, work and relax in this bit of the town for years to come.

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Over the years, I’ve often been on the unpopular side of planning ­arguments. I was passionately pro-tram from the beginning. Hell, I even campaigned for the doomed city ­congestion charge because I believed it was necessary to bring the step change in public transport use that the city needed.

I’ve also been reluctant to outright oppose major housing developments across the city. You can’t accept the desperate need to build tens of thousands of affordable homes across the country, and then oppose every attempt to do just that. Most of my scrutiny is therefore focused on the mix of properties, the transport infrastructure to support them and the schools and amenities needed to ensure it’s a community we build, not just houses.

This proposed development in Leith won’t build a community, but it will damage an existing one.

There are two live planning applications open for this development: one to knock the existing buildings down; and another to build the new complex. If you are opposed to this development, please take the time to respond to both on the city council’s website. You can find out how to do so on the campaign’s excellent website

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The developers are pulling out all the stops to get this built, including paying people to knock doors and walk the streets to drum up support for the development. As much as I don’t like that, they are entitled to do it. What they are not entitled to do though, is run the community into the ground over the next 12 months to make some sort of redevelopment inevitable.

Putting up hoardings on the empty buildings is an unnecessary and divisive tactic. If the developers want to develop some goodwill in the community, they should immediately take these down and create short-term opportunities for local retailers and organisations to take advantage of the space.

Their failure to do so will only prove what everyone knows anyway, they’re motivated by profit – not the people of Leith.

Jeanne can’t afford to wait over logjam

With parliament returning after the summer recess, new Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has perhaps the fullest in-tray of all ministers.

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The NHS is facing major funding problems and dedicated staff are over-worked and under pressure like never before.

Nowhere are the problems greater than in the Lothian region.

The issues around A&E waiting times, particularly in the Royal Infirmary, are well documented. But what receives less attention is what’s known as the Treatment Time Guarantee.

This is actually a legal right the SNP introduced, guaranteeing treatment within 12 weeks for conditions such as knee and eye operations. A worthy piece of legislation.

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Unfortunately, the law has now been broken more than 30,000 times in the Lothian region since it was introduced in 2012.

That includes almost 5,000 times this year alone, and – unsurprisingly - NHS Lothian has the highest figure for any health board in the country.

This isn’t just a simple broken promise – these rights were written into law and are now being broken on what appears to be a daily basis.

The waiting time law is clearly not worth the paper it is written on.

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Across Scotland, the NHS faces major challenges. But I urge Ms Freeman to prioritise the situation in NHS Lothian.

Patients in Edinburgh are still waiting far too long in A&E and are being left in pain and discomfort because operations are cancelled. Thousands of bed days have also been lost as a result of delayed discharge, which the SNP promised to eradicate.

The NHS recently celebrated its 70th birthday. The government has a huge challenge ahead to ensure it is fit for the next 70 years and beyond.

Brexit is fuelling a rise in hate – we need to support all vulnerable groups

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It was truly heartening to see so many people turn out to support the city’s Sikh community following the attack on the Gurdwara last week.

It’s far from clear what motivated the attacker to do what he did, and it’s unhelpful to speculate when investigations are still live.

How depressing though that everyone’s first instinct was to assume that it was racially or religiously motivated. That’s the climate we live in.

There’s no doubt that there has been a rise in hate crimes across the country, but it’s not always about criminal acts. It’s about language and how we’re prepared to talk to each other.

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For some reason, and I personally blame Brexit, people feel bolder to say things they used to only think privately. Anti-immigration sentiment is legitimising stronger and stronger language.

A community leader who arrived here in the 1960s with their parents told me recently that they haven’t felt this unsafe and uncomfortable in the city for decades.

That’s how people feel.

At the vigil last week, Councillor Gordon Munro told the gathered crowds that both he and his mum had been christened in the building. It’s where his parents had been married before the Sikh community took it on and made it their place of worship and celebration. That’s why he considered the attack an assault on all families and all religions.

He was right, and that’s why as a city we should put our arms around all groups who feel vulnerable and threatened.