The history of Hailes Quarry has been well documented but of as much interest is the story of transforming this piece of land into accessible space that could be used by local Wester Hailes residents. As with so many amenities, the community had a battle on its hands over the future of the site and faced a series of delays before the area was turned into the park it is today. Access to green space is recognised as having an important part to play in the wellbeing of communities. However, simply providing areas of open grassed space is not the whole answer. These areas are of limited value if they have no purpose or focus to encourage people to use them. Such areas remain empty and as a result feel unsafe.
Hailes Quarry itself was active from 1750 to 1900 and at its peak period of production employed 150 men with 100,000 tons of stone being
taken out each year. Stone from the quarry was much in demand and was used for stairs and landings during the building for the New Town. It was abandoned in 1902 when it became flooded with water. There was some talk around turning the area into a speedway circuit when the speedway at Old Meadowbank was demolished in 1967. This idea didn’t go any further and the site was used for landfill during the 1970s before being grassed over.
During the 1970s a plan was put together to turn the site into a park. However, there was a series of delays as funding became an issue. Early in 1980 people from Hailesland, Dumbryden, Kingsknowe and Longstone formed a group to provide an adventure playground for children and the Hailes Park Action Group was formed to campaign for the construction of a proper park for Wester Hailes and the wider area. This led to the park area being cleared. In 1981 permission was given to use the land at the top of the area next to Dumbryden to build a playground and a community base and work began on establishing the Adventure Playground which came to be known as Quarrie Venchie.
However, funding for the maintenance of the area remained an ongoing issue. In 1985 the Sentinel reported on the appearance of 40 foot craters. Barriers were put round the worst affected areas but not before some people had fallen into the holes.
There was concern that the plans for the park that included a sports centre and a BMX track would now be put on hold. The holes were filled in by the council after taking advice from geologists. Over the years, the area became gradually more run down and neglected.
In 2005, Hailes Quarry Park was selected as a pilot Placemaking project by the City of Edinburgh Council. Greenspace Scotland produced a report detailing the process and the results of this approach. The pilot aimed to identify ways the part could be improved based on local opinion and to then involve the local community in the park’s developments. Four areas for priority were identified through this work:
- Encouraging community use of the park and canal
- Creating more obvious entrances to the park so that people would know the park was open to all.
- Creating better linkages between the park and the canal
- Improving the paths and drainage of the park.
Through the consultations and workshops that took place, a vision emerged for the area:
“Hailes Quarry Park is a focus for events and activities in the surrounding communities. It is a multi-functional, accessible and welcoming park, well-used and valued by local people. The Park and the Union Canal are linked to produce a truly special place.”
As a result of the placemaking exercise, development of the park was taken forward by the council and by the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust who have led on the project since 2006. Over the last 4 years there has been a series of environmental improvements including the creation of 2km of new cycleway, and the installation of features to make the park more welcoming and accessible, including entrance features, seating, steps and handrails. A play area has been created for children. New planting has increased the park’s bio-diversity. A bike track with over 340 metres of trail including jumps was installed last year. A map showing the different routes and giving information about the area was produced and distributed. And stone distance markers were placed round the paths. There has also been an ongoing programme of events and projects to raise awareness of the park and to encourage more people to use it.
The most recent development for the park is the Learning and Discover area which is being created in the middle of the park. The space will provide an opportunity for young people to experience and learn about nature and biodiversity in an informal and fun setting.