The residents of Wester Hailes have long been assured by the City Council and other public authorities that their views will be sought before decisions are taken that affect their everyday lives. However, they are also aware that their influence over any such decisions can often be quite limited and, in some instances, where there has clearly been no attempt at any form of local consultation at all.
This proved to be the case towards the end of 1996 when the many regular users of the road and railway underpasses between the area now known as Harvester’s Way and the shopping centre were suddenly confronted with a large concrete barrier, leaving normal access to people with wheelchairs impossible, and for the elderly and infirm and those with kids’ buggies and shopping baskets severely restricted to a set of steep steps.
Urgent concerns raised at the time were met with the reply that this had to be done to create some extra car parking spaces for the new multiplex cinema which was then under construction. Further concerns over the complete lack of any prior notice or local consultation over the blocking off of what may well have been a public right of way for hundreds of years (known to many as “Highwayman’s Road” which ran from the Lanark Road down to Calder Road) proved more difficult for the powers-that-be to explain, although a small piece of paper formally announcing this is said to have appeared on the new concrete wall some time later!
An excellent letter from a local resident to the Wester Hailes Sentinel expressing these concerns was published at this time and this can be seen here by clicking on Sentinel January 1997. The letter is titled “Please don’t forget the ordinary folk”.
Despite many such protests, no action was to be taken to re-instate the previous underpass route, other than promises being made that this would be looked at again when the proposed new commercial leisure developments for the south side of the railway line were closer to construction. Whilst several ideas for a bowling alley, an ice rink, and fast food shops came and went over the years, the area that was left derelict after the demolition of the Wester Hailes Drive high rise flats in the mid 1990’s, and the underpass itself, deteriorated even further with general public safety becoming a serious issue in addition to the lack of accessibility.
15 years on, it is hoped that this long running major obstacle is finally about to be addressed, with construction work soon to begin on the new Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre near to the underpass and railway station off Harvester’s Way. A joint venture between NHS Lothian and Edinburgh Council, promises have been firmly made that the local community will be fully consulted on all aspects of this new building – including barrier free access under the railway line from the shopping centre area – both during the planning and construction phase, and once the building is open and operational in Autumn 2013.
We look forward to referring back to this blog entry again in two years time once the building has been opened and confirming that important lessons have indeed been learned from the many problems caused by the unannounced blocking off of the underpass in 1996!
Do you have your own memories of when this important walking route was suddenly part-closed and how this affected you and your family or neighbours?
Do you have any comments or suggestions that you would like to see taken into consideration by those who are planning the re-instatement of a safe, pleasant and fully accessible underpass as part of the new Healthy Living Centre development?