From the early days of Wester Hailes much effort went into developing a stronger sense of community. The newness of the area, the fact that many residents did not know each other and the isolating effects of the layout meant it was hard to generate a feeling of belonging or identity for the community. In 1979 the Sentinel featured the work of 6 neighbourhood action groups, the forerunners of neighbourhood councils. The Sentinel highlighted their work and pointed out that the 6 neighbourhoods formed one community with representatives from the groups meeting regularly as the Wester Hailes Development Advisory Committee. You can read this story by clicking here.
As the community has fought to create a sense of unity, one of the barriers it has faced is its local government electoral boundaries which have been drawn and redrawn over the years, keeping the area split apart in terms of its representation. Local government itself at that time was two- tier: Lothian Regional Council was responsible for education, social work, water, sewerage and transport. The City of Edinburgh District Council had responsibility for other areas. As far back as 1980, District Council boundaries had been redrawn to split Wester Hailes in two, South Hailes and North Hailes. The report “Wester Hailes Ten Years On” commented that this divided the area in a most unsatisfactory manner, with “the Park and Drive being split down the middle”.
Boundaries for the Regional Council were then redrawn in the early 1990s leading to the Sentinel headline, Hailes Wiped Off Map. Wester Hailes was split, this time the estate being completely amalgamated into other areas: Longstone and Sighthill/ Broomhouse.
In 1995, everything changed again. The Regional and District system was replaced by a single tier structure with the City of Edinburgh Council taking over. Inevitably, this led to new wards but no re-integration for the Wester Hailes community which was now split between Murrayburn and Parkhead. The Sentinel tried to keep everyone informed about the changes and always encouraged people to use their vote.
Once again in 2007, ward boundaries were altered so that Wester Hailes is now split between Pentland Hills and Sighthill/ Gorgie, the division putting Clovenstone, Barn Park and Harvesters into Pentlands Hills. This division is further established by the Neighbourhood Partnership structure with Wester Hailes being split along similar lines between Pentlands and the South West.
So does this matter to the people who live here and does it make a difference? Perhaps it actually gives Wester Hailes more representation with two sets of councillors. But when larger representative areas are setting priorities and deciding how to allocate ever scarcer resources, there is a danger that more localised needs become lost in the process. And when an issue affects the whole community, how does it ensure that its concern is represented and influence exerted at an electoral level? Many communities face this issue as boundary lines often seem to be redrawn with little consideration for local understandings of what constitutes a community. Perhaps next time round Wester Hailes will see a more sympathetic boundary created that defines its community rather than splitting it.