From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


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Last week we posted a short article about the placemaking exercise carried out by Gehl Architects which examined how the vacant land at Harvesters Way could be re-developed to maximise benefit for the local community. We’ve scanned in below a few pages from the draft report which give more details of the transformation of the site and the whole central area of Wester Hailes which Gehl envisaged.

The approach that Gehl adopt is to turn the design process upside down by making the well-being of people the cornerstone of all their planning. They first look at the potential for what the life of a community – it’s activities and attractions – could be developed into; then, secondly, how the spaces in an area would best be organised to support this public life and then, and only then, do they begin to consider the design of the buildings themselves.

Gehl’s guiding principle and main purpose is to create sustainable environments and promote a holistic lifestyle. Their view is that “a city should open up, invite and include people, having different activities and possibilities and thereby ensure multiplicity and diversity“.

When Gehl looked at Wester Hailes what they saw were lots of opportunities rather than problems…

…And they put forward various ideas as to how this potential could be turned into reality…

…They saw the Healthy Living Centre as being the first piece of that jigsaw, beginning the process of spreading benefit throughout the community and initiating the building of key pedestrian linkages…

…And the train station was identified as a key component in building an integrated transport hub

Gehl’s report concluded by highlighting the fact that it has been over 20 years since a comprehensive planning brief for the centre of Wester Hailes was compiled. However, as a result of the placemaking exercise, they felt that a vision for the future of the estate had begun to take shape and that the time was ripe for the development of a new masterplan to take this forward.



  1. Building the Healthy Living Centre (HLC) is a once in a generation opportunity to improve on the mistakes of the past (tower blocks etc) and the report by GEHL is a credible vision of what the centre of this community could be. However the Gehl proposals concerning the public realm ( public spaces ,access etc) and consequently community expectations have been trashed in the case of the proposed development of the underpass which is the product of minimal aspiration by the developers ( Health Board and Council ) and determined resolve by AWG (current holders of the Westside Plaza shopping centre lease) to give at a price the least number of car parking spaces (3 out of 700 spaces) despite the potential benefits that would flow from the vastly increased foot fall that would result from users /workers in the HLC.
    The lamentable track record of the council in failing to develop the neigbouring Harvesters Way over a period of 14years can give the community no confidence that the public spaces around the HLC will reflect the aspirations aroused by he GEHL report ,rather the Councils embarrassment will cause them to accept almost any developers proposal to avert any further blame the community rightly attaches to the Council and its officials.