From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

POTENTIAL REALISED?

In 1997 the Wester Hailes Partnership published its second progress report covering the eight years of operation from 1989. The report reviewed the outcomes to date and looked forward to what might still be achieved, while admitting that the Partnership was now nearing “the end of its designated lifespan”.

The report was able to look back on some real practical achievements. In terms of the top priorities set at the outset, housing and the environment evidenced the greatest progress. The stated objectives had been to widen the mix of tenures and types, improve overall physical standards and, in the longer term, make Wester Hailes an attractive place to live thus stabilising what had become, as the report put it, a “fragile community”.

Wester Hailes Partnership logo

In 1989, flats made up 97% of the accommodation in the area (with almost a third of these being in high rise blocks), 95% of properties were owned by Edinburgh District Council (only 3% owner occupied), and many were showing evidence of physical deterioration. Eight years on, the tenure mix had changed substantially with Council owned stock down to 64%, owner occupation up to 21% and housing association properties accounting for 11%. In addition, a tenant management co-op had been established in Wester Hailes Park which comprised a further 4%.

By 1997, 1,300 high rise flats had been demolished, transforming the skyline. 850 homes had been renovated (with Wester Hailes Drive winning the accolade of “The Most Improved Street in Britain” in a nation-wide competition) and 600 new homes constructed. The majority of these were built by the recently formed Wester Hailes Community Housing Association but the figure also included the first Low Cost Home Ownership scheme which had been developed by Miller Homes. In addition, “massive environmental upgrading,” had been carried out in Westburn Park and Grove, Dumbryden, Murrayburn and Hailesland.

Economic development and reducing unemployment were the other main priorities for the Partnership. In the section headed “What Remains To be Done” the report made the following candid admission:

“Economic and social problems…have proved more difficult to resolve, as evidenced by continuing high rates of unemployment, declining economic activity, high levels of dependency on benefits… relative to the wider Edinburgh area.”

Although the report was able to highlight a decrease in unemployment of 27% in the previous four years, it had actually risen by 25% in the first four years of the Partnership’s life. Moreover, the level in 1997 was 2.8 times the average for Edinburgh as a whole and the gap between the two had actually widened slightly from ’93 to ’97.

Nevertheless, the authors of the report felt able to state that, despite the stats, “optimism is higher than ever “. They pointed to investment by the private sector showing “renewed confidence” in the area with over 1,000 jobs created or “in the pipeline” and a new company, the Westside Training Agency, having been established to provide “guidance, training and employment access”. The report calculated that more than 6,000 jobs had been found for local people throughout the city and more than 3,500 training places had been taken up.

On the leisure and retail front, the new town centre costing £17 million was now complete, including a redeveloped shopping mall, civic square, multi-screen cinema, community library and bingo complex. Workspace units were being developed by the Wester Hailes Land & Property Trust; a “fitness, social, leisure and entertainment centre” run by the community – the Greenway Centre – was up and running; and “a range of commercial and leisure developments” was planned for the Wester Hailes Park and Drive area.

Amongst other initiatives, Britain’s first cyber cafe in a peripheral estate had opened providing access to the internet and “computer skills linked to the workplace”; 20 new safe play areas had been created; and campaigns were being launched to promote healthy eating and reduce smoking, alcohol and drug misuse.

A lot had happened, a lot of money had been invested but the story so far was hardly one of unqualified success. Next week we’ll examine the legacy of the Partnership and what, if any, long term dividends it brought Wester Hailes.

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