From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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Over the last couple of years, Prospect has spent a considerable amount of time and money working up proposals to redevelop the major part of what is known locally as “the ten acre site” at Harvesters Way which has lain vacant and derelict for over fifteen years following the demolition of the Wester Hailes Drive multi-storey blocks. However we have now, very reluctantly, had to abandon these plans because of the huge cuts made by the Scottish Government to the funding given to housing associations for house building.

The rest of the site is currently under construction to provide the new Healthy Living Centre and during the process of its design there was a lot of work done by Prospect in conjunction with the City of Edinburgh Council and Lothian Health Board to produce an overall masterplan and a properly integrated site layout. In particular, we felt it was vitally important to create a safe, attractive public space (we called it the public realm) at the crucial intersection of the Healthy Living Centre, the new housing, the rail station and shopping centre.

In order to develop these ideas further, we commissioned Gehl Architects, a world renowned town planning consultancy to work with us. Founded by Jan Gehl, a Professor of Urban Design in Copenhagen, they have a radical approach to design that might be regarded by more than a few architects as “upside down” in the sense that it puts people first: before any building design is done they concentrate on how the spaces between buildings should be laid out to maximise the benefits for residents and the environment. In other words, what they are about is making places rather than simply drawing up plans for buildings. 

Working on these principles Gehl undertook a comprehensive placemaking exercise for Harvesters Way and produced a draft report outlining the sort of public realm which could be created to spread benefit throughout the community as a whole. Their two big ideas were a) that the housing adjoining the public realm should have “active edges” with shops and community facilities on the ground floor for local people to make use of and b) the creation of a transport and people hub involving various forms of public transport – buses, taxis and trains – together with strong pedestrian linkages to and from all parts of the surrounding areas.

Their placemaking work also involved examining whole of the central area of the estate and the view they came to was that Wester Hailes is full of potential (remember the old Partnership slogan?). The railway line is not a barrier but a link that provides a very good transport link into the centre of the city; the canal is a facilty with huge amenity value; and the Greenway, currently uninviting and underused, could be made into a recreation destination for the entire community. By making more of this potential and with sufficient investment, their expert opinion was that the face of Wester Hailes could be totally transformed.

Wester Hailes has had more than enough unattractive, under-utilised, unpopular areas inflicted on it during its history. It is to be hoped that at least some of the elements of the ambitious, but eminently practical vision set out by Gehl are retained by whoever comes in to complete the redevelopment of this most important site. Please let’s not see another major opportunity for real improvement in Wester Hailes go a-begging.


A decade for the Union Canal Part 3

picture by Hawkeye Aerial Photography

The opening of the Wester Hailes section of the canal marked a major milestone in The Millennium Link project.  A day of celebrations commemorated the occasion and tribute was paid in particular to the Wester Hailes community whose support for the canal was a critical element in the project’s success.  1.7km of new waterway were dug out and filled, 6 new road bridges and 3 new footbridges were constructed, roads were re-aligned and major landscaping works were completed in the process. 

 The canal has continued to play an important part in the life of Wester Hailes, forming a distinctive feature as well as attracting a variety of birds on the water.  The Sentinel featured a special report on the canal in April 2002 in conjunction with British Waterways and the Wester Hailes Partnership.  Children from Clovenstone Primary School and Dumbryden Primary School compiled reports to show what they had learnt about the canal.  The feature also included information about water safety and the dangers of walking on the canal if it iced over during the winter.  There was also news from British Waterways with details on how the canal was being maintained, both the tow path and the removal of debris from the water.  Schoolchildren had also contributed poems. 

You can read the full feature by clicking here on Sentinel Canal Report 2002.  Different events are being held to mark the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the canal in Wester Hailes.  There’s also an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening using images and headlines from the Sentinel.  WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display.  Edinburgh City Libraries have also put together an online exhibition documenting the Union Canal and its environs from Fountainbridge to Ratho. For a chance to see the exhibition locally, visit Wester Hailes Library between 1st and 30th September or Ratho Library from 1st to 31st October.

And don’t forget the Canaliversary, a day of celebration that is being held at Westside Water Front on Saturday 10th September.  Situated by the Shell garage opposite the Plaza, it will be packed with activities from 12pm to 4pm with boat rides, canoeing, music, BBQ, stalls, exhibitions, duck race, children’s activities.  For more information contact 0131 453 4617.

A decade for the Union Canal Part 2

The demolition of the Cyberbytes Cafe was just one part of the huge task that was required to re-open the Wester Hailes section of the Union Canal.  The Millennium Link restored both the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals to link up the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in over 35 years.  It was Scotland’s most expensive and ambitious Millennium project, funded in part by the Millennium Commission.  With the work completed ten years ago, the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift is perhaps now the most famous symbol of the two canals being rejoined. 

However, after the Falkirk wheel, the most challenging and complex piece of work required to restore the two canals was the work carried out at Wester Hailes.  The canal now looks such a permanent feature of the area, it can be hard to remember that only a few years ago, it could not be seen and the bridges that are now taken for granted were not there.

 The Wester Hailes project was broken into two phases to make it more manageable.  It would require the redigging and filling of 1.7km of canal, the

realigning of roads and the construction of new bridges.  The first phase was completed in summer 2000 and involved recutting 850 metres of canal between Wester Hailes Road and Murrayburn Road.  A new concrete road bridge to allow the Wester Hailes Road to cross the canal was constructed.  A winding hole to enable boats to turn was also added along with bankside mooring areas and landscaping. 

 The second phase produced another 850 metres of canal between Murrayburn Road and Dumbryden Road.  Six new road bridges and three footbridges were constructed.  In March 2000, the Sentinel reported on the felling of trees along Hailesland Road to enable the canal to pass through.  You can see the story here at Sentinel March 2000. In September 2000, the Sentinel printed a canal update that shows the scale of the works that were taking place, including bridge construction, new roads and public utility works. 

 You can see some great photographs recording the work of both these phases at James’s Canal Pages.  There’s also an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening.  WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display. 

To celebrate the restoration of the canal through Wester Hailes, there’s a community event being held on Saturday 10th September at the Westside Water Front opposite the Plaza, next to the garage.  There’ll be a range of canal related activities, stalls, music and a barbecue from 12pm to 4pm.

A decade for the Union Canal

This year is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wester Hailes section of the Union Canal.  Major city celebrations were held to celebrate 10 years since the re-opening of the Union Canal last year, but local residents here know that the Wester Hailes section wasn’t completed until 2001! 

 The one mile section of the canal was officially closed and infilled in 1965 when plans were being drawn up for housing in Wester Hailes.  It was felt that this would be the safest option and the distinctive feature was duly buried under concrete and roads.  However in 1994 British Waterways came up with an exciting proposal, the biggest engineering project they had ever undertaken in Scotland.  They proposed restoring both the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals to link up the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in over 35 years.  The Wester Hailes section needed to be re-opened if these plans were to come to fruition.  This represented a huge piece of work: the channel had to be dug and  lined, bridges had to built, roads

photo by Kevin Walsh

diverted.  The Millennium Link was not only about creating permanent improvements to the landscape: the bid included job creation and recreational opportunities to bring economic benefits to the area.  British Waterways submitted a bid to the Millennium Commission, a Lottery managed fund established to fund projects that would mark the start of the new Millennium through creating lasting monuments to the achievements and aspirations of the people in the United Kingdom.  Over 200 projects received support with a total of £1.3 billion being spent. 

 However, the journey to achieving this ambitious project was not smooth.  The original application was rejected by the Millennium Commission.  British Waterways persisted in their fundraising, eventually raising £78 million of which £32 million came from the Millennium Commission.  The bid pulled together a wide ranging partnership and other sources of funding included the City of Edinburgh Council who put in £1.5 million towards the Edinburgh section.  It was Scotland’s most expensive millennium project. 


The response to the announcement that there were plans to re-open the canal in Wester Hailes was mixed.  It generated a lot of excitement but also some apprehension.  There were concerns about safety particularly for children, and about how the canal would be kept clean and maintained.  In 1994, the Sentinel featured an article that painted a negative picture of what would result.  You can read this report by clicking here on December 1994.  Once the project had been given the go ahead, people felt the need for more information and in 1998 the Sentinel featured the project, raising local issues with British Waterways.  You can read this report by clicking here on July 1998.

There’s currently an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening.  Through Sentinel headlines and photos it documents the huge structural changes that took place and shows how people were involved during and after the re-opening.  WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display. 

 On Saturday 10th September there’s a celebration event to mark the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the Wester Hailes section.  There’ll be free boat trips, stalls, music, a BBQ and much more.  It’s being held on the Wester Hailes waterfront, beside the Shell Garage, from 12PM to 4PM.  For more information contact Re-Union on 0131 453 4617. 

Venice Of The East

When Wester Hailes was built, the section of the Union Canal that ran through the area was filled in as this was thought to be the safest option.  However, a growing body of support for restoring the Union Canal along with the Forth and Clyde Canal began to pick up pace.  British Waterways put together plans and a bid to the Government’s Millennium Fund for the cost of the £100 million project.  Consultation formed an important part of the planning process and in Wester Hailes there were strong community structures that supported high levels of discussion.  Presentations were made to the Representative Council and the local network of neighbourhood councils were asked to make this an agenda item at their next meetings.  The plans caused a great deal of debate with some people being worried about safety issues and others concerned that the canal would become a dumping area for rubbish.  You can read more about the story and plans by clicking on Sentinel November 1994 and Canal Plans November 1994. 

 Meanwhile the Calders Neighbourhood Councils were working together to develop plans to transform their section of the canal with the Water’s Edge Project.  They could see the potential the canal offered not only for improving the immediate environment but for encouraging business and economic developments.  You can read about their plans by clicking here on Sentinel April 1995. 

 The canal is a distinctive landmark that links different neighbourhoods and incorporates Wester Hailes in a series of water side communities along its length.  The story of its re-opening is being remembered and celebrated this year at the Canalaversary Event on the 10th September.  There’ll be a day packed with activities on land and on water to mark the day the Wester Hailes section of the canal was officially re-opened.  Look out for further details about this great day out over the next couple of months. 

 Now there are new draft plans for the canal that the council is currently consulting on.  They have identified a number of specific development areas that includes Wester Hailes.  It’s important that people in Wester Hailes make their voices heard.  Do you agree with the plans?  Have you got ideas and suggestions for the Wester Hailes hub or the other areas included?  You can read the summary report by clicking here.  If you want to take part in the consultation, you can use the link here to read the more detailed report and add your comments. 

 There’s a chance to get involved in canal celebrations this Saturday at the Canal Festival over at Fountainbridge.   It’ll be a great family day out with raft races, free boat trips, music, stalls, BBQ, and much more!  It starts at 12pm and is on until 5.00pm.  You’ll find the Canal Festival at the Lochrin Basin on the Union Canal and at Edinburgh Quay, near Cargo Bar. 

Snow hits Wester Hailes

photo by Kevin Walsh

Its not the first time that Wester Hailes has been hit by heavy snow although this is probably the worst conditions there have been for many years! The Sentinel reported on the weather conditions but also took action when it was needed.  Back in 1987, they set up a help line to make sure that those who were struggling with the extreme conditions received the practical help and support they needed.  From hot meals to mending burst pipes, the Sentinel and the Rep Council co-ordinated the emergency response.  The Lothian Regional Council provided funds of £100,000 for voluntary groups who were helping others across the city.  You can read about the Sentinel’s efforts by clicking here .

We’ve also brought you the following picture, taken in February 2001.  Snow storms created wide spread chaos with roads blocked and trains stuck in drifts.  Swans looking for food ended up on the tow path pecking at the buds on the newly planted trees along the canal. 

photo by Kevin Walsh

Finally, here’s another snowy scene.  We’re not sure when this was taken but as you can see, it was definitely in winter!  If you have more information about this photo, it would be great to hear from you.

photo by Kevin Walsh

New Canal

A wide group of organisations are planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the Union Canal.  A weekend of events has been organised, including a flotilla of boats that will travel the length of the canal over the weekend.  They should be arriving in Wester Hailes around 10AM on Saturday 25th September so remember to look out for them then.  The Wester Hailes section was not officially open until the following year, 2001 but that doesn’t mean we can’t join in with this round of celebrations!

 The Union Canal was officially opened in 1823 although the original idea of a canal linking Edinburgh to Falkirk was first suggested in 1793.  The new canal joined Edinburgh to the Forth and Clyde Canal, linking Edinburgh to Glasgow, thus “uniting” the two cities.  The Union Canal is known as a contour canal as it makes its way to Falkirk without any locks, using tunnels and viaducts instead.  When it was first built it was 31.5 miles long and could take boats of up to 69 feet long. 

 Unfortunately, despite its initial success, the canal became a victim of history for of course, the railway was to become the more popular and faster way of transporting goods.  In 1842 the Edinburgh & Glasgow railway opened and the canal’s demise was sealed.  Its use steadily declined although commercial traffic continued until 1933.  The Union Canal was officially closed in 1965.  When plans for housing in Wester Hailes were considered, it was felt that the safest option was to infill the section of canal that went through the area. 

 However, a growing body of support for restoring the Union Canal along with the Forth and Clyde Canal began to pick up pace.  The Millennium Link project included funding from the European Union and the Millennium Commission and cost £84 million.  It faced considerable structural challenges including the 1.7 kilometres of new waterway that had to be dug at Wester Hailes.  The work started in late 1998 and included dredging, the renovation of old locks, repairing banks and improving the towpath.  The last project to be completed was the new Wheel at Falkirk that was built to transport the boats from the level of one canal to the other. 

These pictures are taken from 2001 when the Wester Hailes section was opened from Calders to Kingsnowe.  Ribbons were cut at both ends to mark the occasion and a huge crowd turned out to celebrate. 

photo by Kevin Walsh 2001

photo by Kevin Walsh 2001