From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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Last week’s Community Council meeting saw a presentation by housing developer Places For People and architects Cooper Cromar which outlined ideas and designs for the redevelopment of the vacant land at Harvesters Way. The meeting was well attended by members of the public demonstrating the keen interest there is within the local community about what is happening on this key site in the centre of Wester Hailes.

Various options for the overall design of the scheme – including the layout of roads, location of car parking and potential bus routes – were put forward. Members of the Community Council were heartened to see that Places For People aim to make a vibrant public realm area, located between the Healthy Living Centre and the proposed housing, the lynch pin of their plans. The architect also drew attention to the importance of establishing good pedestrian and cycle routes to inter-connect with adjacent areas.

Although the design process is still at a relatively early stage, Places for People indicated that the anticipated scale of the project will be between 150 and 170 homes and that these will be all or mostly flats. It is likely that social rented housing will comprise around 20% of this total with the remainder being made up of mid-market rent properties, housing for sale and shared ownership. The hope is that one or more small shops will be located within the housing block next to the public realm. The situation of this block will also allow a degree of passive surveillance over the area.

The representatives from Places For People confirmed that a further presentation will be made to the Community Council when more detailed designs have been prepared. As part of this ongoing process, the Community Council will be formally responding to Places For People in the near future with comments and suggestions as to how the outline designs might be developed and improved.

It’s great to see the developer and the Community Council working together closely like this and the input of local peoples’ knowledge and experience can only be good for the project and assist in ensuring its success and long-term sustainability.


Harvesters Way was originally known as Wester Hailes Drive and the land which is to be redeveloped was then occupied by five huge multi-storey blocks (numbers 70, 71, 72 73 and 74) which cast grim shadows over the surrounding area. From the beginning there were dampness problems within many of the flats due to poor design and construction. Very soon after that, the fabric of the buildings began to deteriorate at an alarming rate and all five blocks were demolished in 1994 just over twenty years after being built.

 – two of the blocks in their (non-) heyday

The site has since lain derelict despite various redevelopment proposals – including an ice rink, five-a-side football pitches and a leisure centre – being mooted over the years. 

Wester Hailes Drive looking west –

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Last month we reported that Wester Hailes Community Council had taken the lead in re-opening negotiations with AWG, the owners of Westside Plaza, to make more space available to improve the proposed pedestrian link between the new Healthy Living Centre and the Plaza. Now it looks like this has paid off big time.

The Community Council had written to AWG to raise the issue and ask the company to consider allowing more of the Plaza car park to be set aside in order to accommodate an extended link which would be safer and more user friendly for those accessing the Healthy Living Centre on foot from the main shopping area. There was a quick and positive response from AWG and a meeting was held between representatives of the company and the Community Council to take the matter forward. As a result of this, we understand, AWG are now prepared to grant permission for a larger area of the car park to be utilised although the exact details are still to be worked out.

Not only that, as a direct result of a public meeting requested by the Community Council, it also looks like the extra funding needed to construct this extension could be about to be put in place by the City Council. Responding to a request from the Community Council, a joint meeting of the two local Neighbourhood Partnerships was held recently and it was clear from the debate which took place that people felt the existing plan was inadequate to meet the needs of the community. The City Council has taken the strength of local feeling on board and the matter will be discussed by its Finance and Resources Committee on July 31st with a view to agreeing how this additional work can be financed.

Hopefully the next time we report on this it will be to say that the extended and the improved link is definitely going ahead. But, whatever the outcome, the Community Council has demonstrated over the last couple of months just how influential a committed local group can be when it comes to having a positive impact on big issues affecting the community.


In 1983 Wester Hailes Representative Council produced a special map of the area which showed in impressive graphic detail every individual block of housing and the whole range of community facilities that existed at the time. Drawn by Rolando Ugolini it’s more than just a map, it’s a very valuable social history document and a little work of art in its own right.

Previously, we’ve shown some sections from this map on the blog but we can now let you see the whole of it and at a much better level of quality. Also, if you click on it and scroll you’ll be able to zoom into specific parts to look at them more closely. Very many thanks to Kathie from Malcolm Fraser Architects who undertook the technical wizardry to make this happen and Eoghan Howard who arranged it all on our behalf.

And here’s a few photos from our archive to accompany it. The first shows the bypass under construction (in 1983 you’ll see from the map that it was still only at the proposed route stage). In the immediate background is Wesburn Grove and just beyond that a couple of the multis and some of the four storey housing in Wester Hailes Drive.

This next one is an interior shot of the Cafe Venchie…

And finally, one of the Westburn Gardens multis, we think this is probably block one on the map (the block itself may be long gone but the fences are still here!)…


Thanks to the intervention of Wester Hailes Community Council there is now the possibility that the pedestrian walkway which will link the new Healthy Living Centre, currently under construction at Harvesters Way, with Westside Plaza could be extended and improved.

The current proposals have been drawn up to fit into a very restricted area because an agreement reached between the City Council and AWG (the owners of the shopping centre) allowed for only three car parking spaces in the Plaza car park being converted to help accommodate the walkway.

However, the Community Council has taken the initiative in this matter and written to AWG’s parent company asking them to consider making more of the car park area available so as to extend the space for the walkway and make it a safer and more accessible link. A reply has been received from AWG assuring the Community Council that this issue is being taken very seriously and that the company’s intention is to help and work with the local community. The ball is now in the City Council’s court to build on this positive response from AWG and reach an agreement for more land to be made available.

As we highlighted in April, the Harvesters Way placemaking exercise undertaken by internationally renowned designers Gehl Architects identified the need for strong pedestrian linkages between the Healthy Living Centre to all parts of the surrounding areas. In particular, the link with the Plaza was seen as being of crucial importance in the successful regeneration of the derelict site.

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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.