From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Bus stopped

Bus to RestalrigPublic transport is one of the issues re-appearing in the Sentinel across the years, demonstrating its continuing priority for people living in Wester Hailes.  Pictures of local buses put up on the Facebook page always attract comment as people document memories and stories associated with bus travel.  The sprinter buses in particular are remembered with fondness!  But the popularity of the images also points to the fact that for many people in the area, buses were their only source of transport.

In 1983 only a quarter of the local population owned a car and were therefore reliant on bus routes.  This often required a detailed knowledge of bus times, and for some residents a long walk to reach a stop.  The report Ten Years On commented

 “In an area the size of Wester Hailes, certain neighbourhoods are obviously going to be worse off than others.  On top of this the estate is primarily designed for the private car and many areas are inaccessible to buses, so quite long walks to and from the bus stops are often necessary.”

Local interest in bus routes and timetables remained high, leading to Sentinel coverage whenever a route was introduced or altered or when a route was stopped.  In 1993 Hailesland East Neighbourhood Council organised a public meeting to discuss and debate the bus service or lack of bus service for the Hailesland/ Murrayburn/ Dumbryden area.  They were keen to lobby their local Regional Councillors to try to get the 30 route re-instated as was reported here.

Bus stoppedLater on that year, the Sentinel highlighted that in the blaze of publicity surrounding the new multi million pound Gyle Shopping Centre, there had been little consideration given to how residents from Wester Hailes would get there if they used public transport.  This was of particular concern to people who had managed to get jobs at the new site.

In 2000, First Bus withdrew their popular C5 service, leading to a reduced service for Clovenstone.  The Sentinel report highlighted the difficulties this caused, particularly for residents who found it difficult to walk to routes and stops further away, or the other side of busy roads.

Bus services into the city centre have improved over the years with frequent timetables and weekend and late night provision.  However, the issue of travelling round the area, or travelling to other neighbouring communities remains more problematic.  The community has had to fight to retain services such as the 18 and the 20, enabling access to the Gyle, Asda and the Royal Infirmary.  Now the community council is concerned that the public transport links to the new Healthy Living Centre, due to open next month, will not be suitable for people who find walking difficult.  It is frustrating that despite all the years of campaigning for better public transport routes, the local community is still not included in decision making processes when designs are being considered for this aspect.  If they had been, they would have been able to point out that the 30 whilst running near to the centre does not have stops close enough for people with limited walking ability, particularly if you are on the out of city route.  The community council has therefore organised a special meeting to look at this issue and to see if a proper solution can be implemented to ensure that the new centre is fully inclusive. The meeting is on Wednesday 14th August 6pm at the Wester Hailes Library.  Representatives from Lothian Buses and councillors will be there.


For many years Wester Hailes had FISH, for a long time now there’s been WHALE, and once upon a time there was also, albeit briefly, CRAB.

“MOTORWAY MADNESS” was the headline in the February 1979 issue of the Sentinel announcing the formation of “a brand new action group” : CRAB – the Campaign to Re-Align the By-Pass. Under the headline was a dramatic photo showing the route for the new road running only a hundred yards away from the Westburn Gardens multi-storey development and ploughing straight through the toddlers playground built only a year earlier by local residents for their kids.

The Sentinel was in no doubt that the building of the by-pass was inevitable and accepted that it was needed to cope with Edinburgh’s increasing traffic problems – the issue was the effect the proposed line of the motorway would have on the area. Not only would the road pass very close to Westburn Gardens, it was believed it was going to be built at a height equivalent to the second storey of those flats. There was expected to be a huge impact on local amenities and open space and there were concerns over the amount of extra traffic that might be channelled through Wester Hailes as a result.

The Sentinel proclaimed the call to action: “the community of Wester Hailes faces its biggest fight yet” – “The proposed line of the motorway is not the only possible one” – “WE MUST ORGANISE NOW!”

By the time the Sentinel reported on the second public meeting of CRAB in its March issue, the campaign had its own logo, petitions were being signed, the local Regional and District Councillors were in attendance and a demonstration had taken place on what was “a fairly blustery day” between Wester Hailes Drive and Baberton during which members of CRAB stood in a long line, marking out the route of the road for all to see.

The June issue carried a further report telling people that “following a well attended meeting of CRAB” in May, the local District Councillor, Neil MacCallum, was pursuing the matter and intended submitting a number of written questions to the Chairman of the District’s Planning Committee; CRAB itself had written to the Planning Department and the Region’s Highway’s Department; and, the Secretary of State for Scotland had been reviewing the proposals for the specific section of the road affecting Wester Hailes.

However, very ominously, this article was headed “THE DOZERS ARE COMING! They are already here…”. Work had started, a huge embankment was being constructed in the very spot where members of CRAB had held their demonstration a few months before. At the end of the report the date was given for the next meeting of the group – July 5th – but that’s the last we hear about CRAB in the Sentinel and it seems to disappear without further trace.

CRAB had a very short life. It may not have achieved much and some of the worst fears that had been expressed weren’t realised – the section of the bypass next to Westburn was not built high up in the air and the loss of amenity was not major. But maybe it did have some effect – the line of the road didn’t go through the toddlers playground and the Secretary of State was moved to review the proposals, an intervention no doubt unwelcome to officials in the District and Regional Councils.

But most importantly, and if nothing else, CRAB and the Sentinel ensured that a huge chunk of infrastructure works did not proceed on Wester Hailes’s doorstep without the community being at least made aware of the potential implications for the area. It’s hard to escape the feeling that there would have been little of no information that would have come the way of local people otherwise. And what’s particularly impressive is how quickly the campaign got itself into high gear and how effectively it mobilised the support of its political representatives.

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On The Buses

Transport has always been an issue of interest and sometimes concern for Wester Hailes.  When the new estate was first built, little thought was given as to how its residents were going to access other parts of the city, or travel anywhere outside the immediate area.  The planners thought that by 1980 most residents would own a car and that their visitors would also be car owners.  They built the area with one and a half parking spaces for each household.  The result was acres of empty car parks lying like urban deserts across the area.  A survey carried out in 1985 showed that three quarters of Wester Hailes residents did not own cars.  Meanwhile, in the early days, one bus route had been provided.   Many areas in Wester Hailes were inaccessible to buses meaning people had to walk long distances to get to the stops. 

 In 1978 the transport campaign group HALT were lobbying to improve public transport links for the estate.  Of particular concern was the lack of buses in the evening and at weekends.  You can read about their actions by clicking here on Sentinel HALT report .

 The value placed on public transport in Wester Hailes can be seen from the

photo from the Sentinel 1985

concern generated in 1985 when the privatisation of public bus companies was proposed.  The Sentinel devoted a centre page feature to the issue and carried out a survey showing how important the bus routes were for people in the area.  The Conservative government at the time wanted bus companies to be deregulated so that they were run as commercial companies rather than public services.  This caused a lot of anxiety for people who depended on the less profitable routes.  The Transport Act of 1985 was duly passed.  The bus company remained in the ownership of the then Lothian Regional Council being renamed Lothian Regional Transport.  You can read about the battle against privatisation by clicking here on Sentinel bus campaign report

 Over the years, bus routes have come and gone within the area.  They remain a vital service for many people locally not only for getting to work, college or school but also for shopping and seeing family and friends.  The Sentinel reported on the launch of the No 20.  If it had still been in operation, the paper would no doubt have reported on the fiercely contested loss of this service a few years later, and then its re-instatement.  How many of these bus routes do you remember?

HALT for the railway

Public transport has always been a big issue for Wester Hailes due to its location and the number of people living here.  Local residents campaigned for a long time to have a railway halt built.  They realised that being able to take the train would mean a journey into Edinburgh of 10 minutes rather than the half hour trip the buses were taking.  Back in 1978 the campaign group HALT (Hailes Action on Local Transport) lobbied British Rail and councillors to establish a rail link between Wester Hailes and Edinburgh. 

Sentinel 1984

However, despite the fact the line already went through Wester Hailes, it would turn out to be a long campaign.  Lothian Regional Council originally agreed to part fund the link but then faced cuts that meant it could no longer support the project and everyone went back to the drawing board. 

In October 1984 the Sentinel reported that British Rail were now seriously considering building a rail halt and another campaign was launched.  Finally, in May 1987 the Sentinel was able to report that the Wester Hailes station was open.  You can read their report here by clicking on Sentinel May 1987.  At that time, tickets to Edinburgh cost 60 pence!