With the sun shining and soaring temperatures, people want to be outside whenever possible to enjoy the weather, and to catch a cool breeze if it’s all feeling a bit too much for a Scottish summer! In an area where many people don’t have their own garden or access to a communal garden, having areas of green space that can be used and enjoyed is of great importance. In the mid-1960s when plans for Wester Hailes were being drawn up, it is clear that in the early stages, green space was an integral part of the design, with open planted areas and pathways lined by trees. However these plans never made it off the drawing board, and the main open space provided was the famously vast car park deserts surrounding the new high rise blocks.
Whilst there were many pressing needs to be addressed in the early days of Wester Hailes, more accessible green space was part of the aim for a better area. When looking at the current state of park land and possible sites for green development, the report Ten Years On commented that the fact there was no proper park in the area was deeply regrettable. It went on to say
“It is worth mentioning as an aside that even some of the worst industrial slums of the nineteenth century were provided with parks near at hand by the planners of the day.”
Over the years, great efforts were made to increase green space and to break up the concrete with grass, trees and planting. The schools played an important role, with children taking part in planting projects. This was sometimes to improve the area within the school playground such as the wildlife garden planted by children at Clovenstone Primary School in 1991. But schools were also involved in wider planting schemes to improve local areas. One hundred children from Dumbryden Primary School planted 100 plants in Dumbryden Grove as part of a series of environmental improvements carried out there.
The appointment of an Environmental Ranger for the area helped boost the profile of local environmental issues, and the Ranger had a regular column in the Sentinel. After a year in post, he listed some of the new activities and groups with a focus on improving the environment. Later that year he wrote about the importance of green space, and listed some of the nearest green spaces within walking distance of Wester Hailes.
Many people from outside the area still have preconceived ideas about what the area looks like, and the enduring image of those desolate bare car parks seems to be part of the many myths surrounding Wester Hailes. Visitors to the area, particularly on a summer day are often surprised by how different the reality is. The environmental improvements carried out as part of the re-opening of the Union Canal have resulted in a great asset for the area. The development of Hailes Quarry Park has created community parkland with new additions including the recently planted wildflower meadow. Over in Westburn, the Community Woodland was developed from a derelict woodland site into a conserved community resource. Gate 55 is currently developing its garden space through a gardening project, there are new allotments at Dumbryden and a community garden, the Green Gym in the Calders. These and other developments over the years have resulted in a better balance of developed land alongside green space with mature trees. The City of Edinburgh Council recognises how important trees are and is in the process of consulting over Trees In The City, a draft set of policies and action plan which will be used to guide the management of its trees and woodlands. In its introduction it states,
“Trees make a vital contribution to quality of life in Edinburgh.”
There has recently been disquiet in Wester Hailes over what some see as a new tarmacking policy being implemented in the area to reduce the need to maintain grass and bushy plants due to budget cuts. Residents have mixed views but it is perhaps not much of a choice to be offered either overgrown untended bushes or an area of tarmac. You can read about a recent campaign and its results here.
After an intensive planting scheme had been carried out in the early 1990s, the Ranger detailed in the Sentinel some of the benefits this planting brought to the people living there, to the community as a whole, and to the environment.