I sometimes wonder why anyone would choose to become a politician. That said, given we live in a democracy it’s as well that some people do, but from a distance it looks a brutally unforgiving business. When asked, most say something slightly glib about wanting to make the world a better place, but whatever their motives (and somewhere in there must lie the intoxicating lure of power and influence) for those who reach the top, their days must often seem filled with making least-bad decisions, choosing between imperfect options and all the while maintaining an air of absolute certainty and assurance. And now, as Ministers begin to chart the country’s recovery, there’s no shortage of advice being proffered by experts of every hue. Scottish Government’s lukewarm response to Benny Higgins’ predictably backward looking thoughts on economic recovery hopefully reflects a genuine disappointment at the dearth of ‘bold and brave’ ideas as had been asked for. It might also mean that Ministers are beginning to realise that if there was ever a time for the fundamental shifts in direction that are needed ‘to make the world a better place’, it is right here and now. Because if not now, then when?
In the most recent briefing…
A very simple idea that seems to be gaining traction in major cities and towns around the world and that also captures the renewed enthusiasm for localism in Scotland, was first conceived in Portland, Oregon – the twenty minute neighbourhood. On many different levels the idea has appeal – who wouldn’t want to live in a neighbourhood in which they could obtain all the goods and services they require within a twenty minute walk of their home? Melbourne, a city with a population of 5m, has placed the idea at the heart of its long term planning.
Anyone who needs to be convinced that local people can collectively own and run their own housing should take a trip to West Whitlawburn in Cambuslang. About a decade ago I visited the West Whitlawburn Housing Cooperative and was blown away by what I saw and the people I met. Recently published results of tenant satisfaction survey came as a surprise to no one. And yet, as Lesley Riddoch reports, there appears to be something of a concerted attack on the whole idea of community control of housing. What on earth is going on?
We’re all guilty, to some extent, of sitting in silos and assuming that everyone else understands the acronyms and jargon we throw around as we discuss whatever policy area or specialism we inhabit. It’s a laziness that could well trip us up as the contribution of communities comes to be relied upon as a central strand in Covid recovery. It also suggests that there’s a need for more robust academic research into our sector which would bring a sharper focus and a better understanding of what we do. A welcome contribution from the team at What Works Scotland.
One of the first things a community group is usually told when they first start to think about launching a buy-out for some land or buildings is to prepare themselves for a long haul. That could mean quite a few years of business planning and making applications for funding. When a few locals first raised an objection to plans for the expansion of a business park onto land that they had long considered a valued local amenity, they probably never imagined that 16 years later they would have become Scotland’s largest urban community landowner.
As the gloves come off in England’s planning debate, and any semblance that planning decisions should be democratically accountable is jettisoned on the basis that proposed centralising reforms will resolve the housing crisis, we can be sure that the volume house builders in Scotland will not waste any time in pressing Ministers for similar measures. Planning rules have already been relaxed in favour of developers in response to Covid and no doubt the developer lobbyists will argue for further concessions to assist in the recovery. Clare Symonds at Planning Democracy lays out the counter-argument.
Today – the Glorious 12th – marks the opening of the shooting season across the UK with approximately 700,000 red grouse being shot over the next four months. In order to maintain that number of birds on our grouse moors – one fifth of Scotland’s uplands – gamekeepers kill 26,000 mountain hares (Scot Govt figures), other perceived predators such as foxes and stoats and, on some estates, protected birds of prey such as hen harriers and golden eagles. The campaign to reform this ‘sport’ is gathering widespread grassroots support. Revive recently published their manifesto for the 2021 election.
Messaging seems to have played quite an effective role in shaping both public opinion and actions during the various stages of the Covid crisis. Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Stay Safe and so on. There is a danger in their overuse but as we move into the next phase, one that has caught the eye and that’s being promoted through Scotland’s Towns Partnership is Scotland Loves Local. If everyone took that message to heart, the future of our town centres would be assured. Until 21st Aug, Scottish Government is seeking other ideas to help secure our town centres.
Great news from Mull recently that the go-ahead has been given for four affordable homes at Ulva Ferry on the west side of the island. This is the culmination of three years of hard slog to secure the land and to piece together a complicated jigsaw of funding. But not every rural community has a development trust like MICT with the expertise and resources to make this kind of development happen. Resolving Scotland’s rural housing crisis should not be this challenging. Rural Housing Scotland’s Derek Logie makes the case for more concerted government action.
Born out of the decline of the textile industry in the area, which by the 1990s had left many unemployed and morale low, the Initiative has worked with local business, the community and regional partners to support economic and community regeneration. The results are impressive: a thriving local High St; extensive business support; sustainable tourism; and environmental and cultural developments. The Initiative is now working to develop, both, its asset-base and a stronger social enterprise approach.Find out more