Yesterday I got to go to the ever gorgeous North Berwick for a fantastic family picnic with the East Lothian Greens and loads of lovely local folk. Organised by the rather brilliant Isla Aitken, the picnic had an excellent magician, live music, the most amazing face painter and a treasure hunt. Plus of course there was an array of irresistible home baking.
I was invited by the East Lothian Greens as I’m the lead candidate for the South of Scotland regional list for next year’s Holyrood election. But rather than pushing a big political message, I was much more interested in hearing about what issues were affecting local people. So I got chatting to lots of folk, sometimes via a very fluffy dog (there are SO many cute dogs in North Berwick!) and listened. Here’s what they had to say…
There was a lot of concern about the plan for up to 700 new homes being built in North Berwick and the pressure that it would put it on the local schools and local health services. Apparently there will need to be an extra 14-17 classrooms built in the local primary school. But equally there were a couple of people who felt that the only homes that ever got built in NB were big mansions for commuters to Edinburgh who they felt wouldn’t spend any time in the community. One of those concerned about mansions was particularly worried that young people would never be able to get a foot on the ladder and get a start in life if all we built were mansions.
For me, what’s really important is that we get that balance right. It is very clear that there is a housing crisis in Scotland and the lack of affordable homes particularly for younger people is a huge problem. So of course we desperately need new housing and it needs to be affordable and decent quality. But there needs to be involvement for local communities and proper planning to ensure that the impact on local services of hundreds of new homes is taken into account.
I had some really good chats with Bev, owner of the fluffiest dog in the park, who had helped kick start the anti fracking campaign in NB. We got into a long chat with some other folks about whether the Scottish Government would stick to their word on the moratorium on all unconventional gas and UCG. Talk of Ineos’s big new fracked gas tank at Grangemouth had caused a few ripples, with folk feeling like fracking was inevitable. But we ended on a high, resolving to fight fracking and kick back against any leniency from the Scottish Government.
One of the biggest issues across the South of Scotland is the chronic lack of decent public transport in many areas. North Berwick is particularly lucky to have a good train service, but other nearby towns and villages are much more poorly served. I met a few people from East Linton, a gorgeous village that you might have spotted whilst going through it on a train on the East Coast mainline. Not far from Dunbar, the village is ridiculously beautiful and used to have a working station. Abellio, the new Dutch owned company that operates the Scotrail franchise, had pledged to refurbish the station and start serving the village within the next year. However the refurbishment plans have been ditched in favour of a new station and the service has been pushed back by over a year. It’s so disappointing to have the promise of good public transport postponed like this. Perhaps an issue for Greens to pursue?
It was a really fun and educational afternoon in a part of the world I’m really fond of. Huge thanks to Isla, David and the East Lothian Greens for having me and to my fellow candidate and general all round top bloke Eurig Scandrett for making me feel so welcome. You lot are lovely!