I’ve shown that I will stand up for Musselburgh and get things done

The Council elections are upon us. I have really enjoyed hearing from so many people as I have gone round Musselburgh in recent weeks and months. I live in the town with my wife and young daughter, and I’m determined to give our community a fresh voice on East Lothian Council.

It’s been great to hear that my community activity over the years has been noticed, from chairing the Burgh School Council to pushing for Local Nature Reserve status for the Levenhall lagoons, and from helping the Fisherrow Waterfront Group to pressing Scotrail and government ministers for action on local rail services.

I’ve been thanked for my work exposing the extent of Musselburgh’s traffic pollution problem, and in turn I’d like to thank the East Lothian/Musselburgh Courier for giving this serious issue the coverage it deserves.

It’s telling that when I’ve asked people what they’d like to see on the eyesore site on Mall Avenue they are surprised to be consulted. Our council must involve the community in what happens next so we make best use of this prime site. And my investigations into the secrecy surrounding the operation of Musselburgh’s biggest Common Good asset – the racecourse – have been vindicated by recent revelations of in-fighting, rising legal bills and the threat of racing being suspended.

I’ve shown that I will stand up for Musselburgh and get things done. I want to build on my community work as one of the town’s four councillors. The more number ones I get on ballot papers, the better, but whatever the result I will continue to be active in my community.

On Thursday 4 May, please vote Jason Rose “1”. Thank you.

Jason

Ballot paper

Advertisements

Use your postal vote for a fresh voice

If you registered for a postal vote, your ballot paper should be dropping through your letterbox any day now…

Please vote ROSE “1”.

JR evil polecat back

I have really enjoyed hearing from so many people in the area as I have gone round Musselburgh in recent weeks and months. I live in the town with my wife and young daughter, and I’m determined to give our community a fresh voice on East Lothian Council.

I’m asking for your support to be one of your four councillors for this area. All you need to do is put a “1” next to my name on the ballot paper. The election is taking place using a fair voting system. Votes for me really count.

I am a local candidate with a real track record in the area:

-As Chair of the School Council at the Burgh Primary School;

-As Chair of Friends of Musselburgh Links, pushing for Local Nature Reserve status to protect the Levenhall links and lagoons;

Levenhall_arial

-As a campaigner for action to reduce traffic levels in the town centre to tackle the terrible air pollution situation that is harming public health;

Muss High St alt

-And as a member of Fisherrow Waterfront Group, working with SEPA and Scottish Water to ensure investment to improve bathing water quality at the “back sands” beach.

Shells Fisherrow

I have also:

-Pushed for action on the former supermarket eyesore site on Mall Avenue;

-For investment in better cycling and walking routes throughout our town;

-For action from Scotrail and both the Scottish & UK Governments to provide a decent service from Musselburgh station;

-And for transparency over our Common Good fund and assets.

I’ve shown that I will stand up for our area and get things done. I am asking for your support so that I can build on my community work as one of your four councillors. So please support me by putting a “1” next to my name on the ballot paper.

Thank you!

Jason

jason-rose-school-sign

Musselburgh Rail Update – Scottish Government Plans Remain A Mystery

“We are not yet in a position to confirm what out investment strategy for the railway network will be beyond 2019.”

This is the key line in a lengthy response from Transport Scotland’s Rail Performance Manager to my questions to Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf about the Scottish Government’s plans to improve capacity on the East Coast Main Line to help end the overcrowding affecting passengers at Musselburgh.

Regular readers will be familiar with my efforts on this issue. I blogged about the situation here and here.

In short, even with longer trains (due to be phased in from this December) we’re looking at standing room only in fairly short order. Investment decisions are clearly needed now to get the infrastructure up to scratch. Extra track will allow high-speed cross-border services to pass local services, creating capacity for more frequent local trains.

ECML demand

It’s a bit of a worry that the Scottish Government doesn’t appear to know what it plans to do with the railways from 2019 onwards. It’s not just me, is it? 2019 is pretty soon, isn’t it? Reply from TS re ECML

The consultation paper Transport Scotland refer to in their reply is about generalities; it doesn’t go into which lines or services deserve priority.

I’m still waiting for a reply from the UK Transport Minister, who has a clear role in all of this.

It’s clear to me we’re going to need East Lothian councillors prepared to agitate urgently and loudly for investment in the East Coast Main Line. You can be assured it will continue to be one of my top priorities if elected. To date, East Lothian Council has prioritised bigger roads and has had little to say on rail. It’s time for that to change. The days of the Sardine Express should be numbered.

 

Mall Avenue Plans Are Grim

At the start of the year, I issued a call for people to have their say on the future of the former supermarket site in Mall Avenue. This eyesore has lain boarded up for a decade.

Mall Ave

In light of my blog and an article in the Courier, lots of ideas have come in, ranging from genuinely affordable or sheltered housing to a park, allotments and a new leisure centre.

Dundas Estates of Livingston were given planning permission in September 2008 for 140 flats, only 11 of them “affordable” – it beggars belief councillors approved such an insult! In September last year, Dundas said they were three weeks away from submitting detailed plans but only now – eight months on – have they been lodged.

You can view them on East Lothian Council’s planning pages here.

I know from speaking to residents in the Inveresk Road area that many people have not been notified. East Lothian Council’s communications are pretty poor.

The plans are shocking, in my view.

Mall Ave pic

We’re looking at eight blocks of flats, some of them six storeys high, and all designed – it seems – to look like something from Cold War-era East Germany.

There is no community space whatsoever.

Mall Ave layout

The plans come with utterly laughable transport and air quality assessments.

The transport report states that because Musselburgh has plenty of buses, residents of the new development won’t be “reliant” on cars. But it then confirms that there will be 140 parking spaces! And it goes on to predict that the development will generate an extra 291 vehicles a day on roads that are already jam packed. Yet the air quality report claims that this will have no impact on already harmful levels of pollution! Who are they trying to kid?

They also state that local roads are “sufficient” for cycling. You could not pay me to cycle on the main roads in our town centre! Dundas stand to make a pretty penny from this development and the idea that they would not contribute to improving local walking and cycling infrastructure makes me despair.

Those of us who live in Musselburgh are fed up with this blot on our town centre and riverside landscape. It has huge potential to become a real community asset. East Lothian Council have shown no interest in asking us as a community what we’d like to see.

At the start of the year, I asked the Council’s development department how we as a community could be supported to develop a masterplan for the site but I received no response.

If you have ideas for the Mall Avenue site, let me know: jason.rose@scottishgreens.org.uk.

And if I’m elected as one of Musselburgh’s four councillors (the election is on 4 May), you can be assured that I will be looking to wrestle the future of Mall Avenue back into the hands of the community.

Mall Ave pic 2

Vote Jason Rose “1”

I’m standing for election because I feel I can make a difference, and get a better deal for Musselburgh. Too often our town is overlooked or not listened to, and it’s time East Lothian Council had a fresh voice getting issues such as housing, public health and our environment higher up the agenda.

jason-rose-school-sign

The local issues I’d address if elected include clean air and a vibrant high street to help my town thrive. I also want to see greater investment in our schools so teachers have the resources they need, community-driven development of derelict land, action on overcrowded rail services, local nature reserve status for Levenhall lagoons and investment at Fisherrow harbour and beach. And I’d push for webcasting of council meetings so people can see what their councillors get up to!

JR evil polecat front

Speaking to people in my community, they tell me they want a councillor who listens, involves them and gets things done. I hope I’ve shown over the years how much I care for Musselburgh through the community campaigning I’ve done.

JR evil polecat back

Thank you.

End the secrecy!

Tell East Lothian Council & The Lothians Racing Syndicate To Open Musselburgh Racecourse’s Books

Musselburgh is a great place to live and although we’re often overshadowed by our capital city neighbour, we’re well known across the country for a few things. Luca’s ice cream springs to mind. As does the fact that the Brunton wire mill produced the cables that are still holding up the Forth Road Bridge.

But it’s golf and horse racing that we’re probably best known for. Horse racing has taken place on Musselburgh Links for at least two hundred years. In the middle of the race track is a nine-hole golf course – the oldest links course in the world – dating from 1672.

Old musselburgh map

As a resident, I assumed that finding answers to simple questions about my local racecourse would be easy. It’s been anything but!

The racecourse sits on historic Common Good land. It’s public property and should be managed in the best interests of the people of the town. These days the Common Good assets of Musselburgh are managed by East Lothian Council, so you’d think that it would easy to see whether or not the town’s biggest Common Good asset is being managed in the best possible way.

Here’s what I reckon will shock you, as it shocked me:

  1. The racecourse is run by the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC), an organisation made up of a private company called the Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS) and East Lothian Council (ELC). Despite being called a “committee”, despite the fact that East Lothian councillors form the majority of the committee, despite the fact that East Lothian Council provides the committee’s clerk and physically holds copies of minutes of its meetings, and despite it being an associated committee of the Council for accounting purposes, this “committee” is not covered by Freedom of Information laws, so the public are not allowed to see what this committee discusses. This has been confirmed by Scotland’s Information Commissioner, who I asked to investigate after East Lothian Council refused to show me minutes of the meetings.
  2. When I asked Musselburgh Racecourse for copies of the minutes of the MJRC and any annual reports/accounts, I was told: “Unfortunately as The MJRC is not a public body but a  commercial business the Minutes of the MJRC meetings are private and confidential.”
  3. When I asked Councillor John Caldwell, chair of the MJRC, for copies of the minutes, I was told: “Unfortunately the MJRC minutes are private and unable to be distributed, even to the other Councillors.”
  4. The Lothians Racing Syndicate is classed as a “dormant” company under the Companies Act 2006 so it doesn’t have to produce any detailed accounts, so the public have no idea what money it takes in nor what it spends its income on. The minute of agreement between the LRS and ELC states that any profits should be reinvested in the racecourse but we cannot see what these profits are.
  5. Freedom of Information requests I submitted to East Lothian Council reveal for the first time how much the MJRC pays into the Musselburgh Common Good Fund as rent for using the Links for a racecourse: £40,000 a year. By comparison some small local businesses renting Common Good-owned shop units are paying £15,000 a year in rent. Is £40,000 enough for our biggest Common Good asset? Annual attendance at the racecourse is reported to be over 70,000 people a year, with sell-out crowds of 10,000 on the busiest days. [See image below: A flavour of the rental income of the Common Good fund – just one of many redacted pages supplied by ELC after my FOI request. You can see MJRC pays £10k per quarter.]
  6. A quick search of the Scottish Assessors site shows that the Lothian Joint Valuation Board values the annual rent of the race track as £155,000 a year. So, how did MJRC reach a much lower figure of £40,000?

Common Good FOI

What I am calling for:

Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee is clearly a public body and there is public interest in its activities, so it should be covered by Freedom of Information laws. I have submitted this case to the Scottish Government, after Scottish Ministers confirmed to me that they regularly review which bodies are covered by FOI law. 

Musselburgh’s Common Good Fund should be transparent so that citizens of the Honest Toun can judge for themselves whether we are getting good value. I have highlighted my investigations to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government committee, which is conducting an inquiry into Common Good issues. 

The Lothians Racing Syndicate should open its books so the citizens of Musselburgh can better understand how our local racecourse is operated.

MJRC needs to explain how the rent of £40,000 a year was reached, when the Lothian Joint Valuation Board puts it at more than three times that figure.

Musselburgh Links is public property.

End the secrecy!

Jason

 

Further information:

Lothians Racing Syndicate details on Companies House. 

 

Ruling by Information Commissioner following my complaint about East Lothian Council refusing to publish the minutes it holds of MJRC meetings. 

 

Lothian Valuation Joint Board list Musselburgh Racecourse race track as having a ratable annual value of £155,000.

 

 

Long-term improvement of local rail infrastructure

I’m urging the Scottish and UK Governments to commit to long-term improvement of local rail infrastructure.

I’ve been campaigning on the issue of overcrowding on services between the Honest Toun and Edinburgh, and have now has written to Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf and UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, pointing out that even with longer trains, Musselburgh station is predicted to be the worst affected on the North Berwick line, with more than 100 per cent of seats taken at morning peak hour by 2023. (See graphic below.)

ECML demand

I’ve drawn the ministers’ attention to Network Rail’s proposal to double-track the East Coast Main Line between Drem and Prestonpans to allow express trains to pass local services, creating more capacity for more frequent local services.

Commuters at Musselburgh have been driven round the bend by overcrowded services, trains we can’t board and broken ticket machines. The longer trains we now have are about to be withdrawn before they’re reintroduced at the end of the year, like some sort of cruel joke.

As the last station on the line before Waverley, we’re always going to bear the brunt of overcrowding. It’s clear we need long-term as well as short-term solutions.

Given the Conservative government at Westminster has oversight of Network Rail, and given that impact of cross-border services on the East Coast line, we need to see action from the Conservative Transport Secretary at Westminster as well as the SNP Transport Minister at Holyrood.

I’ll let you know what sort of responses I get, and I will continue to campaign for better services for Musselburgh passengers.

Jason

 

 

More East Lothian Teenagers Going To Uni; Fewer To College

As exam time looms for teenagers, thoughts in many households will be turning to what happens when the chicks fly the nest.

This week, figures were published showing that the percentage of “positive destinations” for secondary school leavers continues to rise in East Lothian, going from 88.4 per cent in 2011/12, to 91.8 in 14/15 and now 93.5 in 15/16. We’re just slightly above the national average of 93.3 per cent.

I blogged last year about “positive destinations” but in short it means school leavers end up at college, university, in training or a job.

There’s a wide variation within East Lothian. It does seem the more affluent your community, the more likely you are to go to university.

Comparing the new figures with last year’s, we can see a change in East Lothian.

The percentage of school leavers going to college has fallen from 23.4% to 22%, while those going to university has risen from 35.4 to 39%.

Employment remains flat (28% compared to 28.8 in 14/15) and training is down slightly (2% compared to 3.7).

I don’t yet have a breakdown for each secondary school but the county-wide shift – fewer school leavers going to college and more to university – is interesting and not altogether welcome.

While it’s hard to disagree with more young people getting into higher education, that shouldn’t be at the expense of further education. And in recent years we’ve seen the Scottish Government pursue a deliberate policy of sacrificing colleges in favour of universities, reducing funding to colleges, support for students, and cutting part-time places in favour of full-time.

Colleges are vital to providing access to education, especially for those from less well-off backgrounds, and with parenting/caring responsibilities.

I’ve previously met with bosses at Edinburgh College to discuss ways to build connections with East Lothian and in light of this week’s destination figures, I’ll be contacting the college again (and East Lothian Council) to find out what more can be done to support young people into further education.

I’m aware that the college and the council have recently got the Construction & Technology Centre at Mansfield Road up and running but on International Women’s Day I’d point out that this initiative will benefit young men, and support them into well-paying construction jobs, while young women continue to be supported into poorly paid jobs such as childcare and beauty. I’ll be asking what can be done to encourage better gender balance at local training facilities.  

Meantime, for those about to plunge into exam season: good luck!

Jason

UPDATE (Wed 15 Mar)

A paper for next week’s education committee shows where school leavers from the different schools actually ended up in 2014/15. There’s a clear drop in the number initially/actually going to college or university and a rise in those initially/actually going into employment.

There also remains a stark difference, with over half of school leavers from North Berwick going to university, compared to less than 17 per cent from the Ross High.

Musselburgh Grammar school leavers have a below-average rate of going to uni but an above-average rate of going to college. Going into employment is about average.

destinations 14 15.jpg

 

Rail Overcrowding Update

I went along to a public meeting in Prestonpans on Wednesday evening to discuss rail overcrowding and to question Scotrail/Network Rail.

20160307_094602_resized

It’s a huge issue in East Lothian, with Musselburgh badly affected. On many occasions trains into Edinburgh are so full you’re not allowed to board!

My Green colleague Alison Johnstone MSP has also been active on this issue.

Read my Storify for a summary of Wednesday’s meeting.

You can see coverage of the meeting on STV here, featuring yours truly.

jr-on-stv

I plan to press the issue with both the Scottish & UK Governments. Details to come…

Traffic Plan To Proceed But Were Public Listened To?

Tomorrow (Tuesday), East Lothian Council’s “Cabinet” will meet and among the items for discussion is a paper about Musselburgh High Street’s air pollution problem.

The paper recommends proceeding with the draft Action Plan, which I blogged about a couple of months back. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t impressed!)

What the ELC Cabinet is being presented with is incredibly frustrating and shows how slow East Lothian Council have been in acting since I revealed the extent of this public health problem four years ago.
Muss High St alt
The report points out that a public consultation on a draft action plan was held late last year, yet the report doesn’t give details of the views received and I don’t see any evidence that the public have been listened to. The measures proposed are the same as those in the draft action plan, so the consultation appears to have carried no weight.

I’m astonished that some of measures are still being put forward, such as ‘provision of information regarding air quality and travel options.’ What does that even mean? Or ‘promotion of cycling and walking’, when the High Street has no dedicated cycling space.

Perhaps the worst suggestions are additional bus stops, when the council’s own consultants found that this would make no difference to vehicle emissions, and the erection of signs to raise awareness of the Air Quality Management Area. The real issue is preventing traffic coming through the town. It’s too late if drivers are already in the High Street, reading signs telling them about the pollution they’re causing!

The report makes clear that as well as needing to tackle the existing problem, the council needs to consider the impact of its Local Development Plan. The huge amount of housing proposed for around Musselburgh will undoubtedly worsen what is already a bad situation.

This is a really important issue for our community and clearly needs some fresh thinking. If I’m elected as one of Musselburgh’s four councillors on 4 May, I guarantee this issue will get the attention it deserves!