Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 29 - 39)




  29. Good afternoon, thank you, again, for your attendance. Please feel free at any time if you wish to answer any questions. It is very important for us to get out of the House of Commons for sessions like this to see what is happening on the ground is actually what we are told that is happening, or not. We are very grateful to you for coming along to give evidence to us. Could I start off by asking you, Mr Thom, to briefly give your view on the Millennium Link project and the benefits it has brought to the area?

  (Mr Thom) On behalf of the local authorities you have a written submission. I would be happy to give a very brief overview of it. Obviously given the breadth of the project each representatives here can answer specific questions about each of their specific areas. There has been a long-standing commitment to the canal by local authorities. There have been a number of longer term projects and local plans that were focused on the canal over a period of time. The canal has always been viewed as an important part of the infrastructure. Local people use the canal and areas round the canal and it has always been our intention to use it as part of the green space and part of the leisure facilities within each area. The history of the canal dates back to the start of the industrial age and it has had significance as part of the economic development for transport at that time. It is now being used and we would like to see it being used as part of the economic infrastructure for leisure and tourism activity and for local people from a wider area. Importantly, working in partnership with British Waterways we have had a role in trying to ensure that the project came in on time. I think we were all pleased to be part of the project. British Waterways have done a very good job to take the job forward with very complex budgetary and planning arrangements. Through this period we have all worked with British Waterways to enable that to happen. The biggest challenge, to a greater extent, is what happen next and we certainly see the development of the canal as part of the infrastructure to stimulate private sector investment. The local authorities appreciate that we are not a position to generate jobs per se, that encouraging private sector investment on or round the canal could and will bring significant job opportunities. At that point I would just like to conclude on behalf of the submission, but we would be happy to open up to individual questions.

  30. Perhaps somebody would like to say something about job creation potential in the longer term?
  (Mr Inch) I am Steve Inch from Glasgow City Council and I am from the Department of Development and Regeneration Services, which is the planning, property and economic regeneration bit of the council. As George Thom said, the canal has been seen as a bit of a forgotten friend over the years, certainly in Glasgow, largely because of its "remainder" status. We as a council have taken the Millennium Link project quite seriously. We recently produced a city plan which gives some priority to the north of the city and we have now taken that forward through the production of a draft canal strategy, which will go to the council early next year. That strategy breaks the canal into bits and looks at the particular regeneration opportunities along each stretch of the canal. We see this creates from the Stockingfield Junction to Port Dundas quite a strategic piece of the Glasgow infrastructure. We are already in discussion with the British Waterways Board as to how we can take forward some of the employment opportunities from the stadium down to Port Dundas. We are in negotiations with a private developer who is building approximately 100,000 square feet along the canal. We are looking at the employment opportunities for this disconnected piece of canal and we are in discussion with Scottish Enterprise in Glasgow about the potential to link the canal, the proposed railway station and the potential extension of the Science Park. We are in discussion about taking forward a business village. In employment terms there are six straightforward commercial and industrial opportunities which between them could create well over 2,000 jobs if they all come forward. The other thing we are looking at is how we use environmental improvements along the tow part as training and employment opportunities, which was hinted at in the questioning before. We are working on a programme now which will last for two years and creates two training projects which each will employ 16 long term unemployed people. That has been funded through the City Council, Scottish Enterprise, the European Social Fund and the British Waterways Board. That is aimed at doing fairly straightforward and environmental improvement work. We are seeing some long term development potential in terms of site developments and some short term job creation activities to environmental improvements.
  (Mr Baker) In respect of the City of Edinburgh Council I would certainly support the submission that has just been made. We see the canal as being at one point a liability, disused and really overlooked by the local communities through which it passes into what could be considered a considerable asset. The three main areas that we see as important are, first of all, in regeneration terms. There is a fantastic new project which reinstates the canal through a major housing scheme on the outskirts of Edinburgh of which the local community have taken ownership of this feature and that will create considerable improvements. When seen in the context of the new shopping development, the new leisure and cultural facilities provided in Wester Hailes it is a real asset in providing a further facility in a regeneration area. Also the canal can be seen as a tourist facility. We hope that, in partnership with British Waterways, to be seen as part of a network. Here at the end of the link we certainly see the tourist potential for an attractive water feature at the end of the network, and also a very vibrant facility which will link Edinburgh to Glasgow. It is particularly important that each tourist area has a variety of tourist attractions, both main and subsidiary, to produce visitor spend and produce an attractive tourist environment, undoubtedly the Edinburgh Quay development will provide that. Finally we see the development of this facility to be a link with the Edinburgh Business Centre, the financial centre round about the conference centre and new developments there, building on the attractive water features and, in fact, providing new office accommodation, new mixes of accommodation and development which will really enhance business development within the City of Edinburgh.
  (Mr Dunlop) Clearly in Falkirk we believe we have a very special position in relation to the canal as a whole. The Wheel will be the hub, we believe, of the canal for visitors centres, et cetera, but also for economic development, that is the point that George Thom made. Certainly our community has seen this coming for a long time, ever since then it is clear to see it through documents such as the strategic community plan and a structured plan. The local communities put themselves very, very high in terms of importance locally and recognise the value that it will bring generally to Falkirk as an area. One term that is continually used in our area is repositioning Falkirk, certainly we see the Wheel as being the mechanism to do just that. Obviously the 4,000 jobs that have been spoken about in many of the submissions round 1,000 of those though are anticipated in the Falkirk Council area. Once again, we have a tremendous amount to benefit from. George Thom mentioned the issue of partnership, we believe we played a very strong partnership role, particularly in relation to planning and forward thinking and how we would manage all of developments across the canal, and those are reflected in a number of documents.
  (Mr Henderson) Dan Henderson, West Dunbartonshire Council, at the risk of, perhaps, repeating some of the comments that have been made by my colleagues here, West Dunbartonshire Council certainly see this as a great opportunity for development in and round the canal. There is significant expenditure currently in the Clydebank Shopping Centre to completely regenerate Clydebank Shopping Centre and provide a new vibrant shopping centre. The fact that the canal passes right through the shopping centre, as you could see this morning, is perhaps a bit of added value. It can be a new thing, something different that will attract people to come and shop at Clydebank rather than go to Brae Head, if the chair will let me away with that one. It is also the case that there are numerous brownfield sites in the Clydebank area in particular and hopefully there are going to be significant developments alongside the Clydebank Riverside—mixed use development that will provide not only leisure facilities but also new housing, and more importantly industrial and commercial developments. The Clydebank area, as everyone knows, has a proud history in relation to shipping, perhaps not so much along canals but across the Atlantic Ocean and various other seas, but there is certainly scope for considerable development in and round Clydebank. There has also been discussion about the possibility of a link being continued on and up the River Leven to Loch Lomond and, perhaps, there is an opportunity for added value there. We will shortly be commissioning a report on the River Leven which will link in things like flood prevention to the possibility of making the River Leven navigable. There is, perhaps, the opportunity you could bring a boat from the east of Scotland through the canal and right up to Loch Lomond.
  (Dr Sheldon) The West Lothian stretch is different because the canal is passing through countryside within the central belt. The Council has great expectations that there could be significant jobs created in the long term as a consequence of the canal being redeveloped. In terms of the community return that is what the Council was really anticipating, it has happened, and it has added value because of the tourist attractions.
  (Ms Linton) I am from North Lanarkshire Council and although we are a very large authority our stretch along the canal is rather small, only about three kilometres to the east of here. Coming through from Glasgow it is the first rural area, it does pass through an area of natural resource, which we want to keep and preserve and, therefore, we are not looking for development alongside the canal. Any development we encourage will focus on the basin area at Auchinstarry and will be tourism related types. What we are trying to do is harness businesses to the area and direct them to existing settlements, to boost those settlements. Really just to emphasise that whilst the canal passes through a number of built up areas that will benefit from built development it is not all that way and there is some very nice natural areas we should preserve as well as focus for development.
  (Mr Thom) I just want to comment about the specifics in East Dunbartonshire, there are a number of potential development opportunities. Kirkintilloch offers the most significant pay back, it is not just the job creation, it is for the regeneration of Kirkintilloch. Kirkintilloch relied on the canal for its worth and the demise of the canal has mirrored the demise of Kirkintilloch and its social activity. The canal is seen very much as a focus point. The opening of the canal has helped the investment of the new Learning Centre you have seen this morning and that would undoubtedly have gone somewhere else if the canal had not opened up. That is focussing our minds. We have a larger initiative at proposal stage now which will bring significant investment, upwards of £40 million, to the area, and the canal is central to that. The council has committed itself to seeing Kirkintilloch as a key visitor attraction and changing the way Kirkintilloch appears to the outside world. There are significant opportunities there and the canal is central to them.

Anne McKechin

  31. I would like to ask one general question and, perhaps, you can give a specific example and some comments from the representative of Glasgow City Council, generally were the local authority deterred, to any extent, by the long term nature of some of the perceived benefits of developing the canal? I am also thinking of where there is no direct commercial benefit or no direct conservation and environmental area of interest, if you think of areas like Milton in Glasgow, and there has been no degree at present of community enrollment as occurred in Wester Hailes. How do you see the on-going investment in the development of that and problems which might incur?
  (Mr Inch) I would agree that in Glasgow the level of community involvement is not as much as it should be. We are trying to press that through the enrollment of the communities in some significant projects. I think our submission mentioned the potential re-establishment of the Ruchill Golf Course and the community trust. What we have tried to do with that project is not simply re-open a nine hole golf course but use a vacant piece of land as an extension to a youth golf course and a training facility. We are working with the Waterways Board to try and sort any access between the two. That is probably an exception to the rule. It has certainly been discussed at the Glasgow Social Inclusion Partnership, there have been a number progress reports and I would like to think we can get closer to the community. The fact that we are establishing two training projects which are aimed at recruiting residents will increase that level of involvement.

Mr Carmichael

  32. Given that we are talking here about a fairly long term nature of the perceived benefits and that British Waterways in Scotland have what they term an valuation strategy for monitoring activity, do the individual councils have any such evaluation strategy or do you use the favoured term "performance indicators" in places to assess the impact of the canal and job creation in particular?
  (Mr Thom) The important thing for us is that we are working in partnership with British Waterways, we are a steering group which is looking at the on-going development. I think we can probably tighten up on the performance indicators relating to the job creation market and that whole package. I am encouraged that we are still at the table working with British Waterways. From our point of view we are actively involved in specific partnership with them in Kirkintilloch, the truth of that is whether it actually comes off or not, whether it happens. From our point of view the structures are in place to keep us at the table and keep us working.
  (Mr Dunlop) If I can comment, linking both those questions together, because there is a similarity there, the long-term nature of this I do not think is perceived as necessarily a bad thing. The scale of the project in the Falkirk Council area is such that inevitably it is going to be a long term development. You have had the advantage of the Wheel and an awful lot of work done recently and a lot of community participation. I think people recognise there is a long term picture to it, but I think there is an immediate benefit. From the opening last year and from all of the current activity people are going up and having a look at the moment, I think there is a real sense of something is happening right now. I do not think, again, people fully appreciate the potential scale of developments that could come along.

  33. In five, 10 or 15 years' time will you be able to point to X and Y number of jobs and say these relate to the development?
  (Mr Dunlop) I think that would be a reasonable thing to expect us to do. Our plan is very specific and our nature of regeneration is very specific and we need to measure one against the other. What may be more difficult to measure would be the wider spin-offs that we believe will be generated, perhaps not immediately, next to the canal but obviously benefiting Falkirk Council as a whole. It would be reasonable for us to measure exactly some elements of the employment benefit.
  (Mr Baker) On the specific point of evaluation, in terms of the involvement of the private sector, basic information like planning permissions, local surveys along the canal, company start-ups and the number of people employed in different training schemes and different programmes will allow us on a year-by-year basis to identify jobs and employment opportunities which have been generated by the canal. Those formal structures are being put in place by local authorities in connection with British Waterways. I think we will be able to evaluate the impact of the canal on this project upon the development and we will be able to tell you how many jobs have been created, what GDPs have been created, what type of jobs and hopefully, and that will give us a good idea of the impact of the canal. I am fairly confident that through a number of surveys and planning permissions and basis statistics we can provide that information for you. I think that is being done.

Mr Lazarowicz

  34. I am sure everyone realises the importance of assessing jobs that have been caused by the canal as opposed to simply being situated by the canal. There may be some sort of temptation or tendency to ascribe any development near to the canal to the presence of the canal when, in fact, the development might have happened anyway. I am sure people will be aware of that and be able to distinguish those which are geographically situated by a canal and those which are caused by the development. Can I ask a question I raised earlier? (I am sure everyone here will have heard my question to British Waterways about the Scotland-wide coordination of potential benefits.) I wonder if any or all of the local authorities have any comments on the degree to which we can ensure that the benefits across Scotland are maximised? I have in my mind there will be economic activity, tourist activity, walking, cycling, for example, which really does need to be coordinated and maximised across Scotland level. That is an area where so far I have some doubts about, as to how far that potential is being utilised. Can you assure me on this and or tell me how you envisage the future in this respect?
  (Mr Thom) We have certainly talked about the marketing and the impact. I think you are right, we cannot untangle the whole package. In Kirkintilloch we have a proposal for a significant investment will will include the canal. We anticipate 1,000 jobs will be created out of that over a seven year period, some of those will be linked directly to the canal but some of them are part of a much wider package, because the canal is not the only thing that is happening either here or in Edinburgh or in Falkirk. I think it is important to make that distinction, it is important to be able to track that. Certainly part of our proposal and our strategy for the canal involves the local tourist board and involves the local enterprise company, so those elements are contained at a local level. It is important that some of the projects that are involved in this have come off in order to make the canal feasible. There is a much wider issue about marketing, taking the canal through Scotland.
  (Mr Dunlop) There certainly is. We have recognised a number of changes in tourism activity across Scotland and certainly Scotland at the moment is going through a transition. I think it is important for all of us to recognise the vital role that they will have to play in national terms of making sure that the benefits and the investments so far are fully maximised. There has been work, perhaps, it is more for SE colleagues later on who can speak more fully about this, but there has been work on-going over the last 10 months to look at a national approach to marketing the canal and how that would operate and dovetail into local action plans. That work is still in progress. I think as a local authority, for us, I would guess we would all say the same thing, it is important to make sure that a leadership vacuum is not created in driving the national picture forward, whereas we will all be working very hard locally with British Waterways and other partner agencies on our own patch. Certainly locally we have a very strong partnership with British Waterways in marketing, not just the Wheel site but to link that into other opportunities that exist in our area. I do take the point that there is an issue about how collectively we behave and act in national marketing terms.

Mr Lyons

  35. If I wanted information about the canal who do I contact for that?
  (Mr Dunlop) My understanding is that it would be British Waterways at this time.

  36. When will that change?
  (Mr Dunlop) I think British Waterways will lead on the activity on the canal. For associated activities in any particular area you may find there are more expanded and more integrated programmes. For example at the Wheel site you will find out all about the Wheel and all about the canal and you will be able to find out what happens locally. I would guess there would be partnership arrangements of that nature across the canal.

  37. No one central body does coordinating for the whole of the canal?
  (Mr Dunlop) I think Visit Scotland in terms of marketing the whole canal, it is their job, we could not market the whole canal on their behalf, that is probably their function with SE to do that. That would break down into more localised plans.

Mr Joyce

  38. Can I just ask if you have had any opposition or any sources of reluctance, inertia, to get involved in the project or to conform with what Mr Dunlop has described as very specific plans in relation to the canal development?
  (Mr Thom) I think for East Dunbartonshire at a community planning level there has been enthusiasm for the canal. At individual projects, when you shut a bridge it creates some local difficulties, you get some reaction to the actual performance of the work but generally the agencies we have been involved with certainly been very positive.
  (Mr Baker) This is an important issue in terms of how that canal is in place and the Link is in place. There is clearly a raised expectation from local communities who want to use the canal and benefit from the canal. Certainly in terms of such things as footpaths or security or safety it will present a challenge to the local authorities to make sure that they work closely with British Waterways to make sure it is seen as an asset and it does not fall back into a liability. In terms of job creation it clearly places a challenge on local authorities to find further resources, to work in partnership with private public sectors, to actually maximise the potential this link provides. It is a challenge and as I am sure you are aware local authorities resources are tight. We would like to think that given the fact we now have this fantastic resource on our doorstep we can rise to that challenge and hopefully maximise the potential.

Mr Robertson

  39. A question I asked Waterways was to do with safety. You mentioned safety and obviously in my own area that is where most of the complaints are from, I ask you the same question, what are you doing about setting up some kind of help line, support, that does not necessarily mean the police do everything?
  (Mr Inch) I think there have been isolated complaints, it is not so much about the project, it is just about the disruption caused by the work, and at Blairdarie there has obviously been a particular difficulty with it. In terms of the suggestions made earlier about canal wardens, in Glasgow we ran a City Centre Representatives project which is like a city centre warden service and we have started to look at the possibility of a canal warden service run along similar lines using the New Deal Programme along Glasgow walks. We are aware there is an issue. Until the canal is better used people still have fears about safety because it is not well walked in certain parts of the City and I think wardens can provide the sense that somebody is there watching over you, reporting incidents and spotting damage to be repaired and things are sorted out. We would like to take that forward. A large part depends on whether the New Deal programme survives. That is an issue we are aware of.
  (Mr Henderson) Can I add to that and, perhaps, provide Mr Joyce with an answer from a slightly different angle. There was a tremendous amount of community support and interest in the Clydebank area when the Millennium Link opened. There has been a wee bit of opposition, not very much, perhaps much the same as Steve has recorded here, about the disturbance in certain areas when the work has been on-going. To go back to the original discussions over funding, whilst our council had no opposition in principle to the Millennium Link it was really a very difficult decision to take just after local government reorganisation to become a partner. At that time we were faced, probably like other authorities, with some very difficult revenue and capital budget problems. There was considerable debate within the council chamber and not all members were entirely convinced that we should actually be partners to the Millennium Link project at that time. However, the council did recognise that if we did contribute there was a risk that the project would not proceed and it took the decision formally to be partners and I think, over the course of the next few years, that will prove to be the correct decision.

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