At last investment in Tennis facilities at Victoria Park

Victoria Park Tennis Courts from West End Labour & Co-op on Vimeo.

Since 2009 West End I have been calling for improvements to the tennis courts at Victoria Park in his ward.  I am pleased at long last to see that £88,000 will be spent on these courts to bring them up to an acceptable standard.  After my campaign for improvements Dundee City Council's Neighbourhood Services Committee approved investment of  £88,000 in Victoria Park Tennis Courts.

I have been calling for improvements to these tennis courts over a number of years.  I have been promised that work will take place before and I hope that it will now come to fruition.  The state of the tennis courts is totally unacceptable.  I am glad that the council has listened to my concerns and those of local people and that now action will finally be taken.  I will be watching to ensure that the investment delivers genuine improvements in the tennis courts as I have been promised action previously and none has been forthcoming.

I will continue to look for investment in the West End and to ensure that local people get the best services possible.  Our parks are a great asset to the city and we need to look at ways of ensuring that their facilities are kept up to date.

I also hope that Dundee will receive funding from Tennis Scotland to have publicly accessible indoor tennis courts built in the city.


Friends of the Earth & Dundee Cycle Forum Hustings

Addressing the Friends of the Earth Tayside & Dundee Cycle Forum Hustings
On Thursday evening I was delighted to attend a very interesting hustings meeting organised by Friends of the Earth Tayside and the Dundee Cycle Forum.

We were asked to give a few opening remarks on the topic of People, Place and Transport the gist of my remarks is below.  I want Dundee to have the best environment possible and I will work with groups like Friends of the Earth Tayside and the Dundee Cycle Forum to play my part in doing just that.

I have been a councillor for ten years and in my time on the council I think that my commitment to protecting our environment has been clear.

I think that we live in a magnificent city and that we should do all that we can to ensure that it stays that way.

That is why I led the opposition on the council to an industrial scale biomass plant in the docks and secured cross-party support for that on the council.  I was glad to be able to lead a cross-party group of councillors in that opposition even if we were told that we were all too stupid to understand the the hard science by the current council leader.

I have been calling for proper action year after year after year about air pollution issues in the city, especially on the Lochee Road in my area.  I think that Dundee should consider applying to be a low emission zone.

We need to do all that we can to protect this great place we call home.  Whether by that you mean the West End, Dundee, Scotland, the UK, Europe or planet earth.

Close to home I am looking for investment in our parks and green spaces.  This is important for the future of our city.  It is too easily overlooked at this time of  £80 million worth of cuts over the last ten years.

I also want to support more renewable energy and I am pleased to say that I am part of a group looking at setting up a Solar Energy Co-operative in Dundee, Scotland's sunniest city.  This has been done in Edinburgh and it is important that we look to promote renewable energy where we can.  For example, the new Harris Academy is a south facing building with a huge roof space and no solar panels on the roof - a missed opportunity.

I also want to promote more district heating systems.  We are heading towards 2019 and the centenary of Scotland's first council housing estate in the the Logie Estate in my ward.  It was built with a district heating system, which apparently heated the pavements as much as the houses but the technology is so much better now and we need to work to deliver district heating schemes, bulk buying schemes and energy efficiency schemes where we can.

Transport is hugely important and we need to find a balance. We know that access to a car is at a relatively low rate in Dundee compared to other places yet transport policy is dictated by car users.  We do need good roads and I looking for improvements to the state of the roads in large parts of the West End.  Potholes which damage cars are bad for the environment.  However, we are too reliant on the car, and I include myself in that.

We need to ensure that we can combat that reliance on the motor car.  We need to make public transport more attractive.  The ABC cards on Dundee buses are a step forward but what we need is an 'Oyster' card style system in Dundee certainly but preferably across Scotland.  A system that is genuinely about joint ticketing and which charges the user the lowest cost at the end of the day.

As a Scottish Co-operative Party candidate in this election I support their 'People's Bus' campaign and I also support Unite the Union's 'Haud the Bus' campaign.  There are people in the West End who have a great bus service but there are places which are neglected.  There are a number of ex-bus stops in the West End in places like the far-end of the Perth Road or Tullideph Road.  It is a disgrace that profitable bus companies can effectively just turn round to the council and more importantly the people of Dundee and say that we are not going to run a service there and there is virtually nothing that the council or the general public can do about it.

We need to change the relationship with bus services.  We need to say to companies that if they want to operate profitable routes then they also need to run socially useful services.  There is a huge hidden indirect subsidy to bus companies in this country and the public gets very little in return for it.  We need to empower local people to ensure that they have a say in how bus services are run in their area.

We should also look to improve local train journeys.  We need to ensure that Dundee remains connected with the major cities of Scotland and the UK but we also need to make sure that we also have connections along the Tay.  We should promote commuting options along the Tay. Estuary by train.  This has been talked about for years - we need delivery now.

I support active travel and I think that we need to invest in active travel and I support spending 10% of the transport budget on walking and cycling.

We have high hopes for our city as a destination with the V & A and hopefully as European City of Culture in 2023.  I want us to be a cycle friendly European city.  More needs to be done around the Waterfront development to deliver a pedestrian and cycle friendly environment and welcome to the city.  We should also use Dundee's position as a UNESCO City of Design to ensure that the highest standard of design is expected right across the city.  We should also expect to be at the forefront of using that status to design a good environment.

I also paid tribute to my colleague Councillor Laurie Bidwell, who is standing down from the council at this election.  Laurie has been a champion of active travel and particularly of cycling over his ten years on the council and the council will need to find another champion of the active travel after the election to match his commitment.


Refurbish Victoria Park Tennis Courts

Victoria Park Tennis Courts from West End Labour & Co-op on Vimeo.
 I am calling for action to improve the tennis courts in Victoria Park.  A number of local residents have raised concerns about the state of the tennis courts with me. 

Over a number of years I have called for improvements to the tennis courts across the city and especially at Victoria Park.  This has been raised with me by a number of local residents.  Last week I visited the courts and I was appalled by the state of the courts.  I have been promised that action will be taken in the past and I have written to the council again looking for action to improve the state of the courts.

Jenny Marra MSP and I have been calling for action over the years and we have been promised that something will be done.

I want to make sure that the facilities in the West End are as good as they can be.  The tennis courts at Victoria Park need investment and I hope that officers will be able to tell me that this is going to happen.  I am also looking for an update on the chances of the Tennis Scotland funding an indoor facility in Dundee.  Tennis is becoming more popular with the success of British tennis players over recent years and we need to capitalise on that success and provide the facilities needed for the next generation of tennis players to develop their skills.


Apology Accepted over Hawkhill Site

I welcome the decision that Dundee City Council's policy to improve the corner of Bellfield Street and Hawkhill will be implemented.  This came after the SNP Administration had to withdraw a report which attempted to allow a property developer to build houses on the site despite the council having a clear policy to improve the site.

I welcome the announcement that the council's policy will be implemented.  I note that the announcement is by the Council's Chief Executive and not for the council's political leadership, which does beg the question who is running the council?  I have been clear from the outset that the unanimous decision of the council from December 2016 should be implemented.  I am glad that it will be.  I also accept the Chief Executive's apology.

Lessons must be learned from this debacle.  There must be no repetition of this.  It is good to hear that the Chief Executive has said that he has changed procedures to prevent any repeat of this sorry saga.  I would also point out that this report made its way through the SNP Group without anyone pointing out the very obvious flaw in that there was already a policy for this site.  Councillor Macpherson and myself pointed this flaw out in a private committee session, I would reiterate my concern that we have private meetings too often.

I look forward to the area across from the Whitehall Theatre being improved and I am glad that my point of view has prevailed on this but I must say that we should not have got into this situation in the first place and there should be no repeat of this either.


Please find below a copy of the email sent by Dundee City Council Chief Executive David  Martin to all councillors today.

Dear councillor,
Following the withdrawal of a report on the above site at the City Development Committee on 27 March, I have now had the opportunity to discuss the matter fully with relevant senior officers and investigate the circumstances surrounding the submission of this item to members.  In essence, there has been a breakdown in internal communication between officers in the Neighbourhood Services and City Development directorates.  This led to one service in the Council seeking to work with a prospective developer to realise a housing development opportunity for the city, while another service was implementing an existing decision of the Council to undertake an environmental improvement project on part of the same site.  The corporate discussions that members would expect to take place where new opportunities arise for the use/re-use of a piece of land that had been designated for another purpose had been inadequate in this instance, leading to incomplete reporting and advice being given to Councillors at the City Development Committee regarding the status of the site concerned.  Unusually in this particular case, the matter was further complicated by the site being referred to by a different name in reports to the City Council's Committees in December 2016 and March 2017.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the high standards of professional advice that members of the City Council are right to expect was lacking on this occasion, and I would once again apologise to all Councillors for this.  I have now instructed officers to proceed to implement the decision taken by the council in December last year to complete the environmental improvement project originally intended, and have taken steps to ensure that all reports to Council Committees are reviewed by all members of the Council Management Team prior to submission to members to avoid a repetition of this unfortunate mistake. 

David R Martin
Chief Executive
Dundee City Council



Who makes council policy?

I was hugely concerned last week to find out that the council was proposing to sell off land across from the Whitehall Theatre despite the fact that the council had a clear policy for the area
The work on the green space was meant to have been finished by now, yet very little has been done and the council seems to have forgotten its commitment.
I asked the chief executive why this has happened, and the response was that there has been a mix-up.
That’s not good enough – if this commitment has been forgotten that begs the question, what other policies aren’t being fulfilled?
I also think that there is a need for more transparency, meetings should only be held in private as a last resort.
I understand that due to business confidentiality some discussions need to be private, but there needs to be a balance to allow the public to stay informed.
There is a need for answers on this issue.  It may not be the biggest policy decision that the council ever faces but it is important to get to the bottom of who makes policy for the council and who has the right to overrule a democratic decision.


Need for more openness and transparency in planning issues

At last Monday's City Development Committee the council considered its response to the Scottish Government's review of planning legislation.  At the previous week's Development Management Committee there had been a wide ranging discussion around a variety of issues about the need for more openness and transparency and being more open to consulting with members of the public.  The report before councillors on Monday evening did not reflect any of the interesting cross-party discussion which had taken place the previous week. I suggested that the council postpone making a decision and that a new report is brought back which reflects the views of councillors.  I was pleased when the SNP Administration accepted this suggestion.

At last Monday evening's Development Management Committee (20 March) there was a long and interesting debate about the need for more openness and transparency in the planning system.  There was also talk about the need to be more open to public consultation and a feeling that the council needs to do more than the bare minimum in terms of encouraging public consultation.

I was pleased that my proposal to take a step back and re-visit the item was taken.  The report in front of us had been issued on 17th March and did not, and could not, take into account the important debate that had taken place on Monday March 20th.  I would say that the Deputy Convener of the Development Management Committee, Councillor Jimmy Black, had played an important role in that previous debate.  I made clear this evening that I feel that Councillor Black should contribute to the formation of the revised submission.  It is important to recognise good work and ideas across party boundaries and I will always seek to do so.  Anyone who thinks that their political party can do no wrong and is the repository of all knowledge is, I am afraid, sadly deluded.  I was pleased to see a cross party approach taken forward this evening.


Dundee Should Host Scotland International Football Matches

Action from Under-21 Match against Hungary from 2014
For some time I've been campaigning for the Scottish National Football team to play a full international match in Dundee.  Scotland last played a full international match in Dundee in 1936.  Scotland played Canada in a friendly match last week at Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh.  The attendance at Easter Road was 9,158 the capacity of both Dens Park and Tannadice Park could easily have accommodated that match.

I have been making the case for Scotland to play a full international match in Dundee for some time.  It is a disgrace that Scotland have not played a full international match in Dundee for over 80 years.  The match last week was played in a half full Easter Road Stadium the attendance would just about have filled either Dens Park or Tannadice Park.  I am not talking about playing competitive matches in Dundee but this type of friendly which Scotland plays at least once a year could easily be accommodated in Dundee.

I want a match in Dundee because football fans in Dundee deserve the chance to see Scotland play, they are after all the national team.  I also want to use international matches to showcase our city.  I want opposition supporters to come to Dundee and spend money in the local economy.  I want Dundee's name to be mentioned in foreign media and for people who might come here or invest here to know about Dundee.

I will be writing to the SFA yet again asking them to consider holding a full international match in Dundee.  It's about time Dundee got to host the national team.


Supporting Earth Hour

Tonight I will be supporting Earth Hour by switching off the lights in my house.  Dundee City Council will also be supporting the event.

It is important that we take a stand against climate change.  Throughout my time on the council I have tried to be at the forefront of environmental campaigns.  I have campaigned to improve air quality in our city and in my local community.  I have campaigned to improve recycling.  I have campaigned to support greener cars.

I am committed to making Dundee a better place..

The Earth's atmosphere is warming fast. In some cases weather patterns, climates and natural environments are changing quicker than wildlife or people can adapt.

So many of the world's biggest existing challenges, from poverty to wildlife extinction to extreme weather, are made more difficult by climate change. We have the science, the technology and innovation to turn this around. 

Climate change impacts on the poorest people in society most.  We must all work together to protect our planet and our local communities.

You can find out more and sign up for Earth Hour at the WWF website.


Police Community Surgeries

Last month I was delighted to support Police Scotland's Community surgeries in the West End.  It is good that the police are looking for ways to engage with local people.  I would encourage anyone who wants to have a chat with the local police to get along to these events.  The police are able to chat to you about crime prevention and if you want to report any non-urgent concerns to the police you can speak to the police there.  Remember to call 101 or 999 in case of any emergency.

Today from 1pm until 4pm there will be a Community Surgery in the  Mitchell Street Centre, the surgeries will be there on the first Tuesday of the month from now on.

Next Monday, 13th March, from 1pm until 4pm there will be a Community Surgery at Blackness Library, the surgeries will be there on the second Monday of the month from now on.

I welcome this initiative from Police Scotland and I think that it is a welcome return to putting community policing at the heart of what the police do.  Since Police Scotland was set up I think that not enough attention has been placed on community policing and local people have complained to me about this.  Hopefully, this is the start of a real change in attitude from Police Scotland.  I would also like to see Police Scotland make significant use of the one of the best community facilities that they have in our area, Ryehill Police Station.  It would be good if local people could regularly contact the police at our local police station.


Stop Ripping Off Music Fans

I'm calling for Dundee City Council to protect music fans from rip-off ticket prices at the Slessor Gardens venue.  I welcome the addition of this new music venue to the city and hopes that it is a huge success.  Last Friday when Olly Murs tickets went on sale just a couple of hours after they went on sale I was able to find tickets on sale on secondary websites with a mark-up of at least 50%.  The Little Mix concert in Slessor Gardens in June is apparently sold out yet over 200 tickets were for sale today at higher than the face-value of the ticket for this concert.

I welcome the development of Slessor Gardens as a music venue and I hope that it is a success.  I do have concerns though that the council has become complicit in ripping-off music fans.  Slessor Gardens belongs to the council, the council is hiring it out to music promoters who are then selling tickets which quickly make their way on to the secondary ticket market at much more than face-value.  Often the secondary ticket selling website is closely associated with or even the same company as the primary or face-value ticket selling website.  There are allegations of collusion between websites which allow re-sale website to harvest large numbers of tickets for sale at above face-value.

People unable to get tickets from the ticket website often end-up buying tickets from re-sale websites from people or companies who have never had any intention of attending the concert.  For example, Olly Murs tickets went on sale a week ago on Friday, only a couple of hours after they went on sale one re-selling website  Stubhub claimed to have 22 tickets available for this concert, tickets for this concert are priced at either £43.45 or £60.50, on Stubhub the prices varied from £75 to £94.25.

I understand that some people who buy tickets today for a concert in July will be unable to attend due to illness or work commitments for example, but it beggars belief that 22 people bought tickets for a concert on Friday morning with the intention of going and before lunchtime had worked out that they were unable to attend and had already put their tickets up for sale on a re-sale website, and this only on one website.

I know that many young people in Dundee were disappointed to apparently miss out on tickets to see Little Mix.  It is therefore a little surprising to see that on just two of the re-sale websites Getmein and Viagogo nearly 300 tickets were available priced between £76.89 and £187 each for this 'sell-out' concert.  Surely there cannot be 300 people who bought tickets for this concert and cannot now go.

I am a football fan and my understanding is that if you stood outside Dens or Tannadice and tried to sell tickets for more than their face value you risk being arrested.  Why do similar rules not apply online?  It is alleged that many of these resellers use technology to harvest tickets which are put up for sale online at face value and that they only do this with the intention of trying to cash in by selling at inflated prices.  Some of these re-sale websites are linked to original sale website, for example Getmein is owned by Ticketmaster.  This needs to be regulated.

I think that people or companies profiteering on the sale of tickets should be ashamed of themselves.  There needs to be much more regulation of this industry.  There is a need for much more transparency.  The UK Government is looking at this issue and I have written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, asking when the UK Government is going to take action to protect the interests of music fans.

Dundee City Council should look to create contracts with promoters at Slessor Gardens and elsewhere which prevent music fans from being ripped-off.  The way the market works just now is at best unethical and should be made illegal.  I want Slessor Gardens to develop as a music venue but I am appalled that the council is colluding with sharp practice by music promoters.  I have written to the council asking them to look into this matter and I would hope that before any other concerts are arranged that Dundee City Council has come up with a way of preventing fans being ripped-off.


Regional Performance Centre for Sport

Last week at the council's Policy & Resources Committee a report was considered which contained the latest update the plans for the Regional Performance Centre for Sport  planned for Caird Park.  There has been a lot of controversy about this proposal.  The report was not about planning issues. During the debate Councillor Jimmy Black spoke about the need for more openness and transparency on the whole I agree with Councillor Black on much of this.

There was much talk about openness and transparency during the debate on the Regional Performance Centre.  In the spirit of openness and transparency as a member of the Project Board I felt the need to make my views known about the lack of openness and transparency on the Project Board.  Whilst the Project Board is not the decision making body, that is the Policy & Resources Committee, items are reported to the Project Board after decisions or actions have been taken.  I feel that the lessons from the McClelland Review have not been learnt.  There is an unwillingness to have meaningful discussions at the Project Board which include all of its members.  It appears that decisions have been made elsewhere prior to the meeting, whether these decisions have been made in the SNP Group or by Senior Officers is not clear to me.

Campaigning for the National Performance
 Centre for Sport to be in Dundee
In December it was reported to the Project Board that Dundee FC were pulling out of the project and we were told that this was confidential and that much of what was discussed was confidential and would be reported to the council in an appropriate manner.  That an official press release covering most of what was discussed at the meeting was then issued immediately after the meeting was astonishing.  This demonstrated a lack of good faith, and a lack of commitment to openness and transparency.

I have raised my concerns with officers of the council and I hope that they have listened to me.  I also want to make clear that whilst not expressing any opinion on any future planning application that I support the investment which the regional performance centre represents.  I campaigned for the National Performance Centre to come to Dundee and was disappointed that Dundee missed out, yet again, on Scottish Government investment.

I do worry about an addiction to secrecy prevalent in the council.  I worry that the lessons that should have been learnt from the debacle around costs at the V & A have not been learnt.  The McClelland Review was meant to change things I fear that we are back to business as usual.  If officers and the SNP Administration are convinced of the case for the Regional Performance Centre then they should have nothing to fear from openness and transparency.


Where is Dundee's City Deal?

Yesterday the Scottish Government, the Scotland Office and Highland Council pr formally signed-off the £315 million Inverness City Deal.  Yet again I re-iterated my question 'where is Dundee's City Deal?'  On numerous occasions along with others I have asked for details of the City Deal for Dundee. I'm very concerned that Dundee seems to be at the back of the queue.

I have asked for details of the City Deal for Dundee and for an answer as to why our city appears to be at the back of the queue.  I have received a briefing on this which did not shed a great deal of light on the subject.  From my perspective I see other cities and regions in Scotland at the front of the queue receiving funding for projects.  Dundee needs investment and jobs and I want to know why there seems to be a lack of urgency to do a deal.

I have been told that a lot of work is going on in the background, this may well be true but I am still confused about why all the other regions want to tell people about what they are doing and even engage in some kind of public debate about what is proposed.  Dundee's deal appears to be top secret.  Why is Dundee the only city not shouting from the rooftops about the deal that it wants?

I want to hear about plans for jobs and investment sooner rather than later, we need to promote our city.  I will put the interests of Dundee first to help deliver jobs and investment for our city.  I have two questions to ask, firstly why the secrecy and secondly where is our city deal?

I am pleased that the council has now said that there will be a report to the council on 13th February, but it does still beg the question - why the secrecy?


St Joseph's Parent & Community Council

 On Monday evening I was pleased to attend a meeting of the St Joseph's Parent and Community Council at St Joseph's Primary School.  It was great to hear about what is going on in the school.  It is important to get the chance to listen to what is going on in the local schools.

There are real issues around car parking outside the West End campus, including Victoria Park Primary School and Balgay Hill Nursery School as well as St Joseph's.  I will be seeking action from Dundee City Council and from Police Scotland about this issue.  Fundamentally though people parking near to the campus must be sensible and put the safety of all the children at the school first.

Community Energy Co-operative for Dundee?

Solar Panels on Davidson Mains Primary School, Edinburgh
pic Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative
I support calls for a Community Solar Energy Co-operative for Dundee.  I recently attended a meeting with around twenty other interested people to look at a way forward.  The meeting was facilitated by Energy for All, an umbrella charity that looks at promoting community renewable energy co-operatives.  The idea is a similar to an idea which has been supported by the City of Edinburgh Council, the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative.

I am keen that we do everything that we can to protect and improve the environment in Dundee.  We all have our part to play and I think promoting community energy renewables would be a way of doing that in Dundee.  In Edinburgh the City Council facilitated the creation of Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative which generates electricity from solar panels on the roofs of public buildings.  I was delighted to join a number of like-minded individuals recently to discuss a way forward for a similar plan for Dundee.

There was clearly interest in doing something on this and Energy for All are prepared to support attempts to set up a co-operative.  Dundee is Scotland's sunniest city and I am sure that we should find a way of using that solar energy to heat the homes of Dundee.  I think that we should be looking to do this because it will be good for the environment but I also think that it could be a way of dealing with the scourge of fuel poverty in our city.  I think that Edinburgh and rural communities across Scotland have shown the way that people should get together to form a co-operative to help themselves and their community to produce green energy and perhaps even a return on their investment.

I also think that as part of Dundee's role as an UNESCO City of Design we should be saying to architects across the city design energy efficiency and design community renewables into your plans.  Dundee boasts a lot of new school buildings and not enough was done to ensure that they had solar panels on their roofs, even south facing flat roofs do not have solar panels.

These proposals are at a very early stage and we are looking for people who are interested to express an interest at this stage. Hopefully though, this is an idea which could make a difference to Dundee.

If you are interested in this idea, you can like the Facebook page

Time to think differently on car parking

I am glad that the council has agreed to take action around West End car parking. Discussions at meetings must lead to action. I will be keeping a close eye on this it is important that these meetings do not become the equivalent of the long-grass.

Some local people are suggesting that we look at using city centre car parks as a means of taking cars off the streets of the West End.

It seems to me that many of the standard approaches to car parking have been tried already. I think that there is a need for open minds which are prepared to think differently. We need to listen to local people about the problems and listen to their ideas about the way forward.

We need to look at ideas from other places, can we solve the problem by doing things differently.   I welcome the proposals which have been discussed by the West End Community Council.  We should be looking to see if it is possible to use all of the car parking resources of the council to solve the problem.  These may or may not be the solution to the problem but we need to be open to new thinking.  If the proposed meetings are to have any point then nothing should be ruled out prior to the meeting.

We also need to engage with employers and organisations which generate large amounts of traffic such as Ninewells Hospital and the University of Dundee.

I am looking forward to constructive meetings and hopefully some genuine progress to try and solve the problems which I see on a daily basis as a local councillor and resident.


Farmhouse Breakfast at Blackness Primary School

Speaking to some of the young people at Blackness Primary
As an active co-operator I am proud to be the Vice-Chair of Scotmid Co-operative's North Regional Committee.  As part of that role I was pleased to get along to Blackness Primary School in the West End today to help the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) deliver their  'Shake-up your Wake-Up' Farmhouse Breakfast Week event.

Today Primary 6 had the chance to hear about where the food they eat really comes from, that is not the supermarket or even the local Scotmid but from farms.  The young people also had the chance to try some excellent local Scottish produce.  They also learnt about the idea of food miles, and discussed how it was a good idea that these were kept to a minimum.  I also had the chance to see if my waiting skills, learned whilst a student, had left me.  I really enjoyed myself and it was great to see young people try things that they hadn't tried before like porridge or rhubarb yoghurt.

This was an excellent event - well done to the RHET and their sponsors including Scotmid.  I think linking our farms and our agricultural and food businesses with consumers is important.  As regular readers will know I am a champion of Fairtrade and I think that this is linked because I think that we should all have an interest in where our food comes from whether that is oats and berries grown in Angus or Perthshire or oranges and bananas grown in Africa or South America.

It was also great to visit Blackness Primary School today and see the great work which is going on there and to meet the very well-behaved Primary 6 class.

Movement on car parking?

I welcome movement by Dundee City Council on car parking in the West End.  I seconded a motion that would have seen action by the Council, this was withdrawn after the council agreed to broaden the remit of the working party which is currently looking at the Perth Road District Shopping Area.

It was good to hear local people make the case about the need to deal with car parking issues in the West End at the meeting.

I am pleased that the council eventually agreed to take some action with regard to car parking in the West End.  I supported the council looking to take action in the West End because as a local councillor and local resident I know that this is a huge issue for local people.  It impacts on people's quality of life and on the economic activity of the area.

Car parking is clearly a big issue in the West End.  A few recent surveys have pointed out that this is the case, such as the one undertaken as part of the consultation on the future of the Perth Road District Shopping Area. It is an issue that is raised with me time after time.

I am not making the case that there are no car parking issues in other parts of the city.  There are, and especially in parts of the city that like the West End border, or indeed include, the city centre, like the Maryfield Ward and the Coldside ward.

When the people of the West End rejected the previous Resident’s Parking scheme they were told that this was not the end of efforts to improve car parking.  Since then nothing has happened.

I am clear that there are issues on Roseangle and Magdalen Yard Road and in the Perth Road lanes and that there are issues even up to Blackness Avenue and the roads off it.

One size does not fit all and we need to look at ways of dealing with some of the car parking issues in the area.  I am clear that one of those is dealing with our reliance on car, and I include myself in that.  We should be looking to bring forward solutions tailored to local needs.  To do this the council needs to listen to the views of local people.

I know that there is not an easy solution to these problems but neither is the solution to say that we will do nothing.

I hope that the council will listen to the people of the West End.  It is good that a forum for discussing this has been found and I want local people to send me their parking issues.  I want to go to this meeting with as full a picture as possible of the issues in the West End.

I hope that the compromise which has been found tonight will lead to results, but I will be watching closely.  We do need to talk about the issues but we also need to take action sooner rather than later.  So, I want to see progress soon.


Car Parking Issues - Again

It is fair to say that one of the issues most frequently raised with me as a local councillor in the West End is the issue of car parking.  I have made clear that I understand why local people did not back the previous attempt at a one-size-fits-all residents car parking scheme.  I also made clear at the time when this was finally rejected that this could not be the end of the discussion.  There are still issues around car parking in the West End.

I have said before and I will say it again  that I think that the council should look at local solutions to car parking issues.  One-size-fits-all doesn't work and we need to change how we look at these things. The issues vary from street to street.  I am also clear that we all have look at our reliance on having easy access to our own car, and that includes me.

Last week the Evening Telegraph produced figures which showed that Dundee City Council was owed £1.4 million in parking fines.  I am clear that people who owe the council money should pay what they are due.  Some of the streets where most parking tickets are issues are in the West End, such as Perth Road (it is a very long street) and South Tay Street.  I do think that we need to have a look at parking regulations especially around the periphery of the city centre.

I think that parking regulations in the city centre and on its edges push many people to park in the West End and in other areas near to the city centre.  In the West End this includes areas like the Perth Road, Magdelen Green, Roseangle, the Perth Road lanes and even as far up as Blackness Avenue and the streets off it.

I think that we need to sit down and look at these issues, is the council assisting businesses through its parking regulations or making life difficult for them.  The council has income targets for car parking and I wonder if this influences policy too much in these times of austerity.  I understand a need for regulation to ensure that spaces are freed up regularly and that cars cannot be abandoned for days or weeks on end.  I do think that we need to have a look at whether what the council is doing at the moment is benefiting the people the council is trying to help.


Harris Academy Official Re-opening

I was pleased to join pupils and staff at Harris Academy today for the Official Re-opening.  John Swinney carried out the official opening.

It was a very enjoyable event and the pupils used the event to show off their skills.  There were great musical performances, multi-visual presentations and baking!

This was a very positive day for Harris Academy. I am sure that its enhanced buildings and facilities will help promote a wider range of learning opportunities for all of its pupils. It is clear that Councillors made the right decision to rebulid the school from scratch rather than refurbish the existing buildings from the 1930's and 1960's.

I am pleased as one of the local councillors to have played my part in delivering a new school for Harris.  There have been teething issues.  I look forward to working with the school and the council to deliver the best school possible for the young people at Harris Academy.

I was pleased to be at the event with among others my colleague Councillor Laurie Bidwell.  Laurie commented as below,
"The facilities of the new school are very impressive. I am sure that staff and pupils who worked through the three year decant to Rockwell will be relieved to be back on the Perth Road enjoying their impressive new school buildings. My only regret is that, from the feasibility study that I instructed in my time as Education Convener which was completed by April 2009, it has taken seven years to realise our ambitions for a new Harris Academy."

I would like to wish all the pupils and staff of Harris Academy all the very best in their new school.


Black & British: A Forgotten History - Dundee's diverse history

Last week the latest episode of Black and British; A Forgotten History featured a little known part of Dundee's diverse history.  This was the visit of Frederick Douglass, the escaped American slave, who spoke in favour of the abolition of slavery at the Bell Street Baptist Chapel.  This building is now the council's Music Centre for school pupils.  You can watch the programme on BBC iPlayer here.

I was pleased to have been present when the Dundee section of the programme was filmed.  The story of Frederick Douglass's visit to Dundee is fascinating.  It is remarkable to think that large numbers of Dundonians wanted to listen to Frederick Douglass in 1846.  The series demonstrates that Dundee's history, Scotland's history and the history of the UK is not just the story of rich, white men which is how it can sometimes seem.

As a historian I think that it is important that we recognise that our story and the story of our city is much more complex and diverse than we usually think.

I am pleased that one of the outcomes of the programme is that there is now a plaque on the wall at the Music Centre which marks Frederick Douglass's visit.  As the council intends to stop using this building soon I am asking that we make sure that any future use of the building preserves the historic connection with Douglass which has just been acknowledged.

I also think that we should look to celebrate Dundee's diverse history on a more regular basis. Along with my colleague Councillor Georgia Cruickshank I am looking to see if we can develop a way to celebrate Black History month in Dundee.  Black History Month is marked in October each year and I hope that we can find a way to mark this each year.


Homelessness Far From Fixed

I am pleased to support Shelter Scotland's Homelessness - Far From Fixed campaign.  Homelessness can happen to anyone.  It is shocking and shameful that homelessness still exists in Scotland today.  Dundee City Council and the Scottish Government must do all that they can to fix homelessness in Dundee and across Scotland.

Homelessness in Dundee:

  • 1,085 Dundee Households assessed as homeless last year
  • 283 Dundee households currently in temporary accommodation
  • 127 Children in Dundee currently in temporary housing
  • 954 Dundee cases opened by Shelter Scotland advisors and volunteers last year
  • 423 calls to Shelter Scotland's free national helpline were from Dundee last year
(Source Shelter Scotland)

I will be seeking a briefing from Dundee City Council about how the council deals with homelessness.  It is important that families have access to appropriate good quality housing. 

 As part of Shelter Scotland's campaign I played their game of snakes and ladders.  This was a little
bit of fun which made a serious political point about the problems faced by families who might become homeless.


Playing games at planning?

At Monday evening's Development Management Committee there was a debate on an application by Aldi to build a store next to Asda at Myrekirk.  This was odd given that Dundee City Council's Development Management Committee agreed to the very same application last year.  I have concerns about why we were put in a position to make a decision on an issue that we had already decided upon. 

I support people and companies having recourse to the courts in order to ensure that the law has been correctly applied.  I would point out that when the council ends being involved in this there is a cost to council taxpayer.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary, Angela Constance MSP, to raise my concerns about this case.  It is ludicrous, in my opinion, that we were asked to make a judgement on an identical planning application to one which had already been approved.  I asked on Monday night why the council did not just say that we had a position on this and move on.  I understand why I was told that this could not happen but I think that does mean that we should consider whether the law should be changed.  I felt that both Aldi and Asda were playing games on Monday evening with their deputations.  That may be fine for two commercial rivals to do what they think they must to preserve their profits but this impacts on the people of Dundee and has a potential to impact on the future of council services in Dundee.

I am particularly concerned about the cost to Dundee City Council of court proceedings which may or may not be the result, in part at least, of a commercial tactic to prevent rival shops from opening.

I do hope that the various planning applications and legal proceedings in this case are all genuine.  It would be appalling if any of these parties were playing games to frustrate the sales potential of a rival.

I think that councillors and the council were put in a very difficult position on Monday evening and that a change in legislation might go some way to stopping this happening in the future.


Where is Dundee's City Deal?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn Statement  announced that he recommitted to the Tay Cities deal, whatever that means.  I think that there should be some public talking about what is planned but also importantly action, some areas are seeing investment already,
and Dundee seems to be at the back of the queue.

Along with a number of my colleagues I have been asking "where is Dundee's City Deal?"   I want to know why Dundee is at the back of the queue when it comes to the City Deal.  Dundee needs jobs, Dundee needs investment.  If those in positions of authority in Dundee can't be bothered to deliver a City Deal for Dundee then they should get out of the way and let people who have the best interests of Dundee and the people of Dundee at heart take their place and deliver investment for our city.

I have asked time and time again why Dundee's City Deal has not been brought forward and have yet to receive a convincing answer.  Our city needs jobs, our city needs action, our city needs investment, our city needs a City Deal.


Stop Threatened Closure of Ryehill Police Station

Some of the Local People Campaigning to Keep Ryehill Police Station Open
with Jenny Marra MSP & Councillor Richard McCready
Along with my colleague Jenny Marra MSP I am calling on Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to stop the threat of closing Ryehill Police Station. Police Scotland have attempted to kick the issue into the long grass but answers received in the Scottish Parliament and in correspondence in the past week show that Police Scotland plan to consult on closing Ryehill Police Station in the near future. Jenny has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the consultation to be dropped and for the station to stay open, while I am continuing to collect signatures for a petition against closure.  You can sign the petition here.

Police Scotland are saying that they are not going to close the station just now but crucially they say that "cannot give assurances" about the "long-term future" of the station. This is not good enough. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson told me in a letter that Police Scotland would be consulting on the future of Ryehill Police Office. I want a cast-iron guarantee for the future of Ryehill Police Office and a public-facing police presence in the West End for the long-term. That is why I am continuing to campaign on this important issue and collect signatures from local people in support of keeping Ryehill open.

The people of the West End need clarity on the future of Ryehill. I want a clear guarantee from Police Scotland that it will be staying open.

Jenny Marra MSP said, 'I want a guarantee that Ryehill Police Station will stay open. Ryehill was not included in the list of 58 police stations which are proposed for closure by Police Scotland but it is clear from the Cabinet Secretary in answer to Councillor McCready and myself that they do plan to consult on closing Ryehill. This lack of transparency is disgraceful. I have tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for Ryehill Police Station to remain open. There was cross-party support for Ryehill Police Station when it was debated by Dundee City Council recently, and I hope that there will be cross-party support for my motion.'

You can read a copy of the letter which I received from Michael Matheson MSP, the Cabinet Secretary forJustice, which makes it clear that there are plans to consult on closingRyehill Police Station.

Please see text of the motion tabled by Jenny Marra MSP below:

Ryehill Police Station

That the Parliament notes the consultations being conducted by Police Scotland into the future of 58 police stations around Scotland; understands that the proposed consultation on the future of Ryehill police station in the west end of Dundee was not on the published list but that the consultation on this station is due to start in January 2017; believes that it is misleading that Ryehill was not included in the list of stations under consideration; understands that closure of the station will be one of the options included in the consultation; further understands that Police Scotland has confirmed that the option of sharing facilities with other public bodies such as the council is not possible in the Ryehill building because of space constraints; notes that Police Scotland has indicated that, if Ryehill is to close, police officers for the west end community won't be based in that area but in the neighbouring council wards of Lochee and Maryfield; believes that this is not the level of service that local residents expect and deserve; considers that, if Ryehill closes, visible policing in the west end would effectively cease; understands that, for this reason, there is strong local opposition to the consultation and potential closure of Ryehill police station, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to drop the consultation and keep Ryehill open.