Sunday, 20 April 2014

It's not about flags, labels or the past. A Yes vote is about the future.

A poll in today's Scotland on Sunday suggests that English born Scots currently intend to vote 2:1 against independence.

I was born in England and I will once again be supporting England in this summer's World Cup finals. Having moved to Scotland 38 years ago, I think of myself as neither English nor Scottish, defaulting to 'British' when asked my nationality.

But independence is not about flags, labels or the past. It's about the future of the country I call home and below is a transcript of a speech I gave at a recent public meeting organised by Yes Midlothian spelling out why I am passionate about independence and will be voting Yes on September 18th.

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It is now less than six months to the referendum. Looking back to six months ago, I was to say the least, lukewarm towards Independence.

Yes, I felt it would put Scotland in a place it belonged and one day it would happen anyway - it just seemed to be the direction we were heading.

I was never in doubt that we could manage economically and surviving as an independent nation was never an issue for me. Now that even David Cameron has said the same, it is no longer an issue for anyone.

Six months ago, while I supported Independence, I was not passionate about it, simply because I had other priorities. 

However, it was only when listening to Robin McAlpine, who gave a presentation to the Scottish Greens’ conference in October, that I began to realise that the changes I want to see can only happen in an independent Scotland.

That’s not to say they definitely will happen but that as things stand, they definitely won’t as part of the UK.

So what priorities do the Greens have?

We live in a world with finite resources. If humanity is to survive, we need to manage those resources better.

The pie isn’t getting any bigger and if anything it will need to get smaller if catastrophic destruction of the planet is to be avoided.

Importantly, we need to look at how we share out what we already have rather than relying on a fragile model of exploitation of resources and people to fuel a wasteful and consumer obsessed world.

And this can only be achieved by reducing inequality.

 Reducing inequality also brings many other benefits.

Anyone who has read ‘The Spirit Level’ by Wilkinson and Pickett, will be convinced that reducing inequality is also the key to reducing many of the social problems we face - their study looked at 

Level of Trust
Mental Illness including drug & alcohol addiction
Life expectancy & infant mortality
Children's educational performance
Teenage pregnancies
Imprisonment rates
And social mobility

They looked at all of these across over 20 countries and across each of the states in the US (to show it’s inequality, not the wealth of a country which is the problem). In all cases there was a close co-relation between all of these problems and inequality. Reduce inequality and each of these problems diminishes. 

We’ve heard a lot about the Nordic countries in the independence debate and how countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have lower levels of inequality, and as the Spirit Level shows, these countries display lower levels of social problems like those I’ve described.

That surely must be what we aspire to.

The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the world.

The top fifth of people in the UK earn around 14 times that of the bottom fifth.

Where the five richest families are now wealthier than the bottom 20% combined.

London is the most unequal city in the developed world.

So I ask myself, is a more equal society more likely in an independent Scotland or is it more likely to come from Westminster?

In the UK, inequality has steadily risen over the last few decades - even under Labour governments.

Witness the rise of the food bank.

Westminster MPs voted last month to cap the total Welfare bill in a race to prove to likely Tory or UKIP voters that their party will continue to bring down the deficit by austerity.

At Westminster, the debate on taxation revolves around whether the richest pay 45 or 50 pence in the pound on their income. Commitments on the Minimum Wage revolve around whether or not it should be increased in line with inflation.

 The Bedroom Tax, like the Poll Tax before it, was imposed by a Westminster government against the will of the vast majority of Scots.

Surely we can do better than this.

In Scotland, the emphasis is different.

Here, we were the first to oppose the Poll Tax. We seek to extend the Living Wage and abolish the Bedroom Tax.

We introduced the Right to Roam, we’re giving more rights to communities in land reform and we embraced proportional representation for both our parliament and local councils.

Yes, the emphasis is different here.

Voters and politicians in many political parties in Scotland share my desire to reduce inequality.

Independence would give us the chance to work together to do that.

The most exciting change politically is that the Labour Party would be re-invigorated and could once again become the force for change it once was.

No longer shackled to following the opinion polls of Middle England, it would be freed to work with all of us in this country who want to see the benefits of a more equal society.

 But it’s more than a more equal society that we could work together for.

We’ve heard of Devo Max, Devo Plus, Devo Nano. Whatever powers are promised, they will not enable us to do other things that I, and I believe, the majority of Scots want to see.

It would not remove the obscenity of nuclear weapons from our shores.

 While we can regulate for home insulation but we cannot regulate our energy companies.

We would have greater control over the levers of our economy.

But we are told that if we use Sterling, we might not have any control over monetary policy.

Ten years ago, the debate in Scotland was that interest rates were too high and were hurting the Scottish economy. The Bank of England told us they had to be high to dampen the housing boom in the south east of England.

And we are told that Scotland is too small to bail out failing banks.

Is Scotland too small, or the banks too big?

If we fix the bank problem, then the country problem goes away.

We can regulate rail fares, but cannot bring the railways back into public ownership where they belong.

Our cherished postal service has just been sold off cheaply to the delight of City of London investors.

I, and I believe most of Scotland, want it back.

We have no written constitution and an unelected House of Lords

I would like a head of state not chosen by God, but elected by the people.

Of the four elections we vote in, only one is not by a fairer proportional system - yes, the one to Westminster.

Then we’re told that an independent Scotland’s status would be diminished on the world stage.

Conservative minister Kenneth Clark recently told the Scottish Tory conference that an independent Scotland would have the same influence as Malta.

Malta, with a population less than Edinburgh, has five Members of the European Parliament.

As part of the UK, Scotland currently has six.

Finland, Denmark and Slovakia, on the other hand, with populations roughly the same as Scotland, each have thirteen.

Six months ago I was lukewarm about Scottish independence because I didn’t see it as a priority. Now I am passionate about Scottish independence because all my priorities depend on it.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Leisure Centre can kicked down the road again

It was no surprise that Midlothian councillors decided yesterday not to accept officers' recommendations that Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre be demolished. Given the overwhelming publicity in the media and opposition by MSPs Alison Johnstone and Colin Beattie, to do so would be electoral suicide for councillors voting for it, not to mention the prospect of images of people chained to the building as the bulldozers arrive featuring on national television (a very real possibility, according to my sources).

The council instead agreed the following motion:

"Midlothian Council welcomes the report by [the] assessment panel on bids for [the] former Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre; accepts the recommendations of the assessment panel not to accept either the bid from Bonnyrigg Centre Trust or Midlothian Fitness Academy; considers that in order to support recommendation iv, demolition of the former Leisure Centre be postponed to allow consideration to be given to use all or part of the building; requests a report to the June meeting of Midlothian Council to present outcome of these considerations; and instructs the Chief Executive to write to each of the two bidders to inform and explain the reasons for the decision of the council".

Recommendation iv relates to the panel having identified a need for Soft Play facilities in the town as this was available at the Leisure Centre but is not available at the new Lasswade Centre.

This motion was agreed on a vote by 14-2 (Peter de Vink and Peter Boyes were not present). I proposed an alternative, supported by Cllr Lisa Beattie, which I will come to later.

As I explained at the meeting, I could not support the above motion for two reasons. Firstly, it stipulates that the building will be retained in order to support recommendation iv. This means that all other potential uses, of which the community has identified many, will not be considered valid reasons for keeping the building. It therefore means that when the council comes to assessing bids in June, those which involve providing Soft Play and only Soft Play, will be given equal weight in terms of the Community Benefit they provide to those which incorporate Soft Play within the many uses the building could be put to.

For example, cycle and skateboard repair space (to complement the adjacent skate park being built), youth club, dance classes, community rooms, a function hall, social enterprise desk space, climbing wall, art studios, cafe, after school and sports clubs; none of these will be assessed as being of community benefit as the council has stated that the stay of execution is only to support recommendation iv.

The second reason I couldn't support it is because in three months' time there is no guarantee we will be in a different place from where we are now. By the end of June the building will have been mothballed for a year, at a significant cost to the council. I believe this is largely because the council has refused to sit down with the bidders to try to come up with a Business Plan which the council would have confidence in. I have asked for this to happen, but was told that as there was more than one bidder, they were concerned that one may be seen as being favoured over the other and the safest approach was to co-operate with neither. Yes, questions were answered and information provided to both, but what I would describe as community engagement simply did not happen.

This could have been overcome by simply accrediting the Bonnyrigg Centre Trust (BCT) (whose Business Plan is generally accepted, certainly by me, as the one offering much greater community benefit) with 'Preferred Bidder' status. This would allow council officials to work through the council's concerns with BCT to come up with a plan which councillors could have confidence in.

Secondly, and crucially, it would allow BCT to obtain funding offers, conditional upon its gaining ultimate ownership of the building, thereby overcoming another of the council's concerns, namely that no funding was in place. BCT had been advised by funders that their applications would not be considered without either ownership of the building or Preferred Bidder status.

Frustrated at the lack, yet again, of an end point to this whole process, I therefore lodged my own proposal. This involved accepting the BCT offer to buy the building, with a handover on 22nd September 2014 provided two conditions are met.

The first condition is that a Business Plan is presented to the council which has been appraised by an independent body to have a good chance of success when measured against Third Sector criteria. The second is that funding of at least £60,000 has been secured. If both conditions are not met, then the building will be demolished on or after 23rd September 2014. This would address the concerns the council has about the proposal whilst providing a clear end point to the process.

So in three months' time, councillors will be asked to decide once again on the fate of this magnificent building. After yesterday's debate, my guess is that instead of the community getting a thriving community hub with much needed facilities for a growing town - now the biggest in Midlothian - it will offer a few crumbs in the shape of retaining the back hall for Soft Play and reduce the huge bulk of the structure to rubble.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Opencast exposes council's sham commitment to action on climate change

Below is a transcript of my speech to today's Planning Committee on the Cauldhall Opencast mine application. My proposal to reject the application was defeated by 9 votes to 5.

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There are a number of issues concerning this application which give me cause for concern.

Perhaps the most worrying is the cavalier acceptance by officers that we can ignore the Local Development Plan currently in force and override the democratic process by which the next local plan is to be adopted. Let us be clear; this application is contrary to the local plan currently in force, and as we can’t be sure what may come along in the future, rejection should have been recommended on that basis alone.

The Midlothian Economic Development Framework identifies seven key economic sectors to support a target of 10,000 new jobs by 2020. Mining is not one of them.

We cannot allow our policies in relation to local planning and economic development to be drawn up on the hoof.

The arguments put forward for the application itself are questionable.

Paragraph 8.63 claims that 230 jobs will be created in Midlothian. This does not square with experience in other open cast mines in Scotland, and the Airfield proposal, rejected unanimously by this committee in 2010, expected to provide only 50 jobs on a site producing half as much coal as Cauldhall, at a time when the economics for coal were much healthier. Moreover, since Scottish Coal went into administration, there are now several hundred skilled and experienced people, principally in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, with the incentive to commute to jobs at Cauldhall. I also question how much indirect employment will be created when Scottish Coal leased nearly all its equipment from a wholly owned subsidiary company.

The applicant is unclear where the market is for Cauldhall coal. Much of it has a high sulphur content – the highest in Scotland. Even when blended with low sulphur coal from the site, large amounts of imported low sulphur coal may still be required, and transportation to power stations in England has not been ruled out, with no impact assessment made of these routes, contrary to Policy MIN1 of the Local Plan.

I am concerned about the environmental impact. 20% of the site is in a designated Area of Great Landscape Value, highly visible from the Pentlands, Moorfoots and other viewpoints across the county. One and a half hectares of ancient woodland will be destroyed.

Paragraph 8.69 acknowledges that the proposed restoration will “alter the landscape to a potentially detrimental effect”. Scottish Natural Heritage states that there could be long term and significant negative impacts upon local landscape character.

Traffic levels along the proposed route will rise markedly, and levels at the Mayshade roundabout on the A7 are already causing concern without an additional lorry every three minutes.

On site restoration, paragraph 8.37 is worrying – that “the planning authority would wish to assure itself that the restoration is the best that is achievable ” is hardly a bold statement. What is meant by ‘achieveable’? And what confidence can we have in a company with a track record of complying with only its minimal obligations with respect to restoration on sites it has acquired from Scottish Coal and ATH? Assurances were made by Scottish Coal and councils thought restoration bonds were secure, but as we know, all legal contracts have loopholes and I have no doubt that once planning permission is granted, those loopholes will be exploited.

And finally, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room – climate change. Last week, the most powerful hurricane ever to make landfall hit the Philippines. Only yesterday, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change, said “most of the existing coal reserves should be left in the ground”.

Scotland has one of the most demanding CO2 reduction targets in the world. In 2007 this council signed up to the Climate Change Declaration. Are we going to walk away from our responsibilities and legal duties under the Climate Change Act? Coal extraction alone would release significant amounts of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere and Cauldhall would become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Midlothian.

In summary therefore, I believe the risks involved in approving this application are too great; to our communities, to our landscape, to our economy (not least tourism), and to both the finances and reputation of Midlothian Council.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Say Yes to a more equal society

In two days' time, the Scottish Greens launch the 'Green Yes' campaign in Edinburgh and I will be there. Until recently, when asked my opinion on Scottish Independence I would reply that I am in favour but it's low on my list of priorities, with climate change way ahead at the top.

Although independence has always seemed to me a natural destination for Scotland, I couldn't see that it would be much different from what we already have - especially given Alex Salmond's 'reassurances' of retaining the monarchy, Sterling and membership of NATO. I was rather hoping for an elected head of state, a guarantee of ridding ourselves of nuclear weapons and using a currency over which we had at least some influence. Add to that the SNP's vision of an oil based economy with a race to the bottom on Corporation Tax, I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.

However, although climate change is still way ahead in importance, something happened to move the need for independence rapidly up the charts - probably to the number two slot.

At the Scottish Green Party conference in Inverness last month, I listened to presentations from Professor Mike Danson and Robin McAlpine both of the Jimmy Reid Foundation on the Common Weal project. Between them they convinced me that if we really want a better society we need a less unequal one. Moreover, the statistics show that the Nordic countries (principally Scandinavia and Iceland), by reducing inequality and focussing on social cohesion, have come closer to achieving high marks in everything from welfare and education to economic well-being, productivity and competitiveness.

So what has this got to do with Scottish independence? Let's look at where we are and where we are heading as part of the Union - austerity cuts, tax reductions for the better off, and a general move towards centralisation; do these make for a more equal society? Laying the blame on others (whether it's the poor, unemployed, immigrants, Europe, take your pick); does this make for a more equal society?

We're continually told by the UK Government that we need to be more competitive and this means lower top rate tax bands. However, in the Nordic countries, personal taxes are relatively high (though business taxes relatively low), yet these countries score well in terms of productivity and competitiveness globally.

So which direction are we more likely to follow as part of the Union and which direction if we go independent? If we vote No next year, it is clear to me that inequality will increase - on past record even a Labour government will not address the fundamentals, but if we vote Yes, then at least we can decide for ourselves. In Scotland the culture already favours inclusivity (witness the introduction of proportional representation for local councils and the rejection of UKIP's message).

The referendum really does offer us the chance to create a better Scotland. On Friday the Greens will launch the Green Yes campaign with its vision of what that Scotland should become - one which I have no doubt will have equality at its heart.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Incompetence comes to the rescue

Campaigners to save Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre were delighted when Midlothian councillors decided yesterday to defer a decision on demolition for five months. This is to give the local community the opportunity to come forward with alternative proposals through the Bonnyrigg and Poltonhall Neighbourhood plan consultations, both due to start this month. I too was delighted, as this is something which I seem alone amongst councillors in thinking an obvious thing to do - especially given all the lip service paid to community involvement and asset transfer.

So why the change of heart? Well, actually there hasn't been one - and that was clear from yesterday's debate. What has changed is that Midlothian Council discovered just a couple of weeks ago that the building cannot be demolished without the permission of Fields in Trust (FIT - formerly the Playing Fields Association). Herein lies the problem for the council - earlier this year, FIT's UK Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, visited the building and wrote to the council requesting that the building be retained for 12 months to "allow local residents time to make a combined community decision and to conduct a feasibility study on future possible uses". The reaction of one Labour councillor yesterday was to ask officials what the repercussions would be of pulling down the building anyway!

Of course, 5 months is not 12 months, but if properly co-ordinated, sufficient feedback from the Neighbourhood Plan consultations should provide enough indication of support to put together a robust Business Plan by December for the council to make an informed decision. Reducing the time scale also reduces costs as well as risks associated with maintaining a building which is not currently in use. The estimated cost to the council of the five month delay is £41,000 - about half the money which the council would save in demolition costs if a long term future is found to be viable; a point lost, it seems on those who would rather the bulldozers had already done their job.

To be fair, not all the other 17 councillors are in agreement - of those who spoke yesterday, Cllr Lisa Beattie (SNP) said that the community's proposals bear closer examination, and other SNP councillors, as well as Independent Peter de Vink, have privately expressed surprise that the administration is so opposed to listening to the community before taking action. The Labour Group, on the other hand, shows no signs of listening to anyone on the matter.

These were the arguments presented yesterday, and I'l, er, demolish them one by one...

1. The council cannot afford £41,000 and the figure may escalate.

This was stated time and again by Labour councillors - the same group who earlier this year presented a budget with a £1.5 million black hole, and subsequently presented proposals for food waste management involving hundreds of thousands of pounds annual costs - all uncosted. Both times I asked them where the money was to come from and each time they said it was for council officials to find it. Similarly, in June, the SNP administration forced through a decision to build the Newbattle school hub as well as retaining local facilities, resulting in an estimated £600,000 unbudgeted annual deficit. So why the sudden concern over £41k? What about the saved demolition costs? What about the savings in social work and child and family support costs accruing over many years when the new community facilities start to have an effect?

2. Consultation was carried out years ago and no-one was interested. 

The Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre Initiative group carried out an online survey which found that only a tiny proportion of those asked found out about the demolition proposals over a year ago, and the vast majority only in the last 3 months, no doubt due to the recent publicity.

So, only two 'arguments' presented, neither of which stands up to scrutiny. In fact most of the debate was taken up with councillors asking why FIT had not been consulted years ago - concern it seems that boxes had not been ticked rather than "why do we want to do this?".

Interestingly, the Bonnyrigg & Sherwood Development Trust, which had previously been in favour of only retaining the back hall, now has plans which involve retaining the whole building. So we now have two community groups opposing demolition, and a consultation which will no doubt bring forward much more interest in using the building. The task now is to bring all those with a common interest together through the consultation process and present a single Business Plan to the council in December. If by then we fail to build a compelling case for keeping the building, then at least we will have tried, and then the building can come down. However, I'm confident that will not be the case, and we will look back on yesterday's decision as a turning point in what has been a long and hard fought battle by our community to have its voice heard. A voice which, finally we hope, will be heard by the politicians.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The roundabout economics of Sheriffhall

The announcement this week that Transport Scotland has awarded a £200,000 contract for a feasibility study into Sheriffhall roundabout is welcome news. As the only roundabout on the Edinburgh by-pass and a major intersection with traffic between Edinburgh and Midlothian, it is a notorious bottleneck.

It is also a major headache for anyone foolish enough to try and cross it on a bicycle. Last year I heard that Midlothian Council had already received £802,000 over ten years ago from the Scottish Government to help resolve this. So why hasn't it been fixed?

So in November 2012 I started asking questions, the first of which I directed at the leader of the council. Whilst it is still unclear if the funding was just borrowing consent, original reports implied grant funding. Nevertheless, money was finally there to do something.

After a bit of digging, I managed to unearth some council documents which show that the council's commitment to cycling in Midlothian was, to say the least, half- hearted. To cut a long story short, the tenders came in over budget and Midlothian decided to spend the money on the Todhills Park and Ride instead.

Perhaps the most useful piece of information I found is the very last paragraph of the Cabinet report of 26 October 2004, where the council "c) provides the Scottish Executive with assurances that pedestrians and cyclists will be catered for in any future developments around the Sheriffhall junction".

So how will those assurances be honoured? Whilst the roundabout is the responsibility of Transport Scotland, I expect at the very least that Midlothian Council will be applying pressure, and perhaps some funding, towards its original stated aim "to provide a foot/cycle bridge across Sheriffhall Roundabout to allow safe passage for vulnerable users at this junction". Will that happen?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Will Midlothian's commitment to the community end up in ruins?

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?". It is a quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes, and one which some councillors and officials on Midlothian Council would do well to reflect on from time to time.

A couple of months ago I changed my mind on the issue of whether the Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre should be demolished, and I did so because the facts, and to a large part the presentation of them, had changed and, indeed, continue to change.

A few years ago, a public consultation exercise was carried out as part of the plans for the new Lasswade High School hub, and this included what to do with the building which would be surplus to requirements. The main use of the building comprises the Gym and swimming pool and these facilities would move to the hub. Community organisations were not interested in taking on the building as we were told it would cost £250,000 to bring it up to useable standard and a similar amount annually in running costs.

As the building is in a King George V Park, it can not be sold commercially and if retained must be for community use. It has been suggested that the council was not aware of this until after consultation had closed and that Fields in Trust, who regulate such parks, was not informed.

Midlothian Council decided at its meeting of 23 February 2010 (see 9th item and within which, Para 15(d)) to 'dispose' of the building. Although demolition is one form of disposal, this has never been explicitly agreed by the council and no record can be found of any reference to it in any council documents, including those associated with the consultation exercise. Yet references are being made to 'a decision to demolish'.

Nevertheless, with no one willing to take on the building, and the alternative being a derelict and potentially vandalised building on the council's hands, I could see demolition to be the only practical solution at the time.

Within the last year, the Bonnyrigg & Sherwood Development Trust came forward with a plan to use the back hall of the building and negotiations have been taking place for this to be retained and the remainder of the building demolished.

Further, demolition, we were told, had been incorporated into the council's contract for the new High School and a decision not to go ahead could involve additional costs should demolition subsequently be required.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when local resident Darius Namdaran, previously unaware of the plans, and concerned that a sound building with about 20 years' life was to be pulled down, decided to investigate. This revealed that the £250,000 'repair' costs were in fact a little over £90,000 (most of which is cosmetic, the remainder being up to £30k). The running costs include £75,000 for heating a swimming pool (no longer needed) and about the same in rates (which are not applied if the building is run by a Community Trust).

However, I still had my doubts. £30,000 for priority repairs is achievable, but £100,000 a year running costs with no Business Plan? The solution to this is what ultimately changed my mind. Social Enterprises such as this normally break even in 3 - 5 years, and with a cash strapped council, some lateral thinking was required. The centre currently runs profitable soft play in the front of the building with parties in other parts of the building. So why not keep the front of the building up and running with income from soft play and vending machines, supplemented by continuing with the parties? Running costs would be low, the building might be viable from Day 1 and the community can decide over the next 12 months how to develop the rest of the building.

I also discovered that there is no contract for demolition in place; funds (up to £100,000) have been set aside for the job and if the building is retained long term, the council saves the money.

Probably the most disappointing part of this whole saga was the response I received from a council official when I asked if the council could go through the figures with the campaign group (the council, after all, will know if simply continuing those existing services would be feasible). The response? "It's not our job to put together a Business Plan for this group; they need to do it themselves". Community Empowerment and Development?

So much for the figures. What about the intangible benefits? This it seems is where Midlothian Council thinking fails to join up. Soft play will not be provided at the new Lasswade Centre. Longer term plans for the Leisure Centre could include a youth drop-in centre (and there is huge demand in the town for this). Following closure of the Public Hall, Bonnyrigg Seniors' Forum no longer have a place to meet. Many people have come forward with ideas, from community groups, schools' parent councils, school children, parents, and that's before any formal consultation.

Working with the Bonnyrigg and Sherwood Development Trust, I believe this could be a thriving community hub, in a building which will last 20 years and which would cost millions to build from scratch.

Ironically, within a month of the proposed demolition, Midlothian Council will begin consultation on the Bonnyrigg Neighbourhood Plan. This involves asking as many individuals and community groups as possible what facilities they would like in the town. Wouldn't it be ironic if the one facility the community says would provide most value has been reduced to rubble before they were even asked? A consultation on this basis would be a sham and would be seen to be a sham.

At this week's Petitions Committee, Mr Namdaran presented a compelling case. I proposed that before the council makes its decision on 25 June, council officers work closely with the Keep Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre group and the Bonnyrigg & Sherwood Development Trust to look for a low risk solution to keeping the building alive for 12 months - to give the whole community breathing space to decide how it can best be used.

My proposal was defeated on the casting vote of the chair. The reason? Because consultation closed years ago and you missed your opportunity. When consultation closed, no-one was interested in the building; today over 600 people have 'liked' the group's Facebook page, 248 people have signed a petition, as a ward councillor I've received about two dozen emails, Bonnyrigg & Lasswade Community Council has given its unanimous backing, and the chair of Fields in Trust has written to the council.

The facts have clearly changed, so isn't it about time some minds did too?