A Bridge Too Far?

The Scottish Green Party was the only parliamentary party that argued for a proper assessment of the Forth Road Bridge and the repairs required before committing to a new bridge, which back then had a £2.3 billion price tag.

The cables on the bridge were deteriorating but they are being dried out to extend their lives, and the information from the chief engineer last week confirmed this approach is proving successful.

Bridge

Installing new cables would cost a maximum of £122 million, a tiny fraction of the cost being spent on the additional crossing.

 

But we are where we are. The additional bridge is being built. The government likes to call it a “replacement” crossing but its own figures show it will generate an additional 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases by encouraging traffic. Edinburgh is bracing itself for increased congestion.

 

Other parties united around a call for a new road bridge, and were happy to commit billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money just as pressure on the Scottish budget began to bite – although in recent months some Labour MSPs have questioned whether they were wise to follow the herd.

 

Given that the safety of the main cables “will not diminish significantly in the future as long as the dehumidification system continues to function”, to quote the chief engineer, we know the Government jumped the gun by blowing our money – money that could have gone on other, more urgent projects.

 

Scottish Greens advocated a responsible approach, and I know SNP ministers will insist they couldn’t take the chance of major repairs closing the existing bridge, but our point was that they should have held fire for a short period to allow a proper assessment to be made.

 

Last week I challenged the First Minister to stand by the government’s pledge that the existing bridge will be dedicated to buses and bikes. Although he gave us his word, he didn’t say what mechanism would be used to ensure future governments can’t break this pledge. I fear it won’t be long before some excuse is found to relax the rules, creating an eight-lane motorway over the Forth.

Alison

 

BRAVO BONNYRIGG FOR GETTING FAIR TRADE STATUS

I’ve lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament praising Bonnyrigg, Lasswade and Poltonhall on becoming the first area of Midlothian to achieve Fairtrade town status.

Fair Trade

It’s great to see local shops and cafes stocking fairly traded products, supporting a system that puts people before profit. I’m also impressed with the enthusiasm of local school pupils, who clearly understand the importance of ethical purchases.

I hope Bonnyrigg, Lasswade and Poltonhall’s success prompts other communities across the Lothians to pursue Fair Trade status. As well as supporting poverty alleviation and sustainable development, Fair Trade status brings people and businesses together and sends a powerful message about a community’s values.

Horsemeat scandal grows: time for a food system we can trust

I said back in early January that I thought the horsemeat scandal would prove to be the tip of the iceberg and everything that’s happened since does seem to be pointing in that direction.

I’m calling for a Ministerial statement on the horsemeat scandal by Richard Lochhead, the Minister responsible for food in Scotland, when the Scottish Parliament returns after recess. You can read my letter below:

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

I welcomed your statement on Saturday in relation to the escalating horsemeat scandal. It is vital that consumers in Scotland understand the extent of the fraud that seems to have been carried out by elements of our food industry.

You say in your statement that the FSA in Scotland is working with local authorities to inspect relevant businesses and manufacturers in Scotland. Can you also ask local authorities and Scottish health boards to urgently investigate whether horsemeat has been served in our schools, hospitals and in other public catering? I also have the strong impression that the Government’s approach is largely reactive. Can you make clear what standard and frequency of inspections are normally carried out in Scotland as a matter of procedure?

You said in June that you planned to published a consultation on a stronger Scottish Food Standards Agency before the end of 2012. This has not happened, and I urge you to publish this consultation at the earliest opportunity so that it might benefit from the heightened public and media engagement with food safety issues and the future of our food system.

Given the growing scale of this scandal, can I request that you make a Ministerial statement on the results of the above investigations on the first Tuesday back after recess? I think all parties in the Parliament would support further action by the Scottish Government to keep the public and industries involved informed.

Yours sincerely,

Alison Johnstone MSP

College funding concerns

The Scottish budget passed its final stage at Holyrood this week. Quite rightly, the issue of college funding has been centre stage ever since the draft budget was published way back in September. All MSPs have had their inboxes flooded with campaign emails from students, and for good reason.

The college sector was facing a cut in funding of almost £35m to their teaching budgets in the coming year. Yesterday the Finance Secretary found £10m to reduce that cut to £25m, and promised to find far more the following year to boost spending. This partial u-turn is welcome, but I strongly feel that the Scottish Government still doesn’t appreciate the role that colleges play in our society.

A few months ago, the Sunday Herald reported figures that should alarm anyone who cares about poverty and equality in Scotland. Over the last four years, we’ve lost 41,000 women from further education. The number of women going to college has fallen by a quarter, while the number of men at college has also fallen, but at half this rate.

The Scottish Government says that they are prioritising full-time courses as these are most likely to lead to job skills for young people. But this can’t be at the expense of the flexible, part-time and evening courses that are particularly suited to women, often juggling work and childcare demands. We won’t break the cycle of poverty or disadvantage with a focus on young people that limits parental opportunities to gain life-changing skills.

Cutting budgets and putting the emphasis on full-time course risks doing real damage to those who rely on our colleges to access training and skills, no matter what age you are.

ACTION ON MEADOWBANK ESSENTIAL

Edinburgh city council agreed its budget yesterday (7 Feb) including £60,000 for an investigation into the future of Meadowbank stadium which has deteriorated in condition in recent years.

People in east Edinburgh, indeed across Lothian left the Council in no doubt about the importance of Meadowbank when its sale was proposed several years ago. Every public meeting held was packed with vocal and articulate supporters, centre users and international sportspeople.
Meadowbank
It is essential the users of the stadium and the wider community are thoroughly involved in the process. The east of Scotland has been left behind in the race to create a Commonwealth Games legacy and it’s high time we caught up for the sake of our young people, their health and their ambitions.

While Glasgow invests in world class sporting infrastructure Edinburgh’s track and field and velodrome facilities have faced neglect and closure.  These sports will play a central role in next year’s Games and we must have attractive, accessible venues that enable young and old to act upon the enthusiasm the Games will undoubtedly generate.

Fluming not fuming, for a change

I am simply delighted that the Splashback campaign to re-open Leith Waterworld was successful yesterday! For the campaigners, I’m sure it was a nail-biting few days. Council officials recommended to Councillors that they should reject the community bid to run the family-friendly pool, but the ruling Labour/SNP administration decided to join with Green councillors to reject this advice and put their weight and funds behind the Splashback bid.

Green councillors have been the most vocal supporters of the community campaign. I was on the council until last May, and pushed hard for the closure itself to be postponed. At the time, I was accused of ‘cynical exploitation’ of pool users by some and of giving ‘false hope’. Yet here we are, one year on, and the future is looking brighter for this popular local facility.

This change in fortune is largely down to the massive efforts of Splashback in putting together a vibrant business proposal and their refusal to accept defeat. Along with other community campaigns, such as Pedal on Parliament and the successful effort to save Waverley Market last year, these examples are heartening, especially to a Green who is used to railing against short-sighted decisions that cost us in terms of health, well-being and community cohesion.

The road ahead is still challenging for Leith Waterworld, and it shouldn’t have been so difficult for Splashback to get access to the information they needed early in the process to make an informed bid, but I’m convinced that the city will rally round and give Waterworld a massive welcome back when the time comes.  I can’t wait!

With Splashback! campaigners outside the City Chambers

With Splashback! campaigners outside the City Chambers in February 2012