From the Chairman of the Community Council
As we are approaching the end of the term for which your current community councillors have been in office, I felt that it was not inappropriate to write to each and everyone. There are a few key topics that I would like to share with you, but the fundamental one is that of encouraging all members of the community to participate in its community council.
1. Community Council Elections
In October, a new Community Council will be formed, and will serve for the next four years.
Nominations for Candidates for Election to the Community Council have to be submitted by the middle of August.
KIrknewton has never an election of councillors, which resulted from a vote of members of the community. This is the consequence of nominations, properly proposed and seconded, that have never numbered more than the available seats on the council. The result has been that all those nominated were appointed. This is NOT a satisfactory situation. The current community council is determined that there should be a proper election, caused by more nominations than available seats, causing a popular election to happen. To that end each existing councillor has been asked to find at least one other person, who is prepared to be nominated. This has been nearly achieved.
This is the moment to get nominated either because you feel that you would like to contribute to the community in this way, or you have been frustrated by the way that you feel that the community council has not dealt with matters over the years. It is NOT an overly onerous task. There are 11 meetings a year, once a month apart from July. The meetings typically seem to last for a couple of hours. They are rarely boring. Please do consider becoming nominated. Contact me and I will get nomination forms for you. There is quite a lot going on and the broader the range of involvement the more likely it is to be representative of opinion and the more likely it is that community council can be effective.
2. The Level-Crossing
Since at least 2003 from my records, the community council has been trying to achieve the best possible arrangement for the future of the level crossing, access across for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, emergency services and ordinary vehicle users.
It has been known since at least 2003, perhaps before, that existing crossing technology was going to have to be replaced. This came from a combination of the actual accidents that have occurred on it, two fatal and one near fatal, the filmed photographic records of misuse by all classes of user, trespassing across the line, and the fact that the determined life of the level-crossing type (the automatic half barrier) was at the end of its design life. Network Rail and the Rail Inspectorate had decided to phase this type out on risk and safety grounds.
It is important to appreciate that primary concern of rail authorities is to look after the safety of trains and their passengers. The possibility of a vehicle, car/lorry/bus/motorbike being hit on the crossing itself (perhaps while trying to shoot the lights and the barrier) and de-railing a full high-speed train had become too high.
Settling on a sensible alternative has not come easily and the process of trying to find such has caused considerable distress to many people. The costs of alternatives have been very high. It has always been in the Rail Authorities’ powers from Acts of Parliament simply to close the level crossing completely, cutting off all access from one side to the other, if no other option could be found.
Bridges, underpasses and new roads have all been looked at in exacting detail, and preferences invited from the community in most such cases.
Finally, the Office of the Rail Regulator issued an order on Network Rail in 2011 to get it done.
Network Rail had been doing some work on a German concept, in which was combined a Full Barrier, right across the road (not halfway across as now) and a clever optical device which checks to make sure that nothing is trapped between the two sets of full barriers, effectively on the track.
This was a substantial improvement on the existing full barrier arrangement, which required a busy signaller in a remote signal box, connected by a CCTV circuit, to check visually that nothing was trapped. An improvement in the sense that the periods of time when the barriers were likely to remain closed would be much shorter.
Network Rail announced at the end of 2011 that this was the system that they were going to implement. They produced some figures of likely delays at peak times. These were substantial and were tantamount to making the crossing ineffective at peak times without very long waiting times at the barriers to ensure getting across in time to catch a train, get to school or keep to a bus schedule.
The Community Council asked them to go away, look at the likely delays much more carefully, and report these. However, Network Rail had not done so by the time that they announced their programme of level-crossing replacement in the spring of 2013. Indeed they continued with the same worst-case scenarios figures.
The Community Council asked and obtained help from our MP, Graeme Morrice, to ask a Question of the Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Commons, and from Angela Constance and Neil Findlay, our MSPs, similarly of the Scottish Government. Local Councillors, Carl John and Dave King were both very active in pursuing matters through West Lothian Council, whose transport officials were also working very hard.
Network Rail on behalf of the UK Secretary of State for Transport were required as part of normal procedures to hold a consultation, from which he will issue the order permitting the alterations to the level crossing. The consultation was closed on Wednesday the 15 Council, in the belief that it represented the constituents of West Lothian most concerned with this matter, submitted a powerful representation to the Secretary of State in London, as did West Lothian Council, whose evidence was, of course, capable of more factually based.
The new level crossing cannot be brought into use without an Order from the Secretary of State. This will be known by the time you read this. It is most unlikely that an Order will not be forth-coming, especially when one views the alterations already put in place.
Network Rail’s Route Managing Director Scotland, David Simpson, informed me on Friday the 17 May that new modelling work of likely delays, as opposed to worst-case, using actual realistic train traffic activity through the level crossing at peak-hours, had produced significant improvements to barrier down delays. I have seen these and they suggest that there will be no difficulty in catching a train provided a potential rail passenger is at the level crossing at least 8 minutes before its expected departure. He also reported that the new arrangements would be monitored directly by Network staff for a considerable time (weeks), and that in the event that significant difficulties did emerge then they would look towards endeavouring to implement some back-up arrangements, which are being investigated as a result mostly of propositions from the Community Council
I hope that the improvements that they expect do turn out to be the case as this would be the best outcome. These do impose a modest burden on all the users of the level crossing in terms of being early compared to the way it worked in the past. However, one has to endeavour to balance that against substantial cost, ultimately to the tax-payer. Of course, the back-up arrangements would take some considerable time to put in place.
It is possible that you are not fully aware of the time, energy and engagement that your councillors have put into this matter on your behalf. They have done their best to achieve the best outcome.
You may judge that it was not as good as it should have been. This could be one very good reason to becoming actively engaged by putting your nomination forward for election to get better results on the next big issue that crops up.
3. Humbie Holdings
Many of you will be aware that a substantial tipping of material, estimated in terms of thousands of tons of material, was conducted without planning permission having been given. The community council have discovered despite enormous efforts how difficult it is to have an illegal activity of this sort reversed. The powers of the planning authority are potentially significant, but in practice are much circumscribed by Case Law on the one hand and capacity, energy and competence of officers of the local authority on the other. Individual community councillors have suffered direct antagonism, which has resulted in criminal prosecution and conviction. In the pursuit of a quiet life it would have been possible for the antagonism to be ignored, but the involved councillors, determined both for themselves and on your behalf that bullying had to be resisted, and so they did.
The outcome for the enforcement of planning requirements at the particular site in Humbie remains uncertain, but your community council quietly is determined to achieve again the best possible outcome.
4. Fauch Hill Wind-Farm
Most of you will not only have been aware of the proposed Fauch Hill wind-farm, which is located beyond Colzium, but may also have participated in the community consultation on the matter, which gave significant support for the project. As this was determined to be of a size, which classifies as a power- station, so the relevant planning authority is the Scottish Government. In these circumstances, more often than not, a Public Local Inquiry results and particularly if the local authority objects, as did West Lothian Council.
In the case of Fauch Hill, this has been combined with a similar Public Inquiry into a proposed wind-farm at Harburnhead, which lies to the west of the road running from West Calder up to the Lang Wang, just beyond Camilty. The Community Council has submitted evidence connected to the community consultation that was conducted, both in terms of the material that was distributed to you all with it and the results to each of the questions that were posed of you. Further evidence has been submitted, giving background to the Community Council, its predecessor, the Community Association, the Kaimes Tip Environmental Justice Campaign conducted by the community council, which led to the settlement of some £300,000, which in its turn established the Community Development Trust, its community consultations and the creation of the Development plan, its substantial community membership, its support for investment in renewable energy and its efforts to do so to provide a sustainable stream of income to the community to secure the goals of the Development plan. More evidence will be given directly during the Inquiry in relation to economic opportunities for the community, whether from tourism or recreation or otherwise.
There are within the community those who nevertheless do not support this project on a variety of grounds. Wind-farms are divisive. Many substantive issues are divisive. In the case of the windfarm, the community council did not feel that it could claim a mandate from the community, which was why the consultation was initiated and conducted. It felt this because there had not been an election, prompting a popular vote of all the people within the community, which would have given those elected the right to judge that they represented collectively the will of the community.
Herein lies another reason why, if you have a view about matters which are local and which you might find yourself affected by or concerned by or just care about it, then you really ought to participate, certainly by exercising your vote or by getting nominated and potentially elected or ensuring that there are enough people nominated to cause a popular election.
I would like to argue that to do less than this suggests a level of disinterest, which essentially disenfranchises you from any sense that your interests or views should really be taken into account, but I am sanguine enough to know that we all have many enthusiasms, obligations and attitudes, which can act against our participation in community matters.
I merely do hope that your community council will in the future years continue to endeavour to act
as best as it can on behalf of you all as it has endeavoured to do so over the last eight years or so of
my involvement with it.
Hugh Hunter Gordon
Chair, Kirknewton Community Council