Submitted by Editor on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 08:45


On Wednesday, Spurtle reported the launch earlier in the week of a Council-backed questionnaire on the future use and maintenance of Edinburgh’s green spaces.

Our correspondent constructively criticised the survey’s lack of depth, its conflation of spaces, muddled phrasing, and technical shortcomings that make it diifficult and unreliable to use.

Readers soon confirmed these misgivings, with social-media criticism focusing on the apparent price-tag for the exercise – £899,500 in Heritage Lottery Funding.

Spurtle sought official clarification.

Pandemic hit programme

A Council spokesperson has since told us that Wednesday’s questionnaire is not the entire Thriving Green Spaces project but only a small (and hurriedly added) part of it.

Pre-pandemic, the TGS project had been designed as an exemplary two-year programme of public engagement, employing seven people to deliver innovative and improved new ways of ascertaining public opinion.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the postponement of those arrangements, and no revised timetable has yet been established.

In the midst of that organisational crisis, Council officials learned coincidentally that Masters students on the Landscape and Wellbeing programme at Edinburgh University were involved in broadly similar lines of enquiry as part of their course.

A decision was taken to take onboard the student survey as a very limited way of moving forward and gathering some ‘baseline data’.

Whether that decision was simply out of a desire to be seen doing something, or out of a requirement to fulfil some Heritage Lottery timescale requirement, we don’t know.

In any case, the course of action that followed has been undermined by the disappointing quality of the product. There does not even appear to be a clear deadline for responding to it.

Doubts remain, new doubts emerge

A project briefing – not issued publicly to coincide with the launch – has subsequently come to light, which you can read here. From this, it is not clear to the Spurtle how and when the ‘public communications and community engagement programme’ will feed into and shape the ‘Co-Design Phase’. More clarity on this would greatly enhance confidence in the consultation process.

Interestingly, the wording of the questionnaire appears to have changed since its launch on Monday. The New Town & Broughton Community Council notes that an amended version now asks for views on ‘”two of the most famous green spaces” (WEST Princes Street Gardens & the Meadows)’. The controversial lumping-together of East and West Princes Street Gardens has been quietly dropped. 

Does this, asks the NTBCC, invalidate responses made to the previous wording? Spurtle will seek answers, and awaits a publishable statement on the whole subject.

UPDATE, Friday 12:35

We now have a publishable statement. City of Edinburgh Council Parks Leader and Project Champion, Amy McNeese Mechan, tells Spurtle: ‘We were the only Scottish council to be successful in receiving grant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, making this exciting project possible. The money is being carefully used to deliver the project, which includes employing a team of seven people, who will be engaging with communities across the city. Part of the grant is being directed towards new ways of engaging with and reaching out these communities.

‘We had planned innovative engagement and local conversations with community groups but unfortunately due the coronavirus pandemic that has now all been put on hold. 

‘The University of Edinburgh masters students were already carrying out work on these surveys and so we teamed up with them as the information they are collecting will be extremely useful in providing baseline data for us on how people currently feel about their open and green spaces in Edinburgh and their aspirations for them in the future. 

‘We plan many more surveys and more formal consultations in the future and so feedback is very welcome so we can continually improve the engagement tools we use. We also hope that by next year we can carry on with some find sort of face-to-face engagement following any guidance that is in place.'

Tweets and comments which may appear below between centred asterisks will have been received after we published Cllr McNeese Mechan's initial statement. We have been promised an additional statement regarding technical issues and the unacknowledged amendment of the online questionnaire. We'll publish that as and when we have it. 

Go HERE for additional statement.