Dalkeith Park 16/01/2006

Feature by Sophie Kyle | 15 Feb 2006

Right in the heart of the town of Dalkeith sit 850 acres of parkland, a haven for diverse wildlife and a priceless resource of green expanse for local residents and beyond. But tragically, due to congestion, there is a three-mile bypass to be built on this parkland; total cost £40 million.

Back in June 2005, when the bypass was initially given the go-ahead in Parliament, the then Transport Minister Nicol Stephen claimed, "This new bypass for Dalkeith will help reduce congestion around the town and improve the community's environment and air quality." But Dalkeith Park is part of the Green Belt surrounding Edinburgh that the Scottish Parliament themselves have agreed we must protect from overdevelopment. Clearly the action of building this bypass totally undermines the 'Green Belt' policy, implying the hypocrisy and futility of many environmentally friendly policies discussed in Parliament. Indeed the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development Rhona Brankin is also the constituency MSP for Midlothian and she greatly supports the building of the new bypass, giving clear evidence of this gross conflict of interests.

For many, this bypass seems disastrous. The surveys and evidence upon which the project is based are hugely out of date, previously taken when the idea was initially up for discussion ten years ago. Ironically the Executive themselves admitted back in 1999 that, "there would be noise and local air quality benefits but there are generally negative ratings on the other environmental factors, including global air quality, water, ecology, visual impacts, heritage and landscape character."

Up-to-date surveys on the effects of building the bypass have simply not been done and it is strongly believed that the Executive should do a multi-modal appraisal as initially promised last time the project was shelved. This report could provide the evidence to show how unnecessary this new road is; perhaps the reason why the Executive are so reluctant to do a new appraisal. Since the initial reports ten years ago so much has changed. For one, today there is an increased awareness of the importance of preserving natural environments, making massive road developments generally less appealing. And there's already set to be a Borders rail link in an attempt to reducing the number of cars on the road, and this line, due in 2008, could be effective enough in reducing congestion. The bypass seems to be a rushed decision with potentially catastrophic effects. Green Party MSP Mark Ballard believes that the decision to build the bypass may in fact have been urgently agreed to in order to maintain 'official road building capacity', due to legal delays putting a halt on the construction of the M74.

But there might yet be a legal challenge to the building of the Dalkeith bypass though no local residents have access to the £25,000 or so required to do this, and time is running out. It seems that an unfair Scottish legal system is making it almost impossible for those with little funds to campaign against such a warped project.

So in come the environmental campaigners. Due to an immediate crisis, when tree-felling started unexpectedly last winter because of the early nesting season of birds and bats, a small group of environmental activists have been on site since November, though construction of the bypass is not planned till summer 2006. Now, a few months on, thirty or so protestors live full time on four different sites on the park, some of whom have come from as far as Spain and Israel. But primarily the group is a strong Scottish contingent, though this environmental campaign is in fact one of the first of its kind in Scotland.

But the question is, is it already too late to save the park? The campaigners have already received an eviction order and the routine safety briefing given directly before official action is taken. Now they wait and say, 'eviction is imminent as is the loss of our natural habitat. Defences are being erected to resist eviction while the few remaining legal options are being investigated'.

But other than this grassroots protest action, there is another established campaign, Save Dalkeith Park, working to try and prevent the construction of Dalkeith bypass. The website www.save-dalkeith-park.org.uk gives coherent and detailed information and the site also includes a protest letter that you can download and email to the relevant MSP, in an attempt to make someone accountable and get your voice heard.

Another good website for info is Indymedia at http://scotland.indymedia.org/, which includes good directions on how to get to the sites if you want to go down and support the tree sit. The campaigners also gave us their wish list, 'We urgently need support in many different forms. Come stand in the way of the bulldozers, get up a tree and help defend it, support us in the legal campaign, donate us money, chocolate, blankets, rope, tarpaulins, hot food, tinned food, nuts, love, mobile phones and credit, visits, tools, vehicle use, climbing equipment, water and your energy'.

To call the campaigners at the site phone 07783904369.

www.save-dalkeith-park.org.uk, http://scotland.indymedia.org/

http://www.save-dalkeith-park.org.uk, http://scotland.indymedia.org/