The removal of the top soil ziggurat this week has opened a new view of the park from Duddingston Road. The area next to the road has just been levelled and will eventually be open grass. The sphere climbing frame is to the left.
The eastern boundary of the park is also now visible – the climbing rocks will be arriving here soon.
It was Friday afternoon, the workmen had finished for the weekend and people were wandering around Treverlen, still wondering what it will be like, but the misapprehensions are diminishing.
“The park is named after a teacher at St John’s” – no, it is an early name for Duddingston. “There will be a small lake in the corner, for model boats” – no, the big bowl is to catch the water from the worst storm in 200 years. “It will take months to finish” – yes, 2 months with the contractors off site by the end of June. “The skate park will be too big, too small, just right , enough for the space available” – the answer to this depends on your view of the facts – the size shows on the plans. And so on, lots of “somebody told me…”
But actually, most people are just staring in admiration, hoping that it will suit the community, noting details, planning guerrilla gardening and family picnics. Already people sit in the section behind the school enjoying the view (actually it is closed while they finish the installation of the school path street lights).
Many say they can’t remember what it was like before. “A 9 storey tower block? Never!” It is still a building site and dust is giving some trouble, Today the final mound of topsoil was dismantled and the soil spread around the site. Preparation for grass seeding cannot be far off. The recent rush of progress has been achieved under the innocuous drain cover shown here – the end of the Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS).
The SUDS pond will be protected by a beech hedge planted around a post and wire fence. On the other side of the north path is the climbing stones zone – with rubber crumb to soften the fall – even the Keeper might try this.
Remember the problem about the water being able to leave the SUDS pond? And how Scottish Water were not allowing it to go into the surface water system in Hamilton Drive? And the plan to take a pipe right across the Figgate Park to put the water in the burn? Well, those plans are off.
Instead, the clever engineers realised there was an existing drain on site, that used to serve the old St John’s School. Last week a big, big hole was dug, roughly where the school boiler room was, and three large concrete drums stacked up to take water right down – a big grille sits on top. A shallow swale is being dug along the Hamilton Terrace boundary and underneath that is a big brown pipe taking the water out of the SUDS pond and bringing it back, southwards.
Almost in a trice, the problem is gone, the water management is complete, without bothering Scottish Water at all. Now all effort is going into mining the mountain of top soil along Duddingston Road and spreading it across the site. Then the surface is to be prepared for sowing the meadow grass and it will look like a park.
The timetable has been extend by two weeks, which we calculate takes the completion date to round 24 June. Well, almost, as we understand the skating facility will come later in the year once the specialist contractor is available. The dust will settle, the grass will grow and the ecology return to nature having been buried under tarmac for 90 or so years.
We were warned in early January that Hamilton Drive and Hamilton Terrace would shortly be closed perhaps for 3 weeks to allow the SUDS pond to drain into the street surface water system. A pipe would be laid to take it round the corner into the Drive and then away. All as planned.
Slight puzzle – would the drain be at the bottom so the pond never filled up or, as drawn, higher up so water flowed out only in times of spate, leaving a permanent pond. It would be permanent as the soil is barely permeable being the clay that supplied Portobello Brickworks and potteries. If a permanent pond it might have to be fenced off and life belts provided.
But all would be known once Scottish Water issued its permit to dig and connect. However, like another badly-laid plan, nothing had happened by 29 March. So now the new Park is marred in mud, a vast excavation made whose final form is not yet settled. Will there be green banks of colourful marsh flowers or will it be a scene of acute danger with high fences, minatory notices and life belts on sticks? Only Scottish Water knows and they ain’t telling.
It’s been raining and some parts of the area are really wet. The Brighton Place setts were submerged yesterday. Here in Treverlen a fair quantity of water has been caught in the upper swale (ditch) – the aim being to hold it to soak down rather than flow away. If the water shown here was not held, it would be en route to the gardens of the adjacent houses.
When the upper swale fills, it may be 500mm deep and the excess then runs out through this exotic piece of ceramic, under the footway, to the lower park. That will be the once in 200 year event that this is planned for.
So every 200 years the overflow from the upper swale emerges from the path (the back entrance to the school) into the next swale – looks as though this is yet to be excavated – but there is an underground cable to negotiate. This one looks fairly boggy but the water has probably drifted through the topsoil now spread in this area.
The water is eventually caught in this pond – which here may be 500mm deep in places. It will be surrounded by thick hedges and is not intended to be an attractive boating pond. It hasn’t been dry so far this year – and this is the end of the line. This can fill quite deep and if rain this heavy did occur, we can expect Noah fairly soon. But all is not lost – it seems the plan is for this bath also to have an overflow, exactly how high up is not yet known, so in the case of a Grand Inundation the water would make its way into the street drain in Hamilton Drive, via a pipe yet to be dug. We think Scottish Water may not have agreed to this yet.
Is all this worth it? Yes, the houses round about have been troubled with underground water for decades and this is hoped to be the solution. Will it all come out in the wash?
A wild night started with the gales covering cars in blossom from the “purple-leaved plums” in Treverlen. The morning, still wild, found the wind had cleaned the cars and then thrown over the metal temporary fencing, catching a car underneath. The sun emerged and the blossom radiated.
A bumpy 10 days, petitions, panic, purported proposals has ended with a new park layout that everyone seems satisfied with. The phantom threat that there would not be a skater facility was shown not to be true and the suggestion that the wider recreation facilities would be removed has been abandoned. So, like the Grand Old Duke of York the troops were marched up the hill and then marched down again. The meeting at St John’s Primary School on 28 January was shown a plan which has been agreed by Planning, not much different to that set out in the planning application approved in March 2018. Pretty much as promised to all parties.
Mysteries still abound – who did the Council talk to about the design of the skater facility and where did the idea that this was not enough to “honour the commitment” come from? Was the overspend £250,000 or £125,000 and when and how was the budget made to balance? Why was there talk of new lighting and paths when that had been agreed in March?
None of it matters; the skaters said they were happy with the facility being offered, the main park users are happy; the builders can now finish the job. Council Officers, much maligned, came through with the goods. The last bumpy bit will be the concrete area surrounding the 13 metre skater patch. As we said in our last post “The last days of February may bring news” and they did.
Like all good sagas, just as you think you are on the home run and it is clear how the story resolves, a new element emerges which reopens presumptions. Last week the City Council published a plan for the Park which is “still to be approved by planning “, in some unpublished procedure. It differs from the one approved in the planning process so far.
The plan for which planning permission was given includes an area for wheels/skates to be designed in conjunction with skater users. In 11 months nothing has been heard about the outcome but it was assumed that there had been no discussions with skaters or the area was not to be for wheel use. When the plan emerged it turned out that substantial changes are to be made, without notice or discussion with anyone, which simplify the design by removing the bulk of the play and recreation areas in the original plan.
Areas of boulders, climbing boulders, picnic areas and seating which had attracted praise from most commentators, will not be provided and various mounds to provide interest have gone. The soil retained for the purpose is being moved off site. A mysterious sketch of a skater facility was released by a City Councillor – a design difficult to interpret as there is no indication of size or scale. Some of those who saw the design have said they were told to look and then delete the image. The facility is thought to be less than a metre high, as parents have been worried that young children risked injury and would not be able to play in a higher structure. How these parents were consulted is not clear. This and a climbing frame are the only facilities included in the build design. Skaters are said to be unhappy, not what they were expecting – “failure to honour a commitment” although no text of such commitment exists. Various meetings are planned but the Council seems to regard the consultation process as complete. To be fair, the planning process does have a formal set of steps and they are complete – but leaving no set of interests feeling their hopes and needs have been met in any way.
It is said that the changes save £250,000 which would bring the project back on budget. One cause of the considerable over-run seems to have been the substantial SUDS system to handle the water collected over the large area of largely impervious clay that underlies the site and has caused flooding over the years in the area. This is a vital system which everyone agrees should be installed.
Many people, skaters and local residents alike, are very concerned that such changes are being made, and implemented without notice – it should not be the way the planning process works – and some Councillors have, euphemistically, talked of a failure of communication. Meanwhile work continues, perhaps more slowly than it might, perhaps recognising that the final twist in the plot may not yet have been revealed. The last days of February may bring news.
For most of 2019 so far, work has been in preparation, assembling the ingredients to build the park, and setting them out ready for artistry and engineering. Many people have thought this simple: flat site, paths, trees, job done. But until the demolitions were complete it was not possible to assess fully the state of the ground across the site, covered for many decades in buildings or tarmac. Immediately, one thing was obvious – the strange smell of gas from the stagnant nature of the ground. Now the buildings have been ground into hard core, the topsoil retained in one corner, and surplus material removed. The aerating worms should be wandering in.
Currently, the main emphasis is on digging the huge drainage system. The site is completely covered in deep, red clay – hence the Figgate Pond and Portobello pottery and brickmaking. The plans approved in early 2018 provide for long ditches along the two lower level sides, to collect water that hasn’t drained into the ground. This week a huge trench has been dug, like some 18th century canal – which will store the water from a once in 200 year storm, holding it back from flooding the area and allowing it to drain down naturally.
The Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) is now a common sight on building sites across the city – surface water is no longer collected by the main drains. It is new but not novel.
Meanwhile, a rumour ran that the Council had resiled from an agreement to build a major installation for advanced skateboard users. The story was that the cost of the drainage works had exceeded the budget and the funds for the skate area were going to take the hit. This led to an on-line petition demanding a return to what had been promised. No public document about this promise has emerged but the Council did declare on 11 February:
“We are going to provide a wheeled area/skatepark in line with the planning permission for the park and the area it covers will not be reduced from original proposals.
“The area will not be a large scale destination skatepark only suitable for older children and others on skateboards. The largest part of the facility will be an area with some small scale humps and bumps suitable for all ages of children who are able to cycle, scoot, roller skate etc. We will also provide some elements in one corner of the facility (e.g. ramps and rails) which are more suitable for skateboarding.
This is absolutely in line with what was proposed and requested during the planning process. “
Clearly, the drainage should take priority as it would be difficult to install that later, whereas the shape of the park facilities will change over its life as tastes change. It looks good so far.
Our photograph today shows the last few chunks of the old building and the new north path to Hamilton Terrace being rolled out. To the right, beyond the path, is the new SUDS pond; the area to the left will be trees, with areas for various activities in small clearings.