The now demolished high flats in Bellsmyre, Dumbarton – a gigantic error by the council planners.

By Bill Heaney

Planners. Don’t you just hate planners? If any group have sins to answer for, then it’s that lot at the Burgh Hall and up the road in Clydebank.

Maybe, however, it’s not the professionals who are to blame for the mess we are currently in here in Dumbarton and Alexandria, but the councillors. Again.

Those elected members of the planning committee who down the years have inflicted on us the ugly sights we see around us day and daily.

There are not many things I would agree about with Prince Charles, but planning is one of them.

That is why it is essential that the community should be kept informed and consulted about what is being done in their name.

Did you ever see such a ridiculous campaign as West Dunbartonshire Council’s appeal to persuade people to shop local?

They must think we are all daft if they believe that we would spend our Saturdays – or any other day of the week for that matter – browsing around the shops in either Dumbarton or Alexandria town centres.

Councillors asking us to do this proves they know nothing of what they are talking about.

That it really is high time they got off their wallets and walked round the corner to meet the people and find out what they want.

It can’t be that bloody shambles in the Vale, Mitchell Way, where the roughcast is peeling off the walls and the litter is blowing up the street like tumbleweed.

Or the Artizan Centre in Dumbarton, a concrete hangover from the ‘Seventies which no doubt someone somewhere has entered for an architectural award?

They love awards ceremonies at the council. They’ll soon have one for passing wind.

Since the managers are well paid for what they do, and then some, do they really have to ingratiate themselves with their staff with cheap plaques and meaningless trophies when a bottle of locally distilled whisky or a bunch of flowers would suffice?

There’s even an award for being civil to the public. That’s what they get paid for, Lord help us. That’s what we pay them for with our much inflated council tax when the many £millions they squander go out the window.

When they don’t have procurement rules in place that would get us a better deal.

Don’t vote for the creepy councillors who say you can’t criticise the officials.

That it’s not the done thing for a member to do.

It is, and there is huge public support for it as we have seen on social media recently, following the Bollan case at the Commission for Standards in Public Life.

There should be an inquiry into why time and money, public money, was misused in order to give our longest serving councillor a rap on the knuckles.

A two meeting ban? No wonder the community is laughing up their sleeves at these overpaid mandarins.

West Dunbartonshire Council’s attempts at cover-up and keeping the public ill-informed are a disgrace, especially in light of the fact that it’s communications section has about £500,000 to squander on that each year.

Openness and transparency, there’s much talk about but not much happening to implement it in this place where democracy, the so-called Flower of Scotland, is dying on the stem.

Petty minded doesn’t cut it with this Council. As for the elected members, they take their lead from the SNP leader of the administration, who is a proven liar, and who hesitates not a bit to embark on one smear campaign after another.

If they don’t support him in his cheating and lying against those who are opposed to his political views (that’s permitted in this country even when the SNP are in power), then why do they let him away with it?

Brendan O’Hara MP and Martin Docherty Hughes MP – supporting Cllr Jonathan McColl’s anti-democratic ban on The Democrat.

And I am not just talking about his SNP colleagues on the council but in the SNP constituency party and the members’ benches at Holyrood and Westminster.

Why do the electorate here support a member of the Health Board who is supposed to back this community who thinks the demise of the Vale of Leven Hospital might not be a bad thing?

It’s not just here in West Dunbartonshire that politics has and politicians are riding on a handcart to Hell.

And taking the rest of us down with them.

This excellent article by Una Mullaly appeared in the Irish Times today in Dublin where, if anything the elected elite have lost the run of themselves.

Generation after generation kept horses in the Liberties, yet the council wants to close the stables

Dublin street horses: Right now, at Molyneux Yard in the Liberties, plans are in train to erase a bastion of this culture.

By Una Mullally

In 2016, a Norwegian musician, Kristen Vollset, was on a road trip in Ireland when she crashed her van into a wall in the Liberties in Dublin. A horse walked through the hole in the wall with a few boys alongside. One of them offered her a lift on his cart, “Suddenly we were flying down Cork Street with a horse and two-wheeler.”

In that moment Vollset decided this was going to become part of her life. She bought a horse, and moved it into a stable in Molyneaux Yard, and stayed there for 2½ years: “I’ve never been so inspired in my life.”

In 2017, when I happened to be out of the country for a while, myself and my partner gave our home to the Dublin Theatre Festival for visiting artists to stay in – a more economical solution for them than renting places in the capital in the midst of a rental crisis. The following year, in one of those world-shrinking coincidences, I ended up on artist development residency with the person who’d stayed in our home, the Canadian artist Maiko Yamamoto. The first thing she said about Stoneybatter was how special it was to see horses in the neighbourhood. One Sunday morning, she walked out of our local corner shop, Bruno’s, and was greeted by a horse on a stroll. This, she said, was magic.

Generation after generation kept horses in the area, yet there seems to be no regard for this culture at a council level

On October 12th, Marion Bergin’s short film, Saoirse, about horse culture in Dublin, particularly around what used to be O’Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7, will be broadcast on the website, The Nowness. It is an astonishingly beautiful portrait of people, animals and streets, all of which are inextricably linked.

The people in the film express not just what horses give them in terms of purpose, but also what they offered an alternative to. “Without these horses I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story,” one man says. Bergin returned to Dublin in 2018 after living in London for 15 years, and “wanted to make a short film to mark my repatriation”, she said.

Mundane or magical

Sometimes it takes an outside – or returning – perspective to bring into focus the wealth of our surroundings, to really see the depth of beauty in the everyday, and to appreciate that what may be mundane to us is magical to others.

Yet right now, at Molyneux Yard in Dublin’s Liberties, plans are in train to erase a bastion of Dublin’s horse culture. Four of the seven horse yards on “the Lane” at Molyneux Yard have been shut down by Dublin City Council. Planning has been granted for an eight-storey hotel at Vicar Street, despite opposition from the local community.

Remarkably, the council has also given planning permission for another hotel right next to the Vicar Street development. That development will see the demolition of the horse yards. In the Liberties specifically, horse culture is linked to the beginnings of the Guinness brewery. Generation after generation kept horses in the area, yet there seems to be no regard for this culture at a council level.

This part of the Liberties is also, by the council’s own admission, an architectural conservation area. In a document published by the council in 2009, it said, “these route-ways form one of the last tangible links to the study area’s post-medieval origins – providing a system of pedestrian routes permeating city blocks and giving access to backland areas, as well as delineating historic plot boundaries. Two of the more intimate alley examples can be seen at Molyneaux Yard and Swan Alley.”

So what are we at? Even on a superficial level, if the city is so intent on luring tourists, then what are those tourists actually going to be looking at when they get here, if in the short-term all we’re doing is building accommodation for visitors? Tourists come to Dublin and to Ireland for our culture and scenery, and that’s from landscape to streetscape.

Street texture

Our culture is in the sound of the city, in the horse hooves and street traders. It’s in the smell of the city, the hops and the Liffey. It’s in the texture of the streets, the cobblestones and Georgian brick. It is in that intrinsic sense we have when we go to ancient places, the shift in energy and of the senses, when you know you’re somewhere different, not homogeneous or interchangeable with any other capital. Ours is unique, but those idiosyncrasies and identifying factors are being sanded away in a process that pretends to be benign and “progressive” but is actually brutal and regressive.

Old traditions and ways of life merge with new communities and new generations to form the buzz and cycle of a city in motion

The cavalier nature with which the Liberties has been treated in recent years by planners and developers is depressing. Of all areas of the city, the Liberties is what makes Dublin unique. There is something grotesque about displacing such a longstanding community with hotel rooms and Insta-tenements.

Cities evolve. Old traditions and ways of life merge with new communities and new generations to form the buzz and cycle of a city in motion. The insistence on throwing up more hotels and luxury student accommodation in Dublin’s inner city is a destructive force that serves no one who calls the city home.

You can always build, but urban culture does not drop down from developers, it emerges from the streets. It is nobody’s to commodify, and it’s certainly nobody’s to erase. It’s precious, it’s complex, and it’s what we should be protecting.

  • There will be critics who state that Scotland should not be looking to Ireland for guidance., but it was to Ireland they looked for the test and trace app for Covid-19

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