Gina Davidson: Not a patch on real allotments

THERE are a few things which are close to the heart of our council leader Andrew Burns: his family, the Labour movement, electoral reform, co-operatives and, er . . . allotments.

Now while that list might not make him sound a rock ‘n’ roll sort of a guy – more a white Reebok trainers and blue jeans sort of a guy – it is mostly what you’d expect from a man who spends his time every four years knocking on strangers’ doors and asking them to vote for him.

After all if he turned up in an Axl Rose T-shirt and ripped denim cut-offs bearing a manifesto in which his biggest pledge was that he’d continue to uphold his appetite for destruction, he’d probably beat the Lib Dems, but power might remain somewhat elusive. Instead, Mr Burns gets down and dirty at his allotment among the root veg and pea shoots. It probably keeps him grounded given his new high-flying lifestyle as leader of this great city.

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It could also be what’s prompted the idea that the council should buy up land and offer all those on the allotment waiting list a little patch of green of their own. You can just imagine him leaning on his spade looking contentedly at his rows of sprouts thinking “everyone should have a bit of this”.

So the plan is that the council spends £400k buying land on the edge of the city to give the 2600 people currently on the allotment waiting list a place to grow their own. Apparently, given the rents charged for these oases, the initial cost would be paid back within two years.

Now it’s amazing that there are more than two-and-a-half thousand people who want allotments in the first place. These people genuinely want to have a little patch of land where they can wile away their spare hours watching the too many potatoes they’ve planted run to seed as they’ve no chance of eating them all, and their neighbours look suspicious at the thought of eating something which is covered in dirt and doesn’t come in a plastic bag.

That’s when they’re not crying in frustration as their rocket salad leaves are munched overnight by slugs.

But I wonder if all these people are garden-less? I always thought the point of an allotment was for people who had no garden in the first place? And I also thought the siting of them was in town so that they were within walking, or bike-riding distance of the allotment renter’s home. Fields on the edge of the city doesn’t sound like too environmentally-friendly an idea.

Indeed Axl Rose with his love of places where the grass is greener would be horrified at the idea that all these new allotment lovers were driving to their paradise patches.

I’m all for the council finding new ways to raise revenue – and there will have to be much more blue-sky thinking when the next budget is set – but buying land, particularly agricultural land for allotments on the outskirts of town, seems rather misguided.

There are many gap sites within the city itself which could probably be given over to allotments first before that should ever happen.

But then if Mr Burns happens to drop round with a brown paper bag, stuffed with courgettes, I could be in a position to change my mind.

Back to the blackboard

SO the Portobello high school saga enters another phase. The decision at the Court of Session that the council does not have an inalienable right to build on common good land, even if it’s for such a good cause, is a real blow to those parents who just want to see their kids – and those in the future – taught in a school which is fit for the purpose.

However given that this news comes the same week that the council announces the closure of Castlebrae in Craigmillar, then perhaps it’s time for a whole rethink of education services in the east of the city. Of course that’s not what campaigners for a Porty High will want to hear. They want action now, not more meetings, or even legal action.

A solution for both areas needs to be found – and found fast, or a generation of kids is going to be on the school scrapheap.

The golden age

CONGRATULATIONS sometimes seems a bit of an ineffectual word. It really doesn’t do justice to the power of emotion most people would feel if they ever spotted Andy Murray in the street.

Well done, jolly good show . . . they just don’t cover it. Murray’s win over that other tennis-playing “Scot”, Djokovic, in the US Open Final is almost beyond words.

It’s the same with the Olympians who will grace our streets this Sunday when Sir Chris Hoy is given Freedom of the City. What do you say to a man who has won six gold Olympic medals?

If all else fails, there’s always “Hoy, gies a backy!”