Google confused

I don’t literally mean ‘Go and Google “confused”.‘ It’s more a case of Scottish Labour succeeding in making Google confused.

My above screenshot is Google showing the problem. Blame the cartoon for prompting my search. I wasn’t expecting the result to be wonky; let alone in a clearly hilarious manner.

Yes, the current leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is Richard Leonard. Looking at this, you might say “not a lot of people know that!

Several comments on Wings over Scotland make the “Leonard who?” gag. The cartoon is showing Jeremy Corbyn as the ‘voice of Labour in Scotland‘. Which certainly says something.

I think it’s reasonable in concluding:

Public confusion over who represents  the “Branch Office” has also infected Google’s AI.

Above image from Wings over Scotland, relevant post here.

What’s making Google confused?

Richard Leonard took over from Kezia Dugdale November last year. Wikipedia knows that. Google sort-of knows that. Looking at the fuller page of results for my initial search, you see it’s correctly identified the snippet to pull from Wikipedia.

Look below the snippet. Note what’s highlighted from last year’s leadership election article.


The algorithm isn’t completely stupid. It’s not just going on the first name in the article. A Google Fight gives Dugdale 178k results, Leonard 108k. It’s probably Dugdale’s recent high profile is the issue. Her name is certainly in the news.

Google is just ignoring the “former” which comes before “Scottish Labour Leader”.

So Dugdale leads in the news

Most politicians have some grace, avoiding the limelight after resigning. Not so with Dugdale. She can’t exactly stop being the accused in a defamation case. (Libel, for those more-familiar with English Law). She still has a column in a Scottish paper too.

If you’re following Scottish politics, you’ve likely noticed a few other reasons. Leading us back to Corbyn’s cartoon appearance. Richard Leonard is more akin to his ‘spokesperson in Scotland’. Less than he’s linked with the term “leader”.

It’s a version of the Labour Party which reminds me of the early 20th Century “Worldwide Socialist Utopia” notion. One still squirming round the foundations of the Labour movement. Corbyn’s much publicised objections to the EU reflect that.

They’re due a good share of the blame for Brexit because of that. No realist ever believed any sort of “Lexit” was going to work. Westminster’s two-party system ensures a hard right Tory party spends time in power.

At least the EU protected against many of the abuses unhinged and unrestrained neoconservatives dream about. Regardless of Labour’s promises. Of renationalisation, housebuilding, and improved working conditions. Any future Tory government can abolish it all with the stroke of a pen.

Making Scotland less confused?

Sometimes I wish the devolution settlement required political parties register in Scotland. Rather than acting as ‘tentacles’ of their UK-wide namesakes.

A Scottish Labour Party representing the will of the Scottish people would not support Trident. It would not oppose EU membership. It would welcome immigration. And, it might have the balls to admit it shares common ground with the SNP.

Now – crucially – it lacks the autonomy to enter a coalition without undue interference from British Labour.

That’s in a parliamentary system designed to encourage coalition.

More importantly, it would have an identity. If it cannot contemplate Scottish Independence because the British Labour Party forbids public discussion of such? It isn’t fit for purpose.

Maybe that’s why the Tories are – albeit distantly – in second place at Holyrood. They openly don’t give a rat’s arse about the majority in Scotland. All they can talk about, though, is Independence. And, just how horrid they think it would be.

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Objections filed

Get your objections filed too

Wednesday saw the protest at City Chambers where the Save Leith Walk campaign intended to hand in their petition; objecting to the proposed demolition and redevelopment of Stead’s Place.

Getting objections filed from over 10,000 signatories didn’t go quite as-planned. It still worked out well in terms of publicity, giving the press a photo-op allowing them to run more coverage on the campaign.

The story even made The National as the petition jumped up to 12,000 signatories.

At the moment we have been collecting the signatures on a petition to stop the demolition at 106 to 154 Leith Walk. We have 12,200 signatures on the petition collected week after week, March through to August.
Similar processes have taken place across Edinburgh in relation to other threats to treasured buildings.
We feel the policies of the Planning Department do not adequately reflect the wishes of communities in respect to treasured buildings.

Ian Hood Quoted by The National

A few observations

I couldn’t hang around long since I planned to catch a friend performing up the road at 1:15pm. I did overhear a few interesting remarks. Since protesters were assembling at lunchtime quite a few council employees were coming and going.

I overheard one woman ask a colleague what was happening on Leith Walk. The unheard response elicited a deeply disappointed, “You’re joking, I love that place!” The pair were returning from lunch, so I’m sure the topic came up again inside and with a wider circle of colleagues.

Another council employee, taking a smoke break, asked me a little about the protest, planning applications, and objection process. He asked if I’d mind sharing my objections.

Instead, I opted to encourage him to look at I cribbed heavily from their list in putting together my detailed objection.

Filing it was much less fun. The council’s website didn’t like taking a three-page comment on a planning application. It’s an atrociously designed web portal, which nobody will ever get fired for. Anyone else filing a lengthy objection is better-off doing so by post.

My objections in full

Here’s the full ‘wall of text’ I’ve given the planning committee to wade through. They’re supposed to be the experts, so I’ve left them to match up the numerous points to policy.

Objections to the following planning applications:

18/04332/FUL and 18/04349/CON

On the basis these two applications relate to the same property, are from the same applicant(s), and involving identical plans for the demolition of a building within a conservation area, I believe the Planning Committee should treat the two as one.

Should the Planning Committee chose to treat these as separate applications, then – as the majority of objections are on the proposal first publicised – those people should be contacted seeking confirmation they did, or did not, wish to object to both.

My points upon which I believe a firm rejection of the application(s) should be made are as follows:

1. Failing to retain the existing red sandstone building

From the earliest point at which a proposal to build student accommodation on the site became public the development proposal has included demolition. Those early stages of consultation saw the response to the community’s insistence the building be retained met with a disingenuous response – that the red sandstone frontage would be “retained”.

The feasibility study into retention of the existing building presents a false dilemma: the developer’s wishes – a specific number of student rooms – cannot be met unless the existing building is demolished or seriously compromised in order to build above it; this is pitted against the alternative of an unacceptably high – ten storeys to be exact – structure which meets the developer’s wish-list of commercial objectives.

The 1930s sandstone and marble fronted block is a pre-war structure with a consistent Art-Deco influence throughout the design. The upper storey leaded windows are the most-obvious expression of this influence and similar to the design seen in the first floor of the Methodist Central Hall on Great Junction Street – one of the few other red sandstone buildings in Leith.

With good reason, the building is within a conservation area. It contributes positively to the character of Leith Walk. Whilst not currently listed, it is of sufficient architectural import to merit retention.

Further attempts to justify demolition are readily visible throughout the language used to describe the existing structure. “Dilapidated” appears several times in submitted documents. However, the state of the building – and number of tenants – is the responsibility of its owners. New leases have been unavailable for a considerable time, existing tenants were refused renewals – even when suggested on a month-by-month basis – and the boarding up of the unleased frontage all contribute to what appears an orchestrated effort to make the building appear derelict.

The building is structurally sound; it is located within a conservation area; the grounds for demolition appear arrived at by placing the horse in front of the cart; no good-faith effort to ensure the building’s continued use – despite its obvious utility to local businesses – appears to have been made. Nor has a competent case been made that the benefit to the public is best-served through demolition.

Thus, I believe the planning committee are obliged to reject this application.

2. Inappropriate design proposal

Given the frontage of the proposed development intrudes into the conservation area, there are multiple points upon which the proposed design fails to meet the requirements to merit planning permission.

The replacement is a poor pastiche of the various architectural styles evident along Leith Walk. This includes the suggestion the red sandstone frontage might be “retained” – when this actually means using red sandstone in part of the new construction. The overall design of the proposed development thus becomes a messy melange of architectural styles; hastily assembled on top of modern low-cost construction techniques.

Construction techniques which – due to likelihood of damaging the existing building – form part of the justification for demolition, and the proposal’s failure to retain the existing structure.

The proposal is for a monolithic structure. One where six storeys are compressed into a height constraint which sees classical tenemented buildings on Leith Walk only provide four storeys. This compounds the architectural mismatch with existing structures, highlighting the structure as a poor modern pastiche, designed based on economics before aesthetic.

Whilst unmentioned in the development proposal the site is visible from Calton Hill, within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. This image shows the site, and the painfully incongruous nature of existing student accommodation further up Leith Walk.

The proposed development will dominate the lower area of Leith Walk, standing out as an incongruous structure which is visible from miles away.

Given the proposal’s looming elevation, the frontage onto Leith Walk removes a welcome break in the height of structures along the road. Its construction will ‘hem in’ the road, depriving those on it of light. The dramatically less-hospitable feeling during the winter months will be exacerbated by the continuous line of buildings acting as a wind tunnel.

Thus, I believe the planning application should be rejected based on the proposal being an inappropriate design for the area.

3. Inappropriate usage/mix of space in development proposal

The primary objective of this development is to provide in excess of 500 student flats. However as has been made quite clear the intent of the University – who propose to lease the flats and hotel – is to use the accommodation for postgraduate students.

This is against the basic principles of concessions within planning legislation regarding purpose-built student accommodation. Such is intended for undergraduates living away from home for the first time; not for those who have already – at the very least – completed an ordinary degree.

This change in ‘target market’ for the accommodation also calls into question other aspects of the design – particularly the paucity of parking when proposing 500 flats for people in a demographic with at least 50% car ownership.

However, and of more import, the site of the proposed development is nowhere near any of the city’s main campus sites. Instead, it is sufficiently far from campuses and the city centre to require a development of its size have at least 50% of net floor area consist of residential accommodation.

Whilst some disingenuous debate regarding what may constitute net floor area could be undertaken, the planning statement from the developers openly admits to breaching this requirement in claiming 60% of the development is student accommodation.

An impartial assessment of the design proposal is likely to conclude the proportion of residential accommodation is closer to 25%, thus not even half of that required by planning rules.

On this basis, I believe the planning committee are obliged to reject this application.

Nobody’s obliged to waffle as much as I have, the two planning applications may be found here and here. Object to both if you support the campaign.

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Support Save Leith Walk

Suppport Save Leith Walk

Over the Festival period I’m doing my bit to support Save Leith Walk. Namely donating 10% from all print sales over the Festival to the campaign.

If you got here from my guerilla advertising? Consider taking a look over in the shop; Or checking out the portfolio links in the menu.

The block under-threat is known locally as the “New Shops”. Although, it dates back to when Leith Central Station was a busy hub – not an excuse to call a book of short stories ‘Trainspotting‘.

Regrettably the block is now in the hands of property developers and their City of London financiers. They’re out to make millions turning it into another soulless chunk of student accommodation. Money the local economy will see virtually none of. Except for the University of Edinburgh. Obviously they’ll be delighted to be filling it with fee-paying postgraduates desperate to have “Masters from Edinburgh University” on their CV. Despite some media reporting an MBA is “a waste of time and money“.

Why else would the University be offering to take a fivetwenty* year lease on a building before it even has planning permission? It’s extremely rare for the City of Edinburgh Council to refuse planning consent backed by the University; regardless of local opposition.

* [CORRECTION: The University are actually taking a 20 year lease on the student flats. Maybe by the end of that time there might be bits of Edinburgh University in Leith, there aren’t any I’m currently aware of.]

In the meantime, Drum Property Group are boarding up premises they’re unwilling to even offer short-term leases on. Sadly, and perhaps deliberately, making the block an eyesore. Unsurprisingly, they’re begging for “Community Art Proposals” as part of their – ahem – ‘Community Engagement’.

Regrettably this sort of ‘Artwashing‘ is likely all-too-familiar to anyone who’s seen gentrification in action.

[UPDATE] The Planning Application has now been submitted. The first word of the summary is – unsurprisingly – “Demolition“. There are 118 associated documents – making this a monster to properly oppose.

Other Leith Walk artworks.

Because it’s where I live, I’ve several pieces featuring the threatened buildings; plus other places on, or near, Leith Walk. You’ll find a few below.

Where Leith Walk becomes Elm Row, you’ll find Joseph Pearce’s bar. It’s a friendly pub, displaying some of my artworks. Regrettably I can’t offer a full 10% donation to Save Leith Walk on those; just on the prints – not the framing.

Drop me an email should you be interested in arranging a meeting there for a peek at my portfolio. Alternatively, you can catch me at Leith Depot. Going there helps support Save Leith Walk.

Other ways to support Save Leith Walk.

If you want to know what’s going on you could follow the campaign on twitter or Facebook. Both will alert you to fundraising gigs, stalls at local markets, or merchandise being sold to support the campaign. Unsurprisingly, there also a petition regarding the proposed demolition. You’ll find copies in many of the shops on Leith Walk.

Naturally, the best way to support Save Leith Walk is using the businesses facing loss of premises. Especially Leith Depot. You’ll find they’ve live music on most nights; obviously they’re going to be a bit lonely when all the other leases in the block expire and everything else is boarded up.

Admittedly, nobody expects Festival tourists to be buying from the Bed Shop. That’s a local shop; for local people. 😉

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