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Ormlie Community Association

Home Zones
Notes from a speech by Colin Punler to the Home Zone conference in Stirling on 29th November 1999 at which the Scottish Transport & Environment Minister announced plans to set up three pilot Home Zones schemes in Scotland

Further info about Home Zones is available here

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Firstly, let me thank you for the invitation to speak here today because it is not very often that an area like ours has a voice in an arena such as this.

As will become apparent, our involvement in the campaign for Home Zones does not stem from any professional background. We are amateurs, just ordinary residents of a housing estate working in their spare time who see Home Zones as a very important part of the solution to the economic, social and environmental challenges facing our neighbourhood.

So, what is Ormlie and why Home Zones?

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It is a peripheral council estate in Thurso built in the 70s and 80s and consisting of 350 houses. If I tell you that Thurso is almost four hours by train from Inverness and closer to the North Pole than the capital of Alaska, you might consider us remote. But when we look at the map, we think of places like Stirling as being remote.

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This is taken from a series of brochures produced by the Childrenıs Traffic Club. Like children throughout Scotland, children in Ormlie can become members of the Traffic Club when they turn three. The health board sends your parent an enrolment form and before long a series of brochures begin falling through your letter box to raise awareness of road safety at an early age.

This a a typical example ­ a busy road scene with a picture of a nice play area. Tell your child, it says, why it is safe to run around in the play area.

This might be what it's like in the leafy suburbs ­ the places maybe where the author of this series lives or where the politician went for the photo call to meet the umpteenth child to join the traffic club.

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But it is not what it is like in Ormlie  ­ and probably many other estates like ours ­ which have suffered from institutional neglect and discrimination for years.

Estates that for too long have been forced to accept the inverse care law, the unwritten rule which leaves those areas most in need of services and help with the fewest and the worst, and those least in need of attention with the best and the most.

Estates where the images of the childrenıs traffic club ­ images which other people recognise when they look out their living room window ­ only rub salt in the wounds felt by people who for too long have accepted being treated like second class citizens.

In Ormlie, there is nowhere safe for children to play.

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Not in gardens little bigger than postage stamps and waterlogged for six months of the year;
not in the play parks with their rusting and archaic equipment set in hard tar.

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Not in the sodden playground open on every side but one to the road which every child in the scheme must cross to get to to; and not in the alleyways and roadsides where children are obscured from the view of motorists by walls and fences that wouldn't look out of place in a prison yard.

Twenty years ago when it was built, High Ormlie was the solution to the council housing waiting list. Family-size houses crammed together like rows of barracks, built to a chaotic lay-out around a dead-end on an exposed hilltop more than a mile from the town centre and the local primary school. Its bleak and depressing appearance has been compared to the worst planning of eastern Europe.

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The planners may have thought it was a showpiece but the people who moved in didnıt. Those who could move tended to do so. The disadvantaged and downtrodden began to concentrate. So unpopular was the design of the estate, and the failure to provide the support services an area like this needed, that within a decade it had slipped into the worst 10 per cent of schemes in Scotland for urban deprivation. It became the local councilıs Siberia ­ everyone knew where it was but no-one wanted to go there. And once you got there it was sink or swim.

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It has often been said to me that you cannot tell from these pictures if it is summer or winter. But you may notice too the absence of vandalism or graffiti. Ormlie, fortunately, does not have the classic secondary symptoms. It is not a bad area to live but a poor one in many ways ­ an estate gripped by a poverty of expectation.

One in four children grows up in homes where no-one works. Two out of three homes are on housing benefit. One in three homes has a car. And if there is a poverty of opportunity inside the houses, then there is even less for the children when they step outside. It is an existence which ought to have been a source of shame in a civilised society but which has been perpetuated by the snobbery and prejudices of those who look down their noses at such areas with contempt.

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Two years ago, after a child was knocked down running to see her pals at the playground, parents came together to seek action and formed a community association. But in examining how to end the neglect of the play areas, it was clear to us that new facilities alone could not be sustainable unless a range of other social, environmental and economic challenges were addressed as well.

So we knocked on every door and carried out a community survey. We held our own Planning for Real. We formed a partnership with the local authority, the local enterprise company, the police, health board and others.  And we came up with a community action plan as a means of turning the estate around in a holistic fashion, to balance our hopes for improvement of the environment with the creation of social and economic opportunities for self-improvement.

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One element of the plan was to commission architects to redesign the estate. The architects based their plans on the ideas and views the association had gathered from the grassroots. In an estate where residents donıt know which is their back door and which is the front, redesigning it was a challenge for any architect.

Three key priorities had been consistent in every consultation ­ the need for safe play areas, the need for improvements to road safety and the need to soften and green the environment.

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About the same time we discovered the Home Zone concept being promoted by the Childrenıs Play Council. It made an immediate impression. To us, the Home Zone encompassed all the key priorities expressed by residents, not least a petition signed by more than 90 cent of households demanding safer streets.

It is wrong to think of Home Zones only in terms of road safety. Yes, we believe it will have benefits in that regard but for us, the primary benefit is the environmental and social changes it would bring to our area.

And, perhaps crucially, we feel it has the advantage of being so new and different from anything anyone locally is used to that it will transform the image of the estate and end the stigma ­ and make it an estate where tenants want to live instead of feel they have to.

The architects have now published their regeneration plan and the concept of the Home Zone is at its core.

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Ironically perhaps, the draft plan includes an additional 1100 metres of new roads. But the logic is simple. If the residents are to have vehicular access to the front and privacy to the rear ­ a concept people in most other areas would take for granted ­ fundamental alterations are required. A myriad of alleyways would be turned into rear gardens secured by design and new roadways would appear to the front. But the new roadways would be pedestrian priority, with vehicles allowed access at less than 10mph, and street furniture and traffic calming built in.

The price, including the relocation of six houses, the construction of new play areas and other improvements, is up to £3.8 million.

In an area where housing is cramped, the Home Zone will maximise the benefit to the community of what little open space there is ­ open space which at the moment is dominated and reserved for the motor car ­ and bring a new sense of social cohesion through a safer and more pleasant environment in which residents can enjoy their neighbourhood.

We believe the balance between the car and residents can be changed in an estate like ours to benefit all residents.

We are not anti-car. In a place like Caithness, where sparsity of population and distances cannot sustain a comprehensive public transport system, we recognise that the car is a necessity. Indeed, one of the measures of our success might be an increase in the number of people with cars in the estate. No, it is not anti-car ­ it is pro-people, it is the creation of a new dimension in our landscape and living environment.

The reaction to the plan from residents so far has been favourable. The plans are now the subject of consultation with the local authority and Scottish Homes, tapping into the wider issues of current Government policy on housing and estate regeneration. Potential sources of funding include New Housing Partnership, the EU special programme for the Highlands and Islands and the New Opportunities Fund as well as the more conventional sources.

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We have explained our proposals to Prince Charles at St James Palace after we won the Times/Nat West Community Enterprise Awards.
We got the local MP and then the MSPs on board.

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And we presented a copy of the plans to Donald Dewar and Peter Peacock when they visited the estate.

The go-ahead has been given to pilot Home Zones south of the border but the Scottish Executive had been telling our MSPs that nothing similar will happen in Scotland until lessons are drawn from the English and Welsh experience a few years from now. Our architects recommend that the plans for Ormlie are phased over four years to allow residents to gain a sense of ownership over the changes. At the moment, we must look at a phased approach by designing in 20mph traffic calming measures which we can extend to a fully-blown Home Zone should the opportunity arise in future years.

But we can now achieve so much more thanks to the Ministerıs  announcement today of the opportunity to help us to help ourselves to deliver the sort of landscape and living environment which residents say they want. We must look to the Scottish Parliament and the Executive for the lead, to the politicians who speak so passionately about community empowerment, about joined-up thinking and strong and socially inclusive communities and who now have given us the opportunity to pilot this new and exciting initiative, to give us the means to transform our neighbourhood.

I said at the start that we see the Home Zone as a very important part of the solution to the challenges facing our estate but it is not a solution in itself.

We are working on a range of other initiatives which can interlock with the Home Zone.

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We have begun trying to soften the environment, involving local school children, people with special needs and the unemployed on the New Deal environmental task force.

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We have become a social inclusion partnership area, albeit it only for 14-25-year-olds.

We have opened an office on the estate and raised almost £100,000 to hire a regeneration co-ordinator and assistant.

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And we have funds to produce and deliver five newsletters a year for every household on the estate.

We have recognised the urgent priority attached by residents to the play areas and cherry-picked the redesign proposals to put together detailed proposals for three new play areas which will be the subject shortly of an applications to major funding bodies.

The only shop in the area ­ indeed, the only community facility ­ is at risk of closure. We are working on plans to purchase the property to secure and develop retail and other services on the estate and combine it with the creation of a community resource centre built around the needs of the large number of families struggling to bring up small children.

The local enterprise company and Employment Service are working on a study of the reasons for long-term unemployment.

There are proposals for an estate caretaker. And we want to develop a more integrated approach to estate management and community development, to fill the cracks between services through which Ormlie has been allowed to fall.

At last, our disadvantage is now working for us instead of against us.

The Home Zone is at the heart of our proposals but by itself is not the solution, which is why we are trying to join it up across the spectrum of social inclusion.

There have been barriers to getting the Home Zone concept this far and I have no doubt we will have more to over come. But in an area where social inclusion is not a concept that is widely understood, it is only one of many barriers we are determined to smash and so create the kind of community and well-being which other areas take for granted.

But we need  help if we are to help ourselves and that is why we are grateful for the opportunity today to present our case for community empowerment and the opportunity to be in the vanguard of Home Zones in Scotland.