AS the area which is often voted to be the best place in Scotland to live and which contains some of Glasgow’s most salubrious suburbs, it could be thought that East Dunbartonshire has few problems to ponder.
Bearsden, Milngavie, Bishopbriggs, Kirkintilloch, Lenzie are all considered dormitory towns for Glasgow to the south-west, but they are communities in their own right and as the starting point for the West Highland Way and with a good chunk of the Antonine Wall, East Dunbartonshire has plenty of attractions to help it thrive.
Yet in common with every local authority in Scotland, East Dunbartonshire Council has had to endure years of Westminster-inspired austerity – a budget cut in real terms of £32 million over the life of the current council.
Loading article content
The latest budget saw a funding gap of £11.3m but savings were achieved without compulsory redundancies and by an increase in council tax of 3 per cent, with the last minute boost to spending on social care from the Scottish Government a big help.
Proof that one person’s ‘improvement’ is often another person’s vandalism can be found in East Dunbartonshire, where the plan for Kirkintilloch “shared space” roads system brought protestors onto the streets in 2015. Local people campaigned successfully for controlled crossings to be retained.
The council has also seen a long running row over the controversial closure or amalgamation of schools, and that process is continuing.
The first sod was recently cut on the site of the school that will merge St Joseph’s Primary School in Milngavie and St Andrew’s in Bearsden. When complete, this will be the fifth school to be built as part of the council’s Primary School Improvement Programme. The others are Lairdsland and Holy Trinity in Kirkintilloch, Lenzie Meadow and Thomas Muir in Bishopbriggs.
That final school takes its name from a local and national hero, the man known as the father of Scottish democracy. Thomas Muir was a radical lawyer and political reformer who was found guilty of sedition after a show trial and transported to Australia in 1794.
He still arouses controversy today as the council was roundly criticised for its plan to sell off his former home at Huntershill.
Housing plans are nearly always controversial in East Dunbartonshire, with local people often organising to oppose projects.
The latest of these is in Lenzie where the council granted planning permission for 44 luxury houses and 24 affordable old people’s flats on the grounds of the former Lenzie Hospital, despite the council’s planning officers recommending refusal of the project. It is set to be a major local issue in the Lenzie area, and indeed a public meeting has been called for next Monday evening by a local group which is opposing the development.
Such local issues will determine the outcome of the elections, and in East Dunbartonshire the results will be too close to call in many wards.
Due to controversial boundary changes the number of councillors will be reduced from 24 to 22 and the number of wards from eight to seven.
Bishopbriggs North and Torrance has been reorganised into Bishopbriggs North and Campsie and now includes the communities of Torrance, Milton of Campsie and Lennoxtown. Kirkintilloch North is now part of the new ward of Kirkintilloch East, North and Twechar.
A number of councillors are standing down including Labour Provost Una Walker, Depute Provost and veteran Tory councillor Anne Jarvis, and former deputy council leader Ashay Ghai of the LibDems.
Council leader Rhondda Geekie will defend her Lenzie and Kirkintilloch South seat for Labour, and current deputy leader and Tory stalwart Bill Hendry will stand again in Bishopbriggs North and Campsie Geekie has said her party will stand on its record of achievement as part of the administration.
Only the SNP is putting up enough candidates – there are 12 standing – to win overall control of the council, but the local feeling is that a coalition administration will again be required after May 4.
Most local comment, however, is reserved for the Scottish Labour Party which currently has nine seats on the council but is only fielding eight candidates – “they’ve chucked it” was one opponent’s remark.
That is surely not a good sign for Labour in East Dunbartonshire, but given the upheaval of the last 48 hours, only a fool would predict anything in politics these days.