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Livingston New Town

Volume 541: debated on Monday 5 March 2012

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jeremy Wright.)

I am absolutely delighted to have secured this debate just a few weeks before Livingston’s official golden anniversary on 16 April. You, Mr Speaker, may recall that my previous Adjournment debate in the Chamber, on youth unemployment in my constituency, took place at 2 o’clock in the morning, so I am pleased that at least this evening we can expect to go to bed on the same day as we got up.

I am delighted also that the Minister replying to my address is the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who I am sure will respond in sympathetic terms, as I do not intend to be in any way partisan during my speech.

It is a great honour and privilege to represent the Livingston constituency, and, although I always remind people that the constituency consists of many more communities than just Livingston new town, I must say there is no doubt that Livingston, which is also where I live, is very much at its centre.

I want to use this evening’s debate to say a little about the history of the town and some of the major developments and milestones in its first 50 years, but I want mostly to pay tribute to some of the many individuals and groups that have contributed to Livingston’s remarkable success story.

Livingston is West Lothian’s largest town and, in the main, has become the political, industrial, social, educational and cultural hub of the whole county. Livingston is also the second-largest urban area in the Lothians, after Edinburgh, with a population of 55,000, making it the seventh largest town or city in Scotland. Yet only 50 years ago it consisted of just three tiny villages: Livingston Village, Livingston Station and Bellsquarry.

The transformation began when Livingston, on the banks of the River Almond, with its beautiful scenery including the Pentlands hills to the south and the Bathgate hills to the north, was identified as the fourth of Scotland’s five new towns, under the post-war Labour Government’s New Towns Act 1946, in large part to help ease overcrowding in Glasgow.

Livingston was officially designated a new town on 17 April 1962, and work began immediately to build the new community. The driving force behind the town’s development was the Livingston Development Corporation, more commonly known as the LDC, which was responsible for all aspects of planning and regulating the town’s growth. The LDC guided Livingston until the corporation’s mandate expired on 22 March 1997 and the town’s functions and assets transferred to the new unitary West Lothian council.

The LDC’s plan to expand the town dictated that it should grow in an orderly fashion from east to west, so, while the first new town residents were housed in the existing village of Livingston Station, the initial major housing development was built on the sloping hillside of Craigshill.

The first residents of the new scheme in Craigshill, Mr and Mrs James Gilchrist and their son Robert, moved in on schedule in April 1966 to 39 Broom Walk. Craigshill’s covered shopping centre, known as The Mall, was developed, and the new town’s first primary and secondary schools, Riverside primary and Craigshill high, were also built in Craigshill. Several more new developments followed in quick succession, with Howden, Ladywell, Knightsridge, Dedridge, Eliburn, Deans, Carmondean, Bankton and Murieston all becoming well known Livingston new town communities.

A key element of the LDC’s town planning and construction involved the new development being based around those neighbourhoods, each with its own schools, shops, health services and other amenities. Indeed, one of the significant, if not unique, characteristics of Livingston is its extensive segregated path network, its greenways, open spaces and tree belts, which are always well maintained and provide a rural feel to urban living. This careful planning, providing communities with the resources they needed to flourish from the outset, has been critical to Livingston’s successful growth over the years.

An early means of support for the new rapidly growing communities of Livingston were the various churches that were built to accommodate the spiritual needs of the population. Uniquely in Scotland, Livingston was, from the start, designated an ecumenical parish in a joint initiative by the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church in Great Britain and the Congregational Union of Scotland. The ecumenical parish has six places of worship. Of course, there are also churches of other denominations, notably the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church and the Free Church. More recently, Livingston mosque was established to serve the community’s growing Muslim population.

As the population grew, an ambition for further education opportunities to be provided closer to home arose, and in July 2001 the new state-of-the-art West Lothian college was opened—the first new purpose-built college in Scotland for 25 years. West Lothian college, under the current leadership of its principal Mhairi Laughlin, has an excellent academic reputation and provides thousands of residents with the opportunity to study locally rather than having to travel to Edinburgh or Glasgow. The college’s story sums up the speed of progress that was made in developing the town and just how quickly things have changed over these five decades.

Over recent years, Livingston has become synonymous with shopping, with its vast retail centre at Almondvale. Consisting of 1 million square feet of retail space and attracting 13 million shoppers each year, it is the largest regional retail centre in Scotland.

Turning to sport and culture, Livingston boasts the Lothians’ only senior football club outside the capital, following the establishment in 1995 of Livingston FC out of the old Meadowbank Thistle team. Within just seven years of moving to the purpose-built Almondvale stadium, the club had achieved third place in the Scottish premier league and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Livi, as the team is referred to by its fans, also won the 2004 League Cup, beating Hibernian at Hampden Park. People in Livingston have also shown commitment to many other sports, with Livingston rugby club, based at Almond park, being one of the first clubs established in the new town; Livingston cricket club, located at Murieston; and a plethora of other clubs accommodating almost every sport in existence.

Livingston’s cultural heart is Howden Park Centre, which hosts a range of performances and exhibitions. Reopened following extensive refurbishment in July 2009, the venue won the prestigious Edinburgh Architectural Association “Building of the Year” award in 2010. The town also has a thriving network of cultural groups and organisations, including, to name but a few, Livingston Art Association, the Livingston Fiddlers, and the New Town Entertainers. Many older residents will remember the Livingston festival, which was initiated on the town’s 10th anniversary in 1972 and by 1981 had become the largest community festival in Scotland. This has since been replaced by local communities in the town having their own gala days.

Livingston has been fortunate in having a wide array of voluntary and charitable groups that give vital community input and that, again, are unfortunately too numerous to mention in the time available, although I put on record my appreciation for the work undertaken by the local neighbourhood networks in the town.

At the same time as the housing went up, new communities moved in and social institutions grew, industry and businesses started locating in Livingston in substantial numbers, bringing jobs and economic security to the area. The LDC prioritised attracting big employers to the town, running a simple but effective advertising slogan, “Make it in Livingston”, and emphasising the excellent transport links, highly skilled work force and good local services. Indeed, Livingston benefits significantly from its location between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with its east-west motorway and rail links, and its proximity to Edinburgh airport and the Forth bridges.

Large investments have been made in the area by local and national government, and by companies from the UK and overseas. The technology industry was one of the largest growth areas and Livingston quickly became the capital of Scotland’s silicon glen. The LDC developed Kirkton campus, a technology park, at a time when many advanced technology companies from the US and Japan were seeking an appropriate location for their European operations. Over the years, Mitsubishi Electric, Cameron Iron, which is now Wyman-Gordon, BSkyB, Gore-Tex, Schuh, NEC and Motorola, to name but a few, have chosen to locate in Livingston. Some of those major employers have unfortunately been lost over the years, particularly after the decline of the silicon glen in the early and mid-1990s, but Livingston remains a popular business destination.

What of Livingston’s most valuable resource, its people? A key characteristic of the new town’s population is the diversity of the backgrounds and experience that people have brought to Livingston. Although many of those who first moved to Livingston came from overcrowded communities in Glasgow, over the years others have been attracted from the more traditional West Lothian communities, other parts of the Lothians and even much further afield, with people seeking a new start in a new town. More recently, that has included immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and eastern Europe. Their integration has been another positive milestone in the town’s development.

Although time does not allow me to mention the many individuals who have contributed to the success of Livingston over the last 50 years, I will highlight a few notable names, including my predecessors in the constituency, all of whom have played an important part in the town’s history. When the town was founded in 1962, it was split between the two parliamentary constituencies of West Lothian in the north, which was represented by my good friend Tam Dalyell, and Midlothian in the south, which was represented by the late Alex Eadie. Tam and Alex played a vital role in Livingston’s early development, working closely with the LDC and the local authorities, until 1983 when, following boundary changes, the new Livingston constituency was created, encompassing the whole of the new town and the surrounding areas.

It was then that Robin Cook became the MP. He remained the local representative until his untimely death 22 years later in August 2005. The story of Robin Cook is well known to the House and I have paid tribute to him in the past. Robin was a strong advocate and defender of Livingston. Perhaps his greatest achievement locally was to persuade the Government to provide a new district general hospital in the town. In 1989, St John’s hospital was opened.

With the advent of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Livingston’s first MSP was Bristow Muldoon, who held the seat until 2007. I believe that the Minister knows Bristow very well indeed.

Moving on to others who deserve to be recognised for their service, I pay tribute to the lifelong Livingston Station resident, Willie Pender. After a lifetime of public service in West Lothian, Willie sadly passed away recently. He played a significant part in Livingston’s development as a member of the LDC, a long-standing Labour councillor, a member of the Lothian health board and a justice of the peace. He was also a war hero, having served in the Navy during world war two as part of the Arctic convoys and in the defence of Malta. No one is better placed to pay tribute to Willie than his close friend Tam Dalyell, who described Willie as

“having made a massive contribution in the 1960s to the 1980s to the important decisions of West Lothian Council, affecting education and every other aspect of local government”.

Willie was truly one of the great figures in the 50-year history of the town and will be missed greatly by his family and friends.

Another man who has made a lasting contribution to the development of Livingston is Sandy Pirie. He was the head teacher of the town’s first secondary school, Craigshill high school. He was largely responsible for establishing the school as the hub of the community, making it effectively a community school long before the concept and title were conceived formally. In addition to his pioneering educational contribution, Sandy played a prominent role in the promotion of the ecumenical, cultural and charitable life of the new town. I was fortunate enough to serve with him on the West Lothian council education services committee from 1996 to 1999, when I was council leader and he was a co-opted religious representative. We also served together on the West Lothian Educational Trust.

I want to mention a few other significant individuals—fairly briefly, unfortunately, given that time is now against me. Rev. Dr James Maitland, a Church of Scotland minister, was a strong proponent of bringing the churches closer together and a leading light in the Livingston justice and peace group. He died in 1996, and the Maitland nursery at Williamston primary school in the town is named after him.

Raymond Birrell, also sadly now deceased, was an engineer with the LDC but also a prominent community activist, who in particular gave of his time to encourage young people to pursue an interest in music. Birrell gardens in Murieston is named in his memory. John Hoey, my good friend, was the driving force behind the development of the Craigsfarm community complex, the first free-standing community facility in the new town, and also served as a local government councillor for the area for several years.

Wilma Shearer and Roley Walton created Dedridge environment ecology project in 2007, to improve the Dedridge burn plantation and make it more accessible for community members. They have done a remarkable amount of work to improve the area over the past five years.

Manus McGuire raised his family in Livingston. He started life as a social worker, switched to law, became a partner in Thompson’s solicitors and subsequently became chairman of industrial tribunals for Scotland. David Duncan was building manager for the LDC and oversaw much of the building of the infrastructure and housing estates in the town. Jim Wyllie is the surviving member of the town’s oldest industry, the mill on the River Almond. Jim Keegan was the first solicitor advocate under the scheme that set them up and was recently appointed Queen’s counsel, and Jim Hamilton, now deceased, was a head teacher at Bellsquarry primary school and manager of the Scottish badminton team that participated at the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh and New Zealand. The public square by Murieston medical practice is named after him.

Plans are well advanced locally to celebrate Livingston’s golden anniversary. That will rightly involve the local community and its schools and voluntary groups, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share in the celebrations, albeit prematurely, with this Adjournment debate tonight.

Although the new town is only 50 years old, few could disagree that it has been a remarkably successful, vibrant and productive 50 years. Looking to the future, I am quite sure that the strong community spirit, great endeavour and decency of Livingston’s people, coupled with its beautiful and central location, guarantee it many more years of success. I am sure that the next 50 years will be just as fruitful as the first 50 have been.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) on securing the debate, which marks a significant year in the history of the community of Livingston. He mentioned my constituency, which is one of the largest in Scotland and borders his, as it does many others. He also mentioned Bristow Muldoon, under whose convenorship of the Local Government and Transport Committee I was happy to serve when I had the privilege of being a Member of the Scottish Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it was a Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, John Maclay, who backed the plans for the development of Livingston back in the early 1960s. Livingston was designated under the New Towns Act 1946 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 as one of the new towns to be built, as the hon. Gentleman said, to relieve overcrowding in Glasgow and other areas.

Scotland’s five new towns—East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, Livingston and Irvine—have added much to the fabric of our country. Their development corporations may have come and gone, with their functions transferred to local authorities, but the towns themselves have put down enduring roots. They have proved to be pacesetters in Scotland’s economic transformation in recent decades, and that has most certainly been the story of Livingston.

The hon. Gentleman has enabled us to celebrate Livingston at 50. Like many of us, Scotland’s fourth new town has moved into middle age. However, it has a lot to celebrate and even more to look forward to. It has been an eventful half century, packed full of highs and a few lows, but freshly forged spirit and community have combined to drive the town onwards and upwards. The result is that, in 2012, Livingston is firmly fixed on the national and international map as a centre for business, innovation, education, health care and sport.

Livingston was also purposely planned, which brings me to a subject that the hon. Gentleman did not mention: roundabouts. Only after the winding up of the Livingston Development Corporation in 1997 did Livingston get its first traffic lights. Roundabouts have become synonymous with new towns both north and south of the border. Residents of Livingston have referred to their town as “Roundabout City”, but roundabouts in Livingston are a bit special. Landmark sculptures designed by David Wilson in the 1990s adorn the four major roundabouts. Built from reclaimed dyking stone, NORgate, Compass, Dyke Swarm and Chrysalis have been local landmarks in their own right for more than a decade.

Over five decades, Livingston has moved and progressed on many fronts. It has grown into a community of more than 50,000 residents and enhanced its connectivity to Scotland’s road and motorway network. Its proximity to Edinburgh airport is an added attraction for businesses seeking to locate or invest in the town. It is better connected with the two railway stations—Livingston South and Livingston North were established in the 1980s, offering direct links into Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Sport has also brought success and attention to the town. As the hon. Gentleman said, the 1990s witnessed the arrival of Livingston FC and the building of Almondvale stadium, home to a team that played in European competition and won the league cup in 2004. Of course, darker days followed with the club going into liquidation, but happily for the hon. Gentleman, Livingston FC is on the up again in the first division.

Livingston has always been a leader in business. For half a century, Livingston has been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. High-tech and pharmaceutical firms were in the vanguard of the wave of light industry attracted to Livingston from the 1960s. Some of us remember the slogans—“Make it in Livingston” and “Build it in Livingston”—of the now-departed Livingston Development Corporation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Those slogans have become a reality down the years.

In the 1990s, Livingston was an important hub in Scotland’s silicon glen. While some companies such as Motorola and NEC have come and gone, an abundance of new businesses have arrived in their place. As well as multinational companies maintaining factories in the town, BSkyB’s main call centre is the largest private sector employer in West Lothian.

Livingston is equipped with a modern and diverse economy. Retail and business services co-exist alongside modern manufacturing. Livingston attracts people from across central Scotland to shop, with an array of established names operating out of state-of-the-art shopping centres, which the hon. Gentleman described in detail. Livingston is also a centre for significant public sector employment. The civic centre, West Lothian college of further education and St John’s hospital illustrate the town’s importance for public administration, education and health care.

We must today wrestle with the challenge of giving a new life to a mature new town. Livingston faces the same employment challenges that confront similar communities throughout Scotland, the UK and the western world, although as the hon. Gentleman will know, the jobseeker’s allowance claimant rate is below the national average. In a fiercely competitive global marketplace, Livingston is blessed with real advantages as it seeks to secure new investment and jobs.

The town’s location, transport links and highly skilled work force are beacons for business. Livingston is still at the cutting edge of Scotland’s future. It is equipped with a modern and diverse economy, including some of the most innovative businesses in Scotland. I would like to highlight the superb example of Cyberhawk Innovations, a Livingston company that has developed unmanned helicopters that allow engineers to inspect the inner workings of tall and inaccessible structures such as oil installations. Founded less than four years ago, it is now expanding and exporting overseas. It is a marvellous illustration of commercialisation from Scottish engineering excellence and inventiveness. Similarly, there is Touch Bionics, a spin-out from the NHS and a world-class leader in the design and manufacture of prosthetic limbs. That is why it is showcased in the UK Government GREAT campaign to promote investment in the UK during this diamond jubilee and Olympic year.

I know that Livingston is planning to mark its golden anniversary with style. The hon. Gentleman’s debate will be a significant part of that celebration. As well as a new logo designed by schoolchildren and new trees, plenty of events, exhibitions and activities are planned around the anniversary on 17 April. It is great to see that this anniversary will be marked with specials events, with arts, music and dance the centrepieces of the celebrations next month. As Livingston reaches its golden jubilee, it can reflect on a successful past. Officially, it has not been a new town for 15 years. It has matured into an established feature of the Scottish landscape. I hope that it can look forward to a great future as a significant centre at the forefront of the Scottish and UK economies. On behalf of the UK Government, I wish Livingston all the best for its second half century.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.