Letter from Dr James Gilmour, Chairman, East Parkside Proprietors' Association

To Mr Tim Pogson, Chair, Southside Community Council

Dear Mr Pogson

I am writing to express my concern about your actions, as Chair of the Southside Community Council, in respect of the Innocent Railway Tunnel as reported at Item 12 in your SCC Chair's Report for the meeting held on 14 September 2021. You report that you took this initiative after you met with a "local resident", i.e. with one person. I would remind you that there are 146 dwellings within the East Parkside Development and, although we have not conducted a formal survey, I am aware that there is a diversity of views among the Proprietors and Residents about the Innocent Railway Tunnel, some of which would appear to be diametrically opposed to those of the one "local resident" whose views you have embraced.

You report that the "local resident" was keen to resurrect "this initiative" (presumably, the portal to portal mural) "as a means of preventing vandalism damage to cars in East Parkside". I am aware of evidence that in some places, commissioned murals on public-facing walls have helped to reduce graffiti vandalism on those walls. However, I am not aware of any evidence that such commissioned murals would have any beneficial effect in reducing casual vandalism damage to cars parked 100 yards away from the decorated wall.

You report that you are engaging with "City Council officers" on this subject. We have had considerable engagement with various "City Council Officers" on this topic in recent years. It is immediately obvious from some of their proposals that they do not live anywhere near the Innocent Railway Tunnel, much less in any of the many dwellings adjacent to the only access to the Tunnel from the City.

One CEC Officer wanted to make the Tunnel "an attraction" that would bring large numbers of people here for "activity" (unspecified) within the Tunnel. Another CEC suggestion was that the Tunnel could be designated a "Legal Graffiti Wall", open to all to engage in their "art". This latter suggestion was later ruled out by the CEC Officer on "Health & Safety" grounds because the constant use of aerosols (graffiti spraying) would not be healthy within the enclosed space of the Tunnel. Note: no concern about the "Health & Safety" effects on the local residents from the influx of large numbers of unwanted "visitors", vandals certainly among them.

We are aware that a mural has been painted on the walls of the Colinton Tunnel and that there have been suggestions that a similar "community mural" could be painted on the walls of the Innocent Railway Tunnel. But there are several major differences between the two sites. The Colinton Tunnel is adjacent to a public park in the heart of a village. There is no public space associated with the Innocent Railway Tunnel: this tunnel is simply a thoroughfare, part of National Cycle Route #1, intended for use by legitimate cyclists and legitimate pedestrians going from A to B.

The Colinton Tunnel website states that the purpose of creating the mural on the walls of the Colinton Tunnel was "to bring visitors to Colinton". According to one news website, there have been around 6,000 extra visitors every weekend, with benefits for the nearby village shops. We have not conducted a formal survey, but I doubt if many residents of East Parkside would welcome 6,000 extra visitors passing through East Parkside (the only access) every weekend. And of course, there are no shops or public facilities nearby.

The Colinton Tunnel is 140 metres long and the mural cost £100,000. The Innocent Railway Tunnel is 505 metres long, so on a proportionate basis the likely cost of a mural project to cover the walls of the Innocent Railway Tunnel would be nearly £361,000. But to that must be added the cost of panelling where the walls are too damp or too wet to take the painting. The Colinton Tunnel website states that 3% of the surface of the Colinton Tunnel had to be panelled where the walls were too damp. But the ingress of water into the Innocent Railway Tunnel affects a far greater proportion of the wall surface and so the total cost of the project would be higher than the like-for-like £361,000.

Even if such large sums could be raised, I am doubtful if a mural project in the Innocent Railway Tunnel would achieve its primary, local objective of reducing - ideally preventing - further graffiti vandalism on the walls of Tunnel. I base my doubts on our knowledge of the activities of some of the "users" of the Innocent Railway Tunnel. The gang-taggers from competing gangs will not be inhibited as they happily deface any more artistic graffiti with their "We are here" messages. Similarly uninhibited are those who spray political slogans with messages like "Kill all (name of political party)". [Incitement to murder is surely beyond a 'hate crime', but no action is taken.] Another uninhibited group are the promoters of illegal drug use. Given the criminal nature of these activities, a "pretty mural" is more likely to be an attraction to be defaced that a discouragement to vandalism.

Once installed, murals can be protected with an anti-graffiti coating. This does not prevent any subsequent graffiti vandalism, but it does make it much easier to wash off the unwanted (offending) additions. Such coatings are very costly, but more importantly, they could not be used in the Innocent Railway Tunnel because the surface of the stone of the walls must not be sealed but allowed "to breathe".

Please distribute the full text of this-e-mail to all members of the Southside Community Council before the next meeting on 12 October 2021.


James Gilmour