The inaugural meeting of Gifford Community Council was held in the village hall on 22 July 1976, following an election of its nine members a month before. David Hill became the council’s first chairman.
At that time community councils were completely new. They had come into being as a result of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and there were no precedents to guide the new bodies how best to function. What they were not to be was a third tier of local government, and such guidance as was offered simply noted:
… the general purpose of a community council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authority for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible…
For the last 25 years, Gifford Community Council has fulfilled that role and more and served the people of Gifford well.
In those early years a principle topic of discussion was the village hall (Simpson, J.M. (1986) The Feuars of Gifford, pp40-43). Closed by its owners in 1977 (Morris & Parker, owners of Yester), it was falling into disrepair. The community council set up a hall sub-committee, which led to the formation of the Gifford Community Association. The feuars funded the purchase of the hall and the community association applied successfully for grant aid for its refurbishment from central and local government sources. The remainder of the funds required, about a quarter of the total, was raised from public contributions and covenants. After restoration, the hall reopened in 1981.
As the first councils settled into their role of representing the community, it became clear that there was a good measure of consensus regarding village matters and issues were usually resolved fairly smoothly. Occasionally however, battles had to be fought: for the adoption of Tweeddale Avenue; for improved street lighting in the village (not yet totally accomplished); for the preservation of bus services. Battles sometimes became campaigns as in the case of the care and preservation of the Avenue lime trees, vital to the character of the village and, unhappily, unresolved to this day. Another long-running skirmish, not confined to Gifford, is the continuing struggle to have country roads properly maintained.
In the early 1990s the council acquired its own coat of arms, designed by heraldic expert Bill Adams, its then chairman, and matriculated by the Lord Lyon. The arms are displayed on community council stationery.
Gifford is designated a conservation village. In more recent years, the council has resisted those developments, which the community at large regarded as inappropriate to that status. In 1996 a proposal to build expensive houses on open space at Station Road was the subject of a public inquiry. Unfortunately, in spite of powerful local opposition, that development was permitted. More successful was the community council’s support, at the East Lothian Local Plan Inquiry, for the preservation of open landscape at the western entrance to the village in the face of more housing proposals.
In resisting these the council made it clear that it was not opposed to sensitive expansion of the village, only to the imposition of inappropriate developments.
Environmental matters continue to be of concern; the growth of vehicular traffic and associated parking problems and, more recently, the appearance of telecommunication masts on high ground overlooking the village.
The role and power of community councils developed slowly at first, but the last few years have seen their influence on events grow appreciably. For example, they are now empowered to demand to be consulted on any planning applications affecting their community; they have growing control over the expenditure of grant monies from local authorities and community councillors are being given training in the workings of local government. In Gifford, the Local Priorities Scheme provided money for playground equipment, and, together with contributions from local organisations, allowed the refurbishment of gravestones in the churchyard and bulb planting at the entrances to the village. A further donation was received from the contractors who renewed the water mains in Gifford for East of Scotland Water.
The council is a member of the East Lothian Association of Community Councils and the Association of Scottish Community Councils and has found the exchange of views at the regular meetings of both bodies to be helpful and instructive. It has been interesting and perhaps reassuring to find that many local frustrations are shared in common.
Finally, it has to be said that most of the work of the community council is not spectacular. As Richard Hamilton wrote in Social Life in Gifford in 1989;
… just as the main items discussed by the Feuars in the last century were pavements, lighting, street repairs, drains, etc., so are they now and, in addition, car parking, bus services, litter, planning applications, public conveniences, etc. Nobody would claim that the meetings are exciting, but over the years, the council has served the people of Gifford well, and it is a pity that more people do not show their support by attending monthly meetings.
It was ever thus.