Helen Martin: Capital suffers from car policy

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EDINBURGH City Council, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and traders are not best pleased with Midlothian’s plans to ­double the size of Straiton retail park and create a shopping village at Hillend.

All feel the Midlothian vision would adversely effect the Capital and are calling for a regional ­strategy to avert a local authority war over trading opportunities.

Blaming Midlothian, which has a perfect right to boost its own retailing chances, especially as it doesn’t have a city centre of its own, is hardly fair. Nor does it seem equitable for Edinburgh to claim its trade should take divine precedence over its less urban neighbour’s.

As someone who lives on the south side of the city, I can only say “Hoorah!” at the Straiton and Hillend plans. Should they come to pass, I will be among many who will take full advantage of them.

That is the inevitable result of the damage inflicted on the city, not by Midlothian but by its own policies.

When you pursue a notorious anti-motorist policy of insufficient, over-expensive parking places and punitive fines even in suburban areas; excessive pavement widening; too much pedestrianisation and ­long-term tram disruption, of course shoppers will go elsewhere.

Edinburgh city centre is now only easily-accessible for cyclists and bus passengers so that is the custom it will attract.

Glasgow understands that, which is why it provides multi-storey car parks where ever possible, and it is the primary shopping location in Scotland.

There are risks to cracking down on cars as Edinburgh has done. Those who work, those who have young children, those whose time is curtailed perhaps by caring responsibilities, those who are physically less able, are among shoppers for whom Edinburgh is now frankly unattractive.

They are time-poor, with limited opportunities for shopping so they make fewer trips but buy more stuff in one go. And for that they need a car.

Neither bikes nor buses are designed for someone carrying heavy items or multiple shopping bags.

If the Capital wishes to discourage cars and encourage travel by cycle and public transport, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly green, laudable, environmentally-friendly thing to do. But it comes at a price. This small and ­compact city, certainly not large enough to be all things to all ­people, has to make up its mind what it wants to be and what its priorities are, because it can’t have it all ways.

Is its most important role as a working, commercial city with a strongly beating retail heart?

Or is it first and foremost a ­tourist destination with historical ­heritage around every corner, a pavement cafe culture which is ideal for ­traffic-free strolling, cycle-ways and sight-seeing?

How about a financial centre, a legal hub, a place of big business and national government?

At the moment it is a ­global centre for the arts, jugglers and comedians, congested with people, unicyclists, tents and tour buses as much as cars. Each identity poses different problems and transport demands.

Serving one inevitably disrupts another.

You can’t please all the people all the time so someone has to take the hit.

For almost a decade that has been motorists, many of whom would once have come to the city to shop. Edinburgh made it plain they and their cars weren’t wanted. They are entitled to go elsewhere and Midlothian is happy to welcome them.

Owners aren’t always able to thwart fat cats

A SCOTTISH stray cat has astounded experts by weighing 1st 8 lbs. It didn’t surprise me. We got our erstwhile stray cat Mick from the SSPCA. He is now domesticated and affectionate in every way but one – after years with us enjoying regular meals he still behaves as if every mouthful could be his last.

He’s on a strict half-portion diet. After breakfasting in the morning he does the rounds of neighbours’ homes and gardens to scoff anything left out for birds, wildlife or their own pets. Back in time for the dog’s breakfast, just in case any scraps are going, then out again for a spot of hunting. He pops in at lunchtime hoping for a treat, and expects supper any time from 4.30pm, prior to raiding the dog’s dinner at 6pm.

We discovered that between those times he had been in the habit of gaining entry to a neighbour’s house and joining his two moggies waiting for their 5.30pm meal, only to be thwarted when the man sensibly installed micro-chip recognition on his cat flaps.

When we’re on holiday, either of two neighbours takes over feeding Mick. He figures out which one is on duty and if they haven’t arrived by 4.30pm, he goes to fetch them. He brings prey home only fleetingly to show off, then scarpers with it into the garden where he consumes feathers, tails, feet, head, the lot.

Mick weighs about 7kg and the only way to get that down would be to keep him locked in a cage.

I offer this so that vets (other than my own who know the score with Mick) will stop hectoring owners about over indulgence and accept that sometimes the fault for obesity lies at the feet of the fat cats.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

We call 19th-century poverty and poor conditions Dickensian. So what should be used for today’s monitored toilet breaks, GPS-tracked staff and zero-hour contracts?

Cameronian?