John McLellan: Edinburgh can be leader of the pack

Scotland fan Callum Hodgon parades outside the Hydro during the Commonwealth Games. Picture: Jane Barlow

Scotland fan Callum Hodgon parades outside the Hydro during the Commonwealth Games. Picture: Jane Barlow

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For once the Edinburgh Festival season has a very hard act to follow.

The Commonwealth Games has been a fantastic success, and although the refurbished Commonwealth Pool has received plaudits, there is no doubt these have been Glasgow’s Games and to Glasgow should go our 
congratulations.

OK, so the park and ride was a lot of parking and not much riding at times and the access to Hampden was botched on its first day, but it all got sorted out in the end.

Mind you, some besuited regular commuters on the normally peaceful 7.15 Glasgow train were looking ready to kill by Tuesday, jostled in the crammed carriages by face-painted Games fans many of whom were themselves crammed into over-sized international sports wear.

Like the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh, when the dire predictions of traffic chaos meant the roads around the EICC were never quieter, the scare stories meant that many streets around Games venues have been oases of calm and parking no issue.

Don’t go near the hockey centre? Well, we drove right up to within 100 yards of the entrance and straight into an unrestricted street. And yes, the car was still there when we returned.

Whatever you do, use the park and ride if you’re going to the rugby sevens at Ibrox and don’t attempt to drive? Really? Even if all the roads around Brand Street are clear and the car park at Shields Road subway is half empty?

Ask a policeman if it’s OK to park in Dalmarnock within a ten-minute walk of the Emirates Arena? “Aye, I think so.”

Thousands of Edinburgh people have made the trip west for the Games and I’m sure thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But as the athletes pack up this weekend, Edinburgh is going to have to go some to capture the excitement that has gripped the Dear Green Place over the past ten days.

With something as excellent as the Festivals, it is not easy to maintain a sense of expectation year after year when August follows pretty much the same pattern.

Even the build-up to the Festival fireworks, as spectacular as anything you’ll see in any city, becomes more about the weather forecast than about what’s going to be new this year. For the show itself, as long as the waterfall is still in there, it’s as much about the tonnage as the artistry.

Glasgow doesn’t have the problem of reinventing the Commonwealth Games for next year but it does have the challenge of keeping the city on the map to make sure the Games legacy as a tourist attraction isn’t 
squandered.

Having the admittedly mighty Hydro as the backdrop to every BBC news and sport bulletin has given it a head start – who wouldn’t want to take a trip to see if it lives up to its already impressive reputation? Unless, of course, you are Eric Clapton.

As far as indoor events are concerned, the Hydro puts most places in the shade, and as the focal point for Glasgow’s year-round visitor attractions it was well worth the £125 million investment. Pollstar, the global entertainment industry information business, recently put it fourth in the top 100 venues in the world.

According to the Clyde Waterfront partnership, the Hydro could boost the local economy by £131m in addition to the current £347m generated by the SECC complex and its 1.5 million visitors a year. If true, it’s not a bad return at all.

Meanwhile, after years and years of arguing, agreeing and doing next to hee-haw, Edinburgh is no nearer to building a facility on anything like that scale.

Transport links to the Hydro and SECC site are too poor for Edinburgh to regard itself as within easy reach and the links to the rest of Glasgow aren’t much to shout about either – so Edinburgh still needs its own facilities to compete.

Edinburgh did make an effort to host these Commonwealth Games and a report was commissioned by the city council back in 2004, details of which have now become lost for some reason.

Having already hosted the Games twice, the chances of Edinburgh landing the Games again were always slim, especially after near financial collapse and the Robert Maxwell debacle in 1986. Also, the then Scottish Executive under First Minister Jack McConnell was also keen to switch as much government work away from Edinburgh as possible, resulting most notoriously in the relocation of Scottish Natural Heritage to Inverness. By some estimates the switch cost around £40m to no significant benefit for the taxpayer but it definitely cost Edinburgh 
270 jobs.

However, according to a city council source, the practical reason given for Edinburgh’s rejection was the lack of major indoor facilities. Although the Hydro and Emirates Arena were still to be built, in 2004 Glasgow already had the SECC.

Yet if Edinburgh was to launch a bid for, say, the 2026 Games then with the exception of the diving facilities at the Commonwealth Pool, we would be starting from pretty much the same place as in 2004.

The city as a whole has not stood still, with the extension to the Conference Centre a significant addition, but for a major step forward our eggs have been in the trams basket. It’s an easy game to play, but for one shortened tram line you get six Hydros.

But we can’t turn back the clock and we do have a tram line which stops at Murrayfield and Ingliston where there are facilities desperate for improvement.

Something can be done.

SHOPPING CENTRE PROBLEMS Take THEIR toll

IT’S not quite down at heel, but Cameron Toll shopping centre has seen better days.

The recently reported drop in value serves as a reminder that property investment is not a licence to print money.

From a purchase price of £80 million six years ago, the centre is on the market for around £44m and reflects the problems places like this face.

New supermarkets and chain convenience stores elsewhere, internet shopping and a site which can’t be expanded are all reflected in a price which shouts out “Start again”.

There should still be demand for the supermarket, but most of the other stores offer services which can easily be accessed online. Holidays, books and clothes are all available with a few key strokes and for the most part people using the smaller stores are only there to do a big shop at Sainsbury’s.

Nobody goes to Cameron Toll for leisure, but there should be demand for a good shopping and leisure hub in that part of town, given the nearby population.

All around are communities along the spokes of Dalkeith Road, Gilmerton Road, Liberton Road,

Peffermill Road and Craigmillar Park where good pubs, cafes and restaurants are thin on the ground.

There is talk of potential for a cinema and other entertainment like a bowling alley and as the size of the plot dwarfs somewhere like Fountain Park, it should be feasible to retain a supermarket and shops as well if the car parking goes underground.

But it would be difficult to keep the centre going while major reconstruction is underway and that means loss of income for whoever takes it on.

There is no doubt it needs a masterplan but its reinvention will need cash and a lot of it. And then there will be the planners to deal with.

Old Town needs new look

IN days gone by, the Cowgate was regarded as a sewer for the grander houses along the High Street, and the squalid life in its slums helped form the outlook of socialist revolutionary and Dublin Easter Rising leader James Connolly who was born there.

Today it might not be a sewer, especially with the grand new SoCo building, but it is far from being a jewel in the Old Town’s tiara.

And as the city gears up for Festival season, visitors strolling down some of the streets off the High Street might begin to wonder if the city really cares about its appearance. Outside Bannerman’s pub on Niddry Street lies a street sign which has been upended for months and on the buildings there is bodged pipework.

There is no excuse for Old Town streets to look so down at heel and maybe building inspectors need to spend a bit more time talking to local businesses which need clean and attractive streets to bring in the customers.