John McLellan: TV ruins rugby trips

The Six Nations should be a chance to boost tourism in the host cities. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Six Nations should be a chance to boost tourism in the host cities. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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For people of a certain persuasion, second Christmas is almost upon us. I count myself among their number and the event is the Six Nations rugby championship.

Last September, the Six Nations was cited at an Edinburgh tourism conference as an opportunity to boost tourism at a time when numbers are traditionally low – some 600,000 hotel beds are apparently available in Edinburgh between October and March apart from the few days around Hogmanay.

This year that opportunity is limited to two weekends – in a fortnight when England come to Murrayfield and a month later when France visit. In the opposite direction, Edinburgh’s bars can expect a quieter time next weekend when Scotland play Ireland in Dublin and then again on the last weekend of the championship, March 15, when we’re off to Cardiff.

The game against Italy has yet to match the other fixtures in tourism terms, as only a small number of Italians make the trip and we’re in Rome this year anyway.

Edinburgh tourism chiefs, who staged their annual conference at the EICC this week, hope to persuade travelling rugby fans to stay a few more nights and for one or two wealthier people with time on their hands the message might hit home. But for the vast majority with jobs to do or classes to attend, extending the trip isn’t really an option.

And rugby followers tend to be creatures of habit. They try to travel at the same time, stay in the same places, drink in the same bars, and meet up with the same old pals they might not have seen since the last time.

What really messes the whole thing up is the BBC. Television now dictates the kick-off times and that dictates the trip. I have little doubt the numbers travelling to Dublin next week will be lower than usual because, for the first time, the game is on a Sunday and they have work on Monday.

I’ve not missed a Dublin fixture since 1996 and I very nearly didn’t go because of the switch. I know several regulars who are not bothering.

Sunday matches are a dead loss. Away fans, essential to the Six Nations ethos, travel in fewer numbers and home fans, well, go home because they’ve all got to be up sharpish the next day...

Go into town on a Sunday night after a rugby international and it won’t feel that much different to a usual Sunday. I’m not expecting Dublin to be jumping next Sunday night.

Late Saturday kick-offs are bad enough; despite all the drink safe messages the government can throw at us, what do rugby fans do in Paris when the game doesn’t start till 9pm? There are only so many paintings in the Louvre you can look at before the call of local viniculture becomes too strong. But it’s Sunday games tourism chiefs should worry about.

They might be able to persuade a few to come a day early, but the reality is that the trip is expensive. The minute, and I mean the minute, the fixtures are announced the price of flights into the host airport on game weekend shoots up.

To travel back from Dublin to Edinburgh at midday a week on Monday will set you back around £300. Normally that would cost less than £100. OK, stay another day and fly back to Prestwick and even Ryanair are virtually paying you, but for most working people convenience and necessity will trump price.

It’s the same with accommodation. Try getting a reasonable hotel room in the middle of a Six Nations host city and again you’re talking around £200 per person. Sure, if you know where to look you can find bargains, but for the travelling rugby fan, not far short of £700 will have been spent on travel, a bed and match ticket before the first eye-wateringly priced city centre pint has been bought.

And this is only days after the Christmas credit card bill has whumped onto the doormat, and just weeks before the Easter school break.

For Scottish supporters, this year presents an even bigger challenge. Not only is the Ireland game on a Sunday and many will be feeling the effects well into Wednesday, the following Saturday they get do to it all over again for the England game.

And the players worry about the six-day turnaround? I know of at least two poor souls who have narrowly avoided the divorce courts after raising the prospect of going to the England game so soon after Dublin.

So, dear tourism chiefs in Dublin, Cardiff, and Edinburgh (I don’t think they care that much about us in London, Paris or Rome), first things first, please speak to the BBC and ask them to stop messing about with our institution. It’s our game, not theirs.

By all means while we’re around try to show us why we should come back to sample all the other delights you have on offer. We love going to the other cities and visiting fans always score Edinburgh at the top of their satisfaction ratings but please don’t ask rugby people to make the trip even longer.

After two days on a rugby bender we’re rooked. Ask our partners.

No need for monkeying around with end in sight for caltongate saga

After what has seemed like years of stagnation, it seems hardly a week goes by without another major decision affecting the city’s future going through.

Next week the end may be in sight for what seemed like the interminable saga that was the Caltongate development in the Old Town, which went on so long it eventually ground local opposition into reluctant submission. Conservation campaigners have voiced damining criticism, most notably the Cockburn Association which described aspects of the revised plans for the New Street site as “an inappropriate conceit” and “unthinkable” with an approach to design which “could not be more inappropriate if it tried”

Once again the plans for the site on New Street are set for approval, with city planners strongly recommending their approval when councillors meet next week.

Consent already exists for the previous plans which caused even more controversy, but which came to nothing when the company behind them, Mountgrange Caltongate, went bust as the Banking Crash destroyed the UK property market.

The problem facing what is left of the anti-Caltongate campaign is that rejection of the new plans would mean the resurrection of the hated old scheme for which full permission still exists. That work could virtually start tomorrow so it would have been staggering if planners had backed the rejection of something which even the Cockburn Association agreed was an improvement on the original blueprint.

To my eye, overall architect Allan Murrtay has produced a scheme which represents a significant improvement to the area, given no-one alive can remember when it was anything other than derelict, a bus garage or a gasworks.

And how the arched lock-ups beneath Jeffrey Street can be described as a ”gem” is quite beyond me. The Coliseum they ain’t.

But where the Cockburn Association has a point is in relation to some of Allan Murray’s choice of materials, and the city is in danger of being overwhelmed by a proliferation of aluminium facings and wooden boards.

I rather doubt this stuff will pass the test of time as has the best of the Mediaeval, Georgian and Victorian buildings which define Edinburgh.

Down the road, we know that running repairs to the much-derided Scottish Parliament building now cost a staggering £140,000 a month for something which has been open for less than ten years.

Having worked there for over a year I witnessed the elaborate bosun’s chair contraptions needed for maintenance teams to carry out routine work, which included replacing the entirely functionless wooden slats which cut across the MSP block windows.

Then there’s the sight of amused guided tour parties dodging the buckets catchingleaks from the inverted ceilings in the Garden Lobby every time there is a downpour. And that’s not to mention Holyrood’s white granite exterior, as if it was closer to Aberdeen than Abercorn, or the madness of the wooden poles outside the main entrance. The place is a talking point, of that there is little doubt.

While the excesses of the Holyrood building are unlikely to be fully matched, further afield other oddities are springing up. Like something from Dr Who or Blake’s Seven I doubt that strange green formica-like cladding or gunmetal panels which adorn so many blocks of flats, especially around Fountainbridge, will look quite so shiny by 2020.

I accept the old cliché that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for a real monstrosity, check out the number of different coloured bricks and materials used in the Meggetland flats. It’s like someone designed them with Lego after the dog ate the instruction booklet.

Or what about the Springside apartments, again in Fountainbridge, which look like nothing else in Edinburgh apart, perhaps, from the new accommodation behind the walls at Saughton.

Of course when Allan Murray is good he is very good and his Hotel Missoni on George IV Bridge has rightly won widespread praise.

And ICA’s SoCo building on the site of the Old Town fire, which destroyed the Guilded Balloon and La Belle Angelle, also promises to be a triumph.*

Both are marked out by their use of sandstone.

Similarly, the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street which opened in 1998 led the way for much subsequent development. Designed by London architects Benson & Forsyth, they remarked that the oldest exhibit was the stone and you can now see it weathering to match the colour of original Victorian masterpiece.

Back at Caltongate, next week’s debate is bound to be passionate on all sides, although I suspect objections will be raised with a feeling of resignation.

But it deserves to proceed because at the heart of the concept is the kind of spaces and facilities an increasingly busy part of town lacks. But spare us the monkey bars.

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly credited the current Soco design to Allan Murray, who produced the original concept. Apologies for the confusion.

Have your say

Since it was founded in 1875, the Cockburn Association has been the very effective guardian of Edinburgh’s environment and heritage, taking its lead from the impassioned 1849 letter written by a judge, Lord Cockburn about changes to the city.

Its current director, Marion Williams, is a doughty environmentalist and its scrutiny of the plans affecting city life is an important part of the tests which all proposals for such a sensitive and beautiful place should be subjected.

Now I don’t agree with all of what she or the Association says (and they weren’t very happy with me after last week) but I certainly wouldn’t argue with their right to express strongly-worded opinions.

But neither should an association for all Edinburgh represent only one particular view of the future and rather than just sit on the sidelines and criticise I thought it would be a good idea to join.

So I’m in. And if I voice criticisms in the future about their approach it won’t be coming from an opponent but from a member. And for anyone else concerned about the future of the city, why not sign up too. £30 to have a say in the city’s future seems like good value to me.