Martin Hannan: Plan paralysis is city’s shame

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If you have a spare £270 million or so, you could find yourself the proud owner of a prime shopping centre on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

It has been rumoured that the Gyle Centre is to be put on the market, though that has not been confirmed yet. Since the current owners paid £267m for it in 2006, I would expect that in these post-recession days they would be looking for their money back and a wee bit extra.

Given that investors are once again looking at shopping centres – three large ones were sold in Scotland last year – I expect that if the Gyle does come to market as reported, then the price could go even higher, especially as the centre has won the right to expand with a new Primark.

The Gyle Centre may be slightly used and has had several owners, but it is still a gold mine and I am reliably informed by those who know about these things that it is a very good place to shop. I could well believe that, as I once did my entire annual shopping trip – I do have to buy some Christmas pressies – at the Gyle. As I recall, it took me a whole 26 minutes – a plethora of vouchers from Marks, oodles of booze from Morrisons, cards from Clintons, and lots of lovely stuff from The Body Shop. That’s how to do it.

The news that the Gyle is reportedly for sale made me think back to the days when the City of Edinburgh District Council, as the local authority was then known, actually got things done.

I toiled for the council in those days, and well recall the excitement when the authority’s arms-length subsidiary Edinburgh Development and Investment, now known as the EDI Group, put together a deal to develop the 50-acre Gyle site. It was a classic case of the council acting as the enabler and working with the private sector for the good of all, as Marks and Spencer and the then Safeway were involved and the whole development cost £68m and change.

It was subsequently sold on after local government reorganisation in 1995 and the present council made a tidy profit on the deal.

Contrast that can-do attitude of more than 20 years ago with the current council’s paralysis over planning and economic development.

Is it any wonder that Communities Minister Alex Neil has stepped in to “recall” six planning applications for housing in the Lothians? Last week he gave his verdict on the first major application and allowed the 
development of 173 houses on the Edmonstone Estate just south of the Royal Infirmary on Old Dalkeith Road.

With the council’s Local Development Plan fiasco, there was nothing to say build or not build on the site. That’s a cop-out.

The big one will be at Cammo where developers want to build 700 homes. Again there’s no Local Development Plan in place and so Mr Neil will probably give it the go-ahead as the national policy at the moment is to allow such developments.

If he does so, then Mr Neil should order the construction of new roads all around. Meanwhile the council should hang its head in shame that the local planning process is now a joke.

Talented Steve leaves a lasting impression . .

Heard a brilliant cabaret act at the weekend. Steve Pert, pictured, was on a short mini-tour of Scotland and I happened to catch his act which involves him impersonating the entire Rat Pack – his Sammy Davis Jnr is uncanny – and even Tina Turner, as well as singing very well in his own voice and cracking jokes in between.

You can check him out at his website, www.stevepert.com.

The former Wall Street Crash singer hails from Canterbury but loves coming to Scotland, and next time he’s up here I’ll let you know the date and venue.

Counting cost of fines farce

Edinburgh’s eight bus lane cameras issued 25,882 fines in 2014, yet only 109 appeals were submitted to the Scottish Parking Appeals Service, of which 56 were granted. That tells me people just accept the fine because they can’t be bothered contesting it.

When the new 20mph speed limit comes in, expect even more cash to be raked in by the dreaded speed guns.

Keep Royal High in public hands

Speaking of council dysfunction, how could anyone in their right mind think that

£10 million is a decent price for the former Royal High School?

While I agree that any use would be better than no use, and a hotel is as good a private use as any, I don’t believe the city council really did all it could to find a use for the building as a public amenity.

I thought the idea of a national photography centre was an excellent proposal but for various reasons it did not come to fruition.

Perhaps if the developers fail to get planning permission, we could return to that idea or something similar as I personally don’t think it should be a privately owned building.