Party leaders clash ahead of city election

The debate was streamed live on the Edinburgh Evening News.
The debate was streamed live on the Edinburgh Evening News.
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PARTY leaders have clashed over the Capital’s 20mph speed limit and bin collections ahead of Thursday’s city council elections.

The heads of the main parties were delivering their pitch to voters at the Evening News hustings last night.

Vying for votes were Labour’s deputy leader Ricky Henderson, SNP leader Frank Ross, Steve Burgess from the Greens, Lib Dems’ Robert Aldridge and Tory chief Cameron Rose.

“We have got 80 per cent of the city’s streets with 20mph limits,” said Cllr Rose, who was the first to come racing out of the blocks.

“Our proposal is to suspend the remaining implementation and have an independent review,” he added.

Cllr Rose suggested pressure groups account for much of the support for 20mph and labelled it “ridiculous” that the move was taken after only a nine-month assessment.

Cllr Henderson reminded voters the 20mph was rolled out after consultation to make residential streets safer – with main routes unaffected.

“We believe it’s an effective way to reduce injuries from road accidents,” added Cllr Henderson, with a review “in due course”.

And he said his group would commit to helping a majority of residents in any city street who oppose the 20mph limit to overturn it. 
Cllr Ross said “safety has to be the major concern” and backed a review, but said 20mph limits had to run long enough to collect sufficient data as evidence.

“From a personal perspective, I think we need to look at two or three years,” he added.

“After public consultation and even an Evening News poll, at some point critics have to accept that 20mph is quite liked by most people,” said Cllr Burgess.

“If you reduce speeds, you reduce serious injuries and fatalities. For the sake of driving a wee bit slower and getting to your destination a wee bit later, you could save the life of a child, which is worth it.”

Lib Dem leader Robert Aldridge reminded voters it was a transport convener from his party who originally proposed the rollout in 2011/12.

Cllr Aldridge called for a review after one year when any streets where the new 20mph limit is deemed not to be working should be returned to a 30mph limit.

“A lot of us listen to taxi drivers who are always extremely vocal,” said Cllr Aldridge. “Is it absolutely necessary to have a 20mph limit at 2am when taxi drivers are driving people from the night-time economy?”

On bin collections, Cllr Rose attacked the decision not to privatise. “Five years later and we are in a worse situation - the bin service has deteriorated,” he said

Cllr Aldridge said the city should consider privatisation and current administration “took eye off the ball” in regards to bin collection.

But Cllr Ross defended the administration in opposing privatisation of bin collection across the Capital, maintaining the council is “best placed to deliver the best service”.

Other issues raised by the hopeful leaders included housing and roads while they got to pitch their five-year vision for the Capital to voters. The Lib Dems would “get the city working properly”, said Cllr Aldridge, and put “community and city” first.

“Edinburgh is a world-class city, outward looking, welcoming to people around the world and the engine of the Scottish economy,” he added.

Greens leader Cllr Burgess pointed to an “exciting manifesto” with over 100 ideas for a “great city” – with carers’ wages, rent and public transport topping the list.

“Edinburgh needs councillors who are up to the job, who understand the area and have the vision for our great city,” said Cllr Burgess.

Cllr Frank Ross said: “One of the major drives for the SNP manifesto is to build 20,000 social, affordable houses over the next ten years.”

Affordable housing in Edinburgh is an SNP priority magnified by 20 percent “in-work poverty” across the Capital, he added.

The Tories’ Cllr Rose told voters Edinburgh is being “let down” with roads and pavements among the worst in Britain and “late and missed” bin collections among the most expensive in Scotland.

He called for a “laser-like focus” on local issues rather than the “wasted five years” focused on a referendum.

Labour deputy Cllr Henderson defended his coalition’s record in power at city chambers in delivering services with a budget slashed by £27m.

Investment in schools leading to record attendances and more than 5,000 new affordable homes were successes, he added.

“Budgets have to be balanced in order to serve this great city,” said Cllr Henderson.

andy.shipley@jpress.co.uk