New blood revives the activists in Old Town

The Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile, just one historic Old Town site. Picture: Kenny Smith
The Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile, just one historic Old Town site. Picture: Kenny Smith
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A CITY centre community group which collapsed last year amid claims their concerns were being “ignored” has reformed.

Members of the revived Old Town community council – some from the former group, and others brand new – have vowed to fight for the issues which matter to residents and tourists alike.

The previous organisation was disbanded in December after members claimed they were receiving little support from bosses at City Chambers.

The volunteers said they were “fed up” with not being listened to when it came to raising concerns over large Old Town developments such as Caltongate.

But now – with a little fresh blood and revived enthusiasm for the World Heritage Site area they represent – the group is keen to take action on a hit-list of issues.

Eight members gathered in the City Chambers earlier this week for the new group’s first annual general meeting, which was also attended by city centre councillor Joanna Mowat.

They said they wanted to harness the support of the local community – from permanent residents and business owners to students and visitors.

Chairman Bill Cowan, who is also the group’s planning secretary, said: “We’re going to concentrate on the achievable issues, which we have been successful with in the past. We need more public awareness of us with businesses, students, residents. We need them to be more aware because we need a better mandate. We need the public to see us as their first port of call.”

The new team drafted a list of local issues to tackle – including road and traffic issues, buskers and trade waste bins. Mr Cowan said Old Town – with its thousands of residents, students and tourists – was in a “unique situation” in a “very small, geographically absurd area”.

He added: “We can influence these many improvements that make everybody’s life better.”

Vice-chairwoman Anja Amsel said she felt there had been a sea change since the collapse of the community council at the end of last year.

“We got disillusioned before and we really weren’t getting any support,” she said. “Everybody, the council officials, elected members and Marco Biagi MSP were all very concerned about it, and now the council is offering us much more support. It’s a much more positive campaign and we need to have a community council.”

The group is in agreement that it wants to strike a balance for the people who live and work in the Old Town and the thousands who visit its historic streets every year.

Concerns about antisocial behaviour led Mr Cowan to lodge an objection on behalf of the group to plans to convert a bingo hall on Nicolson Street into a Wetherspoons “superpub” this week.

Although the venue is just outside the Old Town designation, the group said the development was so close that it could still affect the area.

Sam Piacentini, the community council’s licensing secretary, said: “It’s about quality for everyone.”

Causes for concern

The Old Town community council has drafted a list of “environmental and amenity concerns” it wishes to tackle.

Among these are the alleged disruption caused by street buskers on the Royal Mile, and the A-boards which are put out on the busy street by traders.

Mr Cowan, who runs the Aha Ha Ha Jokes shop at West Bow, vowed to put pressure on the council to take action on the “non-functioning” bollards and underground recycling bins in the Grassmarket.

The group will also campaign for the Cowgate to be resurfaced now that work to build the SoCo hotel complex is complete.

The volume and speed of traffic going up through the West Bow and Victoria Street was also highlighted. Calls will also be made for double yellow lines to be painted on one side of the Canongate to prevent tour bus bottlenecks. Issues with trade waste bins are also on the list.