Despite the obvious challenges that 2019 will bring we have a lot to be optimistic about for the year ahead. This year will see many projects coming to fruition and a great deal of progress being made towards our goals.
The City Deal projects had their business cases approved at the end of 2018 and will now move towards delivery. The new concert hall will go to the planning committee, the skills programme will start linking people to opportunities and we will look to harness technology through data-driven innovation to tackle the problems we are grappling with. Better-managing tourism and tackling pressure in the social care system can both take advantage of Edinburgh’s aspiration of being the data Capital of Europe. With the level of economic uncertainty facing the city, this work will also help create economic opportunities to help us weather the storm.
The SNP Government has announced around £1 billion of funding for new schools across Scotland. Edinburgh has a number of primaries and high schools, including Castlebrae, WHEC and Currie we’ll develop plans to replace. This is a chance to develop innovative plans that put schools at the heart of our communities and where possible co-locate services together to minimise cost while maximising community benefit.
In just a few months the council will make a final decision on tram extension. Since 2015 the council has been cautiously and robustly developing the case for extending the tram to Newhaven. The result has been a business case that is strong. Businesses along the route have also shaped the £2 million business support package to help those affected by disruption (on Leith Walk in particular) stay open for business. This decision is a chance for us to decide what kind of Edinburgh we want to live in. One which looks to solve our problems and look to the future, or one which cowers before our challenges. This year can be looked back on as one in which we took decisions for future generations – they’ll thank us for it.
An inaccurate, albeit understandable, narrative has emerged around our city’s value of trees. Edinburgh has more trees than people and, importantly, there are more than 7000 additional trees in the Capital since the 2017 election.
However, we want to go even further. Just a few months ago the Administration voted for a motion by Ashley Graczyk on the possibility of introducing “City trees”, a green wall capable of soaking up as much carbon as 275 trees in urban locations to improve the air we breathe. We’ll bring forward plans this summer to expand tree numbers within our city centre and across our communities. We’re already the greenest city in the UK and our aspiration is to build on our success, helping nature flourish and improving our urban landscape.
Our programme to build 20,000 affordable homes will also ramp up this year and the number of homes being completed and occupied will soar to near-record levels. This is partly about planning for our city’s growth, but it will also enable us to meet our goal of ending the unacceptable practice of families having to use Bed & Breakfast facilities and work towards everyone in our city having a place to call home. Our work with housing associations, the private sector and groups like Social Bite, Streetwork and Streetsoccer will help us build the homes we need and provide the support people need to move away from homelessness.
I’m optimistic about the progress we can make this year to take our city forward. The last 18 months in office have involved a great deal of hard work but this year will see us building on those efforts and delivering for our amazing city!
Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council