‘I fear someone will be pushed under a bus” were the chilling words of council official, Paul Lawrence, on the front-page of last Wednesday’s Evening News. I’m sure that many readers, like me, will have had that thought at some time or another when walking through parts of Edinburgh city centre.
As the council’s executive director of place, Mr Lawrence is ultimately responsible for the management of the city’s roads and pavements. However, in peak periods, like the festival season, Edinburgh simply isn’t coping with the number of people who wish to walk around the city.
I’ve seen it myself many times.
Take the narrow pavement of George IV Bridge, for example. Many visitors will sidle up to catch a glimpse of the Greyfriars Bobby fountain there. Aside from the castle, it’s on most visitors’ must-see lists. But, unlike other cities with small statues on display, such as the Manneken Pis in Brussels or the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, passers-by often have to take their lives in their hands by walking on to a busy carriageway.
So what can be done to address the quality of Edinburgh’s built environment and meet the capacity to cope with such a growing demand?
One possible option is introduce a transient visitor levy or so-called ‘tourist tax’.
This has long been a policy for the Scottish Greens and indeed the City of Edinburgh Council recently requested that the Scottish Government bestow councils with the power to raise taxes on this issue.
In fact, it’s estimated that the city could collect millions of pounds in revenue from visitors paying a little extra on top of their accommodation. Of course, such a steady stream of income could be invested in city services and improvements, like the quality of our city’s streets.
Disappointingly, however, the Scottish Government do not hold such ambition.
In a parliamentary question to the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, earlier this month, I asked him about the Government’s plans to provide local authorities with the power to introduce a tourist tax.
He told me, in his response, that the Scottish Government is working on a programme of discussions with stakeholders from local government and the tourism industry. I look forward to reading what the Minister’s proposals are, but until then we are no further forward.
Yet across Europe, many popular tourist destinations including Rome, Paris and Berlin already have a tourist tax in place to help pay for the services that both residents and visitors use.
With local government budgets being continually stretched, it’s clearly time for the Scottish Government to reassess how local services and facilities will be funded now and in the future. Edinburgh deserves the investment needed to modernise the urban realm and make it welcoming and safe for visitors and residents.
Andy Wightman is a Green MSP for Lothian.