What is the thing that Edinburgh excels at most? Is it our festivals that helped put the city on the international map?
Is it the staging of big events such as the Hogmanay celebrations? Maybe it’s being such a stunning tourist destination – or as is often claimed in various surveys – being one the best places to live in the world?
I’d like to propose something entirely different and it’s not something we should be proud of. Edinburgh excels at producing potholes.
From my experience of worldwide travel, our city is a world leader in the art of encouraging and cultivating holes in the ground.
There are few places that can beat our prowess at ruining our roads. Mexico City, certainly, Lagos, possibly – but these are cities of more than 15 million people with municipal authorities that hardly enjoy the full force of administrative law.
Every time I venture out on our city’s roads I see more ruts, more man-traps, more chasms guaranteed to devastate your shock absorbers or puncture your mountain bike tyres.
Some people like Labour’s Councillor Scott Arthur appear to think that this curse of potholes is down to SNP and Tory austerity but in this he is utterly wrong.
I have been writing for this paper weekly since 2001 and have been mentioning Edinburgh’s potholes since then.
For it is true, yes, even in the days of Gordon Brown’s great munificence, Edinburgh had a greater share of potholes than any other city in the UK.
It never used to be that way but it started somewhere in the late 80s and carried on through the 90s until suddenly, like giant hogweed or measles, Edinburgh was covered in a rash – of potholes.
The reason for this was clear, our own city rulers neglected our roads and every year the potholes accumulated, rather like compound interest helps your savings mount up. Only potholes are not something we should want to see flourish.
It was Labour that started it and even in those halcyon days when Labour ran the city, Labour ran the Scottish Parliament and Labour ran Westminster (1999-2007) a strange thing happened – the potholes continued to get worse and worse.
You see there’s no escaping it, Labour always neglected the city’s roads – unless it was painting the greenways or putting new corners on the pavements or restricting the parking.
There was always money for schemes that attacked the use of cars – but the funds used to maintain the roads were always, year after year after year, insufficient.
Don’t take my word for it – the Evening News has constantly campaigned about potholes; Audit Scotland has regularly published reports listing the growing scale of the task and people who make their living on our roads – the cabbies and couriers – have complained perennially that our roads are a disgrace. Of course it will be said that the harsh winter conditions are a problem – but we have always had occasionally harsh winters and the potholes were not so ripe and plentiful.
It will be said that there are more cars – but that only generates more income from the road fund licence and the VAT and duty on motor fuel. Why did the funding of roads not keep pace Gordon?
We have to accept the reason for our potholes is that we let them appear in the first place and have allowed a problem to grow that is almost beyond coping with. Unless we make it a priority to completely resurface large sections of Edinburgh’s roads the problem will not go away.
It’s not Tory austerity, it’s not SNP austerity – it’s now not even Labour’s past and continued dislike of the car and the drivers behind the wheels.
It’s a question of priorities and unless Edinburgh as a city accepts its collective guilt, we will never see the day when potholes go away.