Brian Monteith: We need to keep our dear place green too

It's been happening for more than a decade now, the inexorable growth of Edinburgh relative to Glasgow, but is it what people already living in Edinburgh really want?

Friday, 12th August 2016, 11:05 am
Updated Friday, 12th August 2016, 12:08 pm
David Hemery (GBR) leaps the final hurdle before taking the gold in the 400m hurdles at the ''68 Olympics in Mexico City.

While some fun can be had at the expense of Glaswegians in claiming Edinburgh will be larger than Glasgow in a couple of decades the truth is a little different. Measuring the population of cities by their council boundaries doesn’t give a true picture, with the people of Rutherglen – physically part of Glasgow not counted because they are in South Lanarkshire Council – being an example of how the statistics can give a false impression.

Nevertheless, Edinburgh is growing and growing fast, but has anyone taken the trouble to ask the residents if we want to expand? Have we had a city-wide debate about what it will mean and how we should manage such change? Of course not.

These life-changing events have a habit of just happening, with only the council’s planners and the developers that hope to profit from meeting the city’s needs thinking ahead strategically.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

More people means a desperate need for more homes as we are already suffering a shortage, but where do they go? Since I grew up as a kid in the sixties I’ve seen even small corners of Edinburgh streets built on, old shops converted into flats, industrial sites like Sunblest bakery disappear and become housing. Edinburgh was once famous for its holes in the ground and its gap sites – not any more. So it’s not as if flats and houses are never going up, new properties come on stream all the time, but still the city is struggling to meet the demand.

This means the city needs to encourage housebuilding and drop its ideological fixation with encouraging “affordable housing”. It is an oxymoron. Build more houses, any houses, any apartments, and the relative prices will eventually come down. Forcing developers to provide “affordable houses” simply means they build fewer houses so that values stay high.

As usual it’s the poorest and the lowest paid that suffer to salve the guilt of middle-class politicians living in their comfortable homes.

But, as well as encouraging housebuilding we seriously need to balance that with keeping Edinburgh Edinburgh. When was the last time you heard anyone proposing a park? Glasgow has more parks and more trees than Edinburgh, is that not something we should want to rectify? That’s why the building of Portobello High School on common ground used by locals and kids playing football was so regrettable. A forward-looking council would have earmarked other industrial land before it was (allegedly) left with no alternative.

It’s not just a green belt we need to look at preserving as much as possible (apart from transport corridors that have to cut through it) we need to have inner city green space too. If the current council drained the Borough Loch (the Meadows) and the Nor Loch (Princes Street Gardens) it would have houses built upon it! Lochend Loch watch out!

We need our local politicians to kick-start a debate on what Edinburgh should be – and the remaining eight months before the council elections is just the time to do it.

Golden moments take me back to 1968

THANKS to the time lag and unhelpful hours we may not be following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games quite so avidly as we did the London Olympics but it is still throwing up its own weird and wonderful moments.

The diving pools slowly turning green is possibly the funniest of what’s been happening.

It takes me back to watching the Mexico Olympics in 1968 in the days when we went wild if we won at all – five golds, 13 medals in total– compared to London when we won 29 golds and 65 medals altogether.

Getting out of bed before the milkman came (remember those guys?) to watch David Hemery (pictured) and Lillian Board win gold and silver has stuck with me.

It was good training to watch the first man land on the Moon the following year.