Christmas market: saying sorry is becoming a habit for council chiefs – John McLellan

Apologies, apologies… this time last year the city council’s director of place Paul Lawrence issued a mea culpa for the way the planning application for Edinburgh Rugby’s mini Murrayfield stadium was handled and this week it was his boss Andrew Kerr’s turn to crave our indulgence for the Christmas Market fiasco.

Thursday, 28th November 2019, 6:00 am
Council chief executive Andrew Kerr

There are significant differences between the two, not least because one sought planning permission before any work started and the other didn’t and the rugby ground was a private project on private land compared to a Council-sponsored event on a public park.

But the similarities are striking too, with both involving major entertainment venues and both tangled in the mysteries of the planning system, but most crucially both were able to proceed without the scrutiny of councillors on the planning committee.

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Edinburgh Council’s chief executive issues public apology over Christmas market ...

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Readers may recall that mini-Murrayfield avoided the committee because a strong objection from Murrayfield ice rink was classified as a letter of support and the application fell one opponent short of the threshold needed for a committee referral. Even so, there was an expectation that something of such public interest would be scrutinised publicly. The Christmas Market will be dismantled by the time councillors get a chance to discuss the details retrospectively.

Mr Kerr told councillors this week there was nothing unusual in retrospective panning applications which is true to an extent. But how many of them are projects involving the council on council land when it should have been known for months, if not years, that an application would be needed? A report is expected in February.

The coast is clear

With support from authors Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Tom Devine, Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson is leading the charge against mass tourism and I suspect a majority of residents would agree.

Edinburgh is a premium destination and apart from the Castle, only the Tattoo and the modern, stand-up-dominated Fringe could be described as “popular” attractions.

There is a growing consensus that tourism needs to be spread away from the centre, yet Mr Wilkinson was one of the main cheerleaders for the Dunard Concert Hall off St Andrew Square, which if ever built will need income from popular acts to make it pay.

What if the concert hall was the centre-piece of a new Waterfront cultural quarter with the museum and galleries depositories? It would have left Dundee’s V&A for dead and given visitors a good reason to head for the coast.

Epic fail

Edinburgh Council’s rules about committee membership are pretty straightforward, with places awarded in proportion to the party sizes and with the independent councillors forming a group of three the formula should have given them a place on the main committees.

But because they are all ex-SNP and the Greens would have lost a place, the SNP and Greens didn’t just bend but ignored the rues and denied the independents a place. What’s worse, Labour councillors went with it. The Epic group have a good case for seeking a judicial review, but don’t expect Joanna Cherry to be fighting for a principle on this occasion.

That’s you telt

Council debate rules are clear; you get five minutes to say your piece. Last week depute Lord Provost Joan Griffiths had to bring Cllr Kate Campbell to a halt because with a full head of steam she found it very difficult to stop well after her five minutes were up.

Her indignant SNP colleague Lesley Macinnes described this as being “shut down”, to which Cllr Griffiths calmly pointed out Cllr Campbell had used up her time. As they say these days, telt.