Coronavirus crisis is bringing out the worst in some people – John McLellan

Don’t let the coronavirus outbreak turn us into a nation of snitches, writes John McLellan

By John McLellan
Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 5:00 pm
Environmental health inspectors tried to prevent the sale of Easter eggs as non-essential items
Environmental health inspectors tried to prevent the sale of Easter eggs as non-essential items

Police Scotland should be congratulated for taking what they describe as a “proportionate” response to the use of emergency powers to enforce social distancing, after repeated reports of over-zealous officers and council officials in the south appearing to relish the opportunity.

Most graphically there was the sinister use of drones by Derbyshire police to track people exercising in the countryside, while environmental health inspectors tried to prevent the sale of Easter eggs as non-essential.

There have been reports of shopping bags being searched to check if purchases really were necessary, but surely what matters is if something presents a hazard, not whether a particular product is essential or not.

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The danger of this emergency is it turns us into a nation of curtain-twitching snitches – and we all know where people informing on their neighbours can end up – but now all corona-narks have to do is drop a line on social media and someone could be in bother.

I won’t name names, but social media was used in Colinton at the weekend to raise a neighbourhood alarm because an unrecognised teenager went by on his bike. The pandemic is undoubtedly bringing out the best in people, but it will also reveal the worst.

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May the flowers keep blooming

The closure of over 2,000 garden centres could ruin hundreds of nurseries, warned the Horticultural Trades Association this week, and as Easter is Christmas for garden centres it’s easy to understand. I visited Klondyke in Frogston the weekend before closure and the usual array of pansies and primroses will presumably be on the way to compost by now.

Down at Homebase in Craigleith, well-meaning staff decided to give away their remaining baskets and planters this week with predictable results: a crowd of shoppers who couldn’t believe their luck – or the social distancing advice…

Non-essential retail might be closed, but there’s surely no harm in supermarkets continuing to stock plants if the transport is available. With lockdown possible till summer, flowers growing in pots, baskets and window boxes will bring much-needed cheer. And by June that will be essential.

Botched closure of Marketing Edinburgh goes from bad to worse

The saga of the botched closure of Marketing Edinburgh is drawing to a close with staff now accepting voluntary redundancy terms. First the council was in denial it was making people redundant, and in its desire to save money by not honouring contracts it ended up costing even more.

For an administration which prides itself on avoiding compulsory redundancies, it seemingly didn’t understand that the only way to avoid forced lay-offs is to make voluntary departure worthwhile, so the total bill will now be well over £200,000.

That money could have kept the old company afloat and given the city a vital tool with which to rebuild the visitor economy when the crisis is over.

Developer presses ahead despite pandemic

Planning applications going through the Council are drying up because new ones can’t be advertised; not counting tree orders there were just nine this week.

However, one is controversial, a pre-application notice for the bitterly-contested Stead’s Place site on Leith Walk.

The new “Our Leith Walk” community buy-out campaign will, to put it mildly, be disappointed that owner Drum Property group is going forward with new plans after the previous scheme was rejected last year by both the council and Scottish Government.

Described as “residential-led”, the new plan retains the historic red-sandstone frontage of the old railway offices and there are no student flats after Edinburgh University walked away from the deal. It’s very hard to know what effect the pandemic will have on property prices, but planning permission for the plot will increase its value and almost certainly derail the community buy-out.