Edinburgh Council can keep streets relatively clean when puts its mind to it – John McLellan

Architect Chris Stewart knows a thing or two about improving Edinburgh city centre, having been responsible for some of its most successful restoration and conversion projects, so his stinging rebuke about the state of the streets in the Evening News week can’t be ignored.

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 4:55 am
Litter blights some areas of the city centre but John McLellan's snapshot inspection of Princes Street showed what the council can do

“As an Edinburgh-based business that has invested large amounts of capital in improving the built heritage of the city, we find the frustrations caused by the lack of basic services such as rubbish collection, offensive graffiti and pavements in disrepair to be endless,” he wrote.

His letter followed criticism of the pavement outside the new Johnnie Walker Centre at the West End so I had a closer look. I did find a loose slab, but that was on the centre’s brand new roof terrace.

I’m not normally one to leap to the council’s defence, but on Tuesday morning what I found the length of Princes Street was the usual odd cigarette end and the universal problem of chewing gum but it was largely litter free. I can’t deny I was pleasantly surprised.

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There had been no instant, one-off, deep clean after his attack, it just wasn’t horrendous. In fact, the ugliest things I saw were, wait for it, temporary traffic signs at the East End which have been there so long large weeds are growing from the sandbags.

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Graffiti is a problem in some doorways, and there was one pavement pizza, but the main issue was the state of the bins; all emptied, but graffitied, tatty and in need of replacement.

It was the same on Rose Street; the road surface remains dreadful, the bins unkempt, but waste had been dealt with properly.

Of course, this is a snap-shot of two streets; Sunday mornings in normal times might tell a different story, but it did show that when the council puts its mind to it, the job can be done.

Where it comes undone is further from the New Town and High Street, particularly the Bridges, Cowgate, London Road and Tollcross. Leith Walk won’t be put right until the tram work finishes and that’s at least two years away, maybe more.

I’ve highlighted the poor condition of London Road before, but Princes Street this week showed the council can do better if it wants. The streets we live on are the most important to us, and it’s not enough just to keep on top of those visitors see.

The city centre remains at the heart of Edinburgh’s economy and where Mr Stewart and new Edinburgh business resilience group chair Ian Marchant have a point is the need for a city centre champion and a co-ordinated approach to improvements.

Sure, the council has an important part to play, but it’s a lag on positive, speedy action, not a driver.

The resilience group of 60 organisations can take the lead, perhaps organise a conference this year, but if they wait for council consent they are relying on an administration which pays lip service to the business community and it will be years before anything gets done.

I can’t remember if Edinburgh looked far better 10 years ago, as Mr Stewart says, but I do know it can look a lot better than it does now. Clearing litter in Princes Street is the bare minimum, not a triumph.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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