Edinburgh councillors must end the current hostilities and work together for good of the city – Steve Cardownie
Transport issues were to the fore and the Tories, who oppose some proposals, had ensured a decision taken by the transport and environment committee would have to receive a seal of approval by full council before its terms could be taken forward.
I said last week that while “opposition councillors will be afforded the opportunity to vent their collective spleen via their laptops, at the end of the day it will be for nought". And so it proved.
The day following the meeting this paper reported the events under a front-page banner headline “Roads plan driven forward”. It was reported that “Plans for a ‘low traffic neighbourhood’ in the East Craigs district of Edinburgh have been approved by councillors amidst an emotional and, at times personal debate”, adding that “during a sometimes tense and combative debate, opposition amendments to the SNP/Labour coalition’s plans were defeated.”
Opposition councillors did not hold back on their views of the proceedings to this paper, contending the process was inherently undemocratic. It was so, maintained the opposition, because the measures being brought in under Covid-19 pandemic emergency procedures were nothing of the sort and this flexibility was being used by the council to mask its intent to introduce permanent, intrusive initiatives without the statutory consultation that would have been required under normal circumstances.
Facing a legal challenge by some residents of East Craigs, the council sought their own advice and received a bloody nose for their trouble which necessitated some changes to the proposals to ensure that it complied with legal requirements.
It was a failure to treat the local opposition to the proposals as potentially valid and its determination to plough on regardless which led the council into this legal cul-de-sac, which could have been avoided. If the council’s policy of working in “collaboration” with local communities had been enacted then the whole matter may have been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties at an early stage.
The attempt by Gavin Barrie, of the Epic Group of councillors, to get private hire cars treated in the same manner as black cabs in the application of the new traffic flow arrangements was also turfed out by the administration but this is likely to be challenged legally by the PHC trade.
Although it can prove difficult to attain cross-party support on many issues, it begs the question why, on such an apolitical issue such as these traffic initiatives, so much rancour has been generated. It may, in part, be down to dubious politics or, as the opposition would contend, sheer arrogance, but given the immense economic challenges Edinburgh now faces, it’s not in the interests of the city for this hostility to continue because, if not careful, bridges may be burnt that can never be rebuilt.
Of course, there will always be differences of opinion between council groups, but this cannot be allowed to degenerate into a situation where a disdainful flourish of the hand or opposition for its own sake becomes the norm rather than the exception. Councillors must be able to demonstrate that in certain circumstances, the importance of working together transcends sometimes imaginary group tribal instincts, for the sake of the city if nothing else.