Edinburgh's 95% public satisfaction rate tells its own story – Donald Anderson

Is it time to declare success for Edinburgh’s regeneration? First let me declare an interest, I’ve been involved in investment and development in Edinburgh for more than 30 years. I’ve seen huge changes in that time, but what are the facts about the state of the city?
Are people in any other city as satisfied with it as the people of Edinburgh? (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)Are people in any other city as satisfied with it as the people of Edinburgh? (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Are people in any other city as satisfied with it as the people of Edinburgh? (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Well, the facts are actually pretty impressive. Just recently it emerged that nearly all the city’s most important buildings have been saved. That there are going to be just two buildings in the city centre on Historic Environment Scotland’s ‘At Risk Register’ is an astonishing achievement. It’s an achievement that is a model of public and private investment in action.

More than that, you can see the difference in an old photograph taken by LaSalle Investment Management in the 1980s as part of its plans to redevelop the St James Centre. The change from the 80s to now is staggering. The worst building in Scotland is now gone, and in place of car parks at the Pleasance, there are now lovely new homes and a much stronger community.

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Elsewhere in the city, the story is much the same. Gorgie/Dalry used to be a regeneration area with its own Better Gorgie/Dalry Campaign. It’s aim was to tackle deprivation and rebuild a community that had suffered decline through the second half of the last century, and it certainly helped transform the area and was wound down as a result.

I also popped into a council exhibition last week on traffic changes at Burdiehouse, hosted in the wonderful Valley Park Community Centre. I travelled through what was once one of the worst streets in south Edinburgh. I passed parked cars that told their own story of regeneration – BMWs, a Volvo, an Audi and even an up-market Porsche parked in the driveways of the houses there. That would have been unthinkable back when the area had some of the worst poverty levels in Scotland.

Perhaps the best way to measure success is to listen to residents themselves. Edinburgh’s People’s Survey is probably the biggest and best in any area in the UK. Over 5,000 people were surveyed, 95 per cent of whom were satisfied with Edinburgh as a place to live. Indeed, the findings rose from 89 per cent in 2014 to 95 per cent in the last survey. That’s astonishingly positive.

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The other answer that is fascinating is given to the question asked about new developments. There are often big public rows about development proposals, as happened regarding the Caltongate (now Waverley Gate) proposals or the Edinburgh St James development.

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Despite all the controversy, more than two thirds of residents think new buildings and spaces “have improved the appearance of their neighbourhood”. That’s an amazing vote of confidence in the difference that new investment and development has made.

Edinburgh is far from perfect, and the work to improve communities across the city like the Pleasance, Gorgie/Dalry and Burdiehouse must go on. However, we should also reflect on how far we’ve come.

As cities go, Edinburgh supports a quality of life that is up there with the best in the world. That’s in no small way down to the public and private sector partnership that has transformed and improved the whole city.

Donald Anderson is Playfair Scotland’s director and former Edinburgh Council leader

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