Edinburgh's Meadows is a beautiful oasis and we must find a way to stop the violence and disorder – Ian Murray MP
Everyone is delighted the Covid restrictions are starting to be eased.
It’s been a long year and everyone has made huge sacrifices. Too many have lost loved ones, but the one silver lining has been the collective effort in our communities.
But as restrictions ease, we can’t allow the spring mood of freedom to reverse that collective effort and be tarnished by the actions of a tiny minority.
The well-documented scenes in the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links on Saturday were the final straw for many residents. The multiple fights, drunkenness, alleged substance abuse, arrests and hospitalisation of a police officer were shocking and frightening.
The Meadows has become a bit of a trouble spot during lockdown as large groups of mainly young people have gathered. The consumption of large amounts of alcohol, the good weather and the easing of lockdown have intensified the problem.
The seriousness of the disorder and the violence is new, but the problems generated by a minority of Meadows users is not and was wholly predictable. All you require is a moderate temperature and a bit of sunshine for there to be mounds of litter strewn as far as the eye can see, a queue of revellers waiting to urinate and defecate in residential streets even when the toilets are open and the police having to use large numbers of resources to manage the situation.
That is why Daniel Johnson MSP and I have called an emergency meeting of the police, council, resident groups, community organisations, businesses, retailers, the University of Edinburgh and student representatives to try and find a way of resolving the immediate problems and develop a longer-term action plan to respond to the concerns of residents. We can’t afford for the Meadows to become a magnet for those intent on making trouble and a no-go area for the local community and wider city to enjoy.
The solutions will not be easy. The council could install more bins and toilets but it is clear that you could have a bin every few steps and ample toilet provision and some will still not be bothered to use them. There has been talk for some time about CCTV but I have always been told that for this to be effective it would involve the removal of too many trees. Maybe we could get community centres and other activities re-opened and those services enhanced (they were already cut to the bone before Covid).
And while the police do a good job on very limited resources, do we really want a significant police presence in the Meadows when that may send out the opposite message that this is a place to enjoy?
Again, though, these problems produced the best in people. A group of volunteers led by local resident Murray MacDonald helped the council workers clear up the Meadows late into the night on Saturday. They did a wonderful job for us all. And thanks to the young people, students and others who were enjoying the Meadows responsibly at the weekend and who helped the police and others.
The Meadows is such a wonderful oasis in the city centre for everyone to enjoy. Let’s find solutions to these problems so it can be enjoyed by all.
Ian Murray is the Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South