Meadows action plan should be a city template - Alastair Stewart

The scenes on the Meadows these past weekends have been disturbing for everyone, but the violence suggests a broader, more flagrant disregard for the city as a whole.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 7:00 am

Edinburgh is now on the cusp of the Covid excuse - “It's been tough, so anything goes to let off some steam.”

The mass gathering of (mostly) young people led to a spate of violent disturbances. A wasteful police presence was required to break up crowds in their hundreds and inevitably the same anti-social scenes will be repeated.

The Meadows is just the epicentre of an avalanche of free for alls that will come as lockdown eases.

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The sense of entitlement that some feel is despicable. No one is owed a personal concierge service from the council after they've decimated a public space.

It is hard to believe the Meadows, treated in a rather sorry state today, once hosted the Edinburgh International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art in 1886. One hundred thirty-five years later, residents now deal with defecating vandals, garbage dumps, and urinating in the side streets.

The question is not whether this is pent up lockdown fatigue. The issue is those excusing violence and rule-breaking as a fair consequence of a tough year. Are we all entitled to do as we please in some post-Covid 'Purge'?

We live in one of the finest cities in the world, and we all deserve better than this. Our lives in the last year have been blighted by confinement, hope, restrictions, and hope again. Economic recovery cannot be risked because people treat the end of lockdown as the last days of Rome. Lothian Buses have already been cutting services due to repeated attacks on their drivers.

Resident Alex Orr remarked that: "I am conscious that this has been a difficult time for young people, especially on their mental health, but behaviour like this cannot and should not be tolerated, especially as we are going through a fragile Covid-recovery."

And he's quite right. But tackling the mental health consequences of COVID-19 should not include justifying illegal and anti-social behaviour. We need harsher penalties for those who create a hostile environment preventing others from leaving their homes safely.

The police, politicians, community groups, and residents' associations need to agree on a city-wide and community-centred strategy before the summer months. The Meadows Action Plan might well be a good blueprint for communities, particularly those with parks and large open spaces.

If anti-social behaviour was problematic before COVID-19, it will be even worse as we emerge back to 'normal' in the coming weeks. 'Lockdown fatigue' is a convenient excuse for rampant thuggery. We need to get our priorities right to make the city safer as we emerge from the isolation bubble.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant