Don’t sacrifice accessiblity on the altar of tourism – Jeremy Balfour

As visitors pour into the Capital, Jeremy Balfour wonders where the council’s priorities lie

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 6:00 am
Edinburgh's Christmas festivities are a big attraction for tourists. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh's Christmas festivities are a big attraction for tourists. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The hustle and bustle of the city, the busy shops, and the buzz of tourists signify that Christmas is upon us. It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . except if you are a resident of Edinburgh city centre who feels that your council is prioritising tourism above your needs.

Tourism is incredibly important to the city of Edinburgh: much of the city’s economy relies upon it, it adds character and it keeps the history alive.

As an Edinburgh man myself, I am extremely proud of the fact that 500,000 people from across the world want to visit my city over the Christmas period.

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Jeremy Balfour is a Conservative MSP for Lothian. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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However, an eyebrow does have to be raised when the local council seems to prioritise tourism over residents and if the Festival Fringe is anything to go by, this will certainly be the case.

During the Festival, the 35 bus which usually goes up the Royal Mile, was rerouted to go around Calton Hill instead. This greatly impacted local people with mobility problems (i.e. the elderly and disabled) who reported that they were not well informed of the alternative provisions, leaving many of them feeling isolated and unable to go about their daily activities.

Furthermore, Edinburgh Council introduced a citywide ban of the use of ‘A’ boards and other temporary advertisements on streets last year.

While this could be viewed as a positive move for disabled people, ensuring them safety and accessibility on pavements in the city, the effects of this ban were keenly felt by many local businesses who now miss out on promoting their businesses and attracting passing trade, in what are already difficult trading conditions.

However, during the Festival, this ban was lifted for some Festival-related advertising. Not only did this result in more obstacles for disabled and elderly people at an already busy time, but it was also an example of Festival activities being prioritised over local businesses.

Therefore, I ask: where do the council’s priorities lie this Christmas? In making everything as convenient as possible for tourists? Or in ensuring that accessibility and a level of normality is maintained for the disabled and elderly people of Edinburgh and the local businesses across the city?

This should not be misunderstood. Tourism is a wonderful thing for Edinburgh and I fully appreciate all that tourism brings to the city.

However, careful consideration needs to be made by the local council to ensure that the lives of local residents, particularly of the most vulnerable, do not become more difficult in the name of tourism.

Jeremy Balfour is a Conservative MSP for Lothian