Failed Edinburgh Old Town BID could have a silver lining - Kevin Buckle

Roddy Smith provides inspiration after narrow defeat on a low turnout

Sunday, 8th December 2019, 7:08 am

Big news on Wednesday morning - or at least so I thought when the ballot result for the Old Town BID, rebranded as Original Edinburgh this year, was made public.

The proposal for a BID was narrowly unsuccessful on one of the four counts that needed to be satisfied with there being 137 votes for Yes but 145 votes for No.

The fact that there was success based on rateable value showed that bigger businesses had obviously been keener than smaller concerns, but really what can be taken from it most is that with a turnout of 36%, most hadn’t taken part.

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I decided just to wait for news to break on Twitter so I could retweet all the facts of the matter and what it meant to the Old Town’s businesses rather than rush into doing something myself, but as the day went on nothing appeared.

Finally a basic announcement was made by Place Management Scotland, but something that I firmly believe is as important as the Christmas market debacle appeared to be not news at all.

One twist that was obvious straight away was that there were 17 ballots rejected for being unmarked and also one not signed. These 17 unmarked ballots seems like a very high number and, of course, more than was needed if they had been positive for a different result to have been declared.

The council, I have been told, owns more than a dozen properties in the Original Edinburgh BID area and I did enquire from their press office if they would say how they voted, but I haven’t had a reply as yet, though with such short notice nothing can be read into that yet.

Given the council supported the BID, there is no reason at all to think they didn’t vote for it, but in these strange times I did wonder if they had some reason to abstain or possibly even have something to do with the blank ballots. If so they would have single-handedly scuppered the BID and that would be news indeed.

Some folk have little sympathy for the businesses of the Old Town and will point to their lack of involvement in the ballot as proof that they get what they deserve, but that really would be unjustified.

They have been at the wrong end of council decisions for so long now, from the pedestrianisation of the Grassmarket to the unactioned Royal Mile Action Plan to the recent banning of A-boards, plus too many other things to mention, while at the same time knowing that if the council didn’t get them, then a small number of resident activists would.

Faced with a relentless tide of difficulties imposed on them, many Old Town businesses simply don’t believe that a BID would change any of that and the failed Grassmarket BID only reinforces that view.

My personal view is that the city centre needs one super BID covering the New Town, Old Town and West End that could, among other things, deal with spreading Edinburgh’s ever increasing number of visitors over a much wider area.

Currently Edinburgh doesn’t have too many tourists, it is just that they confine themselves to far too small an area and I honestly don’t think the council has the ability to deal with it, while a business organisation in conjunction with residents covering such an area would understand the task far better.

When it comes to understanding what needs to be done, there is nobody better placed and suited to the task than Roddy Smith (pictured), who already heads up the very successful Essential Edinburgh BID and who businesses would trust far more than any council official.

It is possible for the failure of the Original Edinburgh BID to have a silver lining.