Helen Martin: What price a load of cobblers for the city?

The cost of replacing the setts in Brighton Place is something the council can ill-afford. Picture: Jon Savage
The cost of replacing the setts in Brighton Place is something the council can ill-afford. Picture: Jon Savage
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THE mighty bombshell dropped last week, with the city council considering proposals from officials on how to cut spending to save £28 million.

Ironically more than half of that was to fund pay rises for council employees including, of course, council officials.

Ideas ranged from more cuts to road services and extending parking control zones even further, to complicated issues from stopping paying electricity for tenement stairs (in addition to the current halt on stair lighting maintenance) and no longer providing property search info to lawyers working on house sales.

That latter proposal is a belter. More than 25 years ago, I bought a flat in Gillespie Crescent. It was only months after I moved in that I was told statutory roof repairs quoted at over £100,000 were about to start, and I’d have to pay my share. Back then the council wasn’t obliged to reveal that to lawyers before buyers signed the dotted line. So, it resulted in an unexpected £10,000 bill.

Of course, Edinburgh City Council isn’t the only local authority struggling with its budget. Most are, including our closest neighbours. However, Edinburgh is certainly booming more than, for example, Midlothian, East Lothian or West Lothian. Allegedly, the city makes a lot of money from the tourist industry, even before imposing a tourist tax (though most of us don’t see any of those benefits).

One reason why we face these horrifying cuts is obvious. The controversial tram system cost £776 million, plus another £200m due as interest on a 30-year loan to pay off excess costs.

That puts the £28m they’re trying to find now into perspective, and reveals the devastating effect trams have had on the city and its residents.

Not everyone objected to the trams project, but a lot of us did. Now, even some of those who loathed the idea predicting how unaffordable it would be, especially in council hands, have adopted the attitude that there’s no point in crying over spilt milk.

The money’s gone, we’re stuck with the loan agreement. Now the trams are here, we might as well make the most of the system.

They’re right. Protestors didn’t “hate” trams. They hated the upheaval and the cost. The chaos and disturbance is over – though extension will involve more. And there’s no way of getting the money back. Now we can all live with trams. Yet we face decades of civic poverty caused by such massive expense and debt.

But the council continues to spend money on unnecessary projects even when there is effectively no budget at all. Redesigning the city centre? How much is that?

Replacing setts in Portobello’s Brighton Place? Yes, it’s called for by conservationists. But that costs three times as much as plain asphalt and takes three times as long. Setts (many refer to them as cobbles) don’t cope well with modern traffic flow, collapsing, dipping and smashing. Modern re-setting has a record in Edinburgh, of having to be done over and over as the original skill seems to be in short supply. Anyway, it’s going to cost at least £1.2m and damage local trade.

Surely, with the vast lists of proposed extra charges on residents, cuts on services and growing needs for housing, the elderly and social care, unnecessary and expensive aesthetics should be scored out.