John McLellan: A world-class city needs decent roads – or hover-buses

Sheffield may have a tram network, not just a single line like Edinburgh, but John McLellan know where he'd rather live
Sheffield may have a tram network, not just a single line like Edinburgh, but John McLellan know where he'd rather live
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Hats off to Edinburgh, we’ve topped another league table of good places to be, the latest being for the best British cities in which to invest.

Produced by the global consultancy Arcadis, which has a base here and was involved in the launch of the council’s 2050 Vision project, the “Investing in Britain: Cities Built for the Future” report claims that Edinburgh outpaces every other city by some way, scoring particularly well for short commuting times and the accessibility of a well-connected airport.

We don’t score so well for things like air quality and cost of living, so under the general heading of “place” the city comes eighth, somewhat implausibly behind places like Sheffield and Coventry, where spending much more than five minutes will make you glad you live here.

READ MORE: Edinburgh named as UK’s top city for inward investment

Arcadis warns the city needs to ensure “the speed of its economic growth doesn’t surpass its ability to invest in housing and infrastructure”, but gives encouragement that “more affordable housing and an environment that fosters invention and the creation of patents … could mean that its strength as a magnet for investment rivals that of any other city worldwide”. This is similar to the company’s 2016 Sustainable Cities Index in which Edinburgh was a staggering sixth in the world for profitability. Then, the Arcadis cities director for Edinburgh, Graham Hill, wrote: “As Edinburgh’s popularity increases, affordability issues come to the fore. The resulting strain on housing provision, schools and transport links will need to be addressed if the city is to thrive.” Admittedly this was autumn of 2016, there has been the hiatus of the elections along the way and change doesn’t happen overnight, but nevertheless the outlook is pretty much the same as the council meets today to vote through budgets for the next five years.

All parties agree the dire shortage of housing needs to be addressed and while there might be argument about the detail, the principle of accelerating house-building is not really in dispute. But in a process all about choices, that’s pretty much where unanimity ends. Affordability not only relates to price but spending power and, as the SNP Government is about to mug hard-working people with the highest income tax levels in the UK with the help of the Greens, the Nationalists will today try to top that up with another three per cent on council tax and the so-called garden tax for emptying brown bins, none of which helps sell the city as a place to do business.

As for Hill’s plea for investment in transport, the SNP-Labour coalition is putting its eggs in the tram completion basket while the rest of the city endures what the Evening News says is the worst pothole backlog in 20 years. Here is what Hill said 18 months ago: “Urban mobility is a major issue … the Forth Replacement Crossing and plans to extend the tram system will go some way towards alleviating regional gridlock and improving accessibility, but there needs to be a real focus on meeting Edinburgh’s transport needs for the future.” The £165m investment in three miles of tram track will mean that badly needed resources will be diverted away from the maintenance of the rest of the road network upon which the vast majority of Edinburgh’s public transport system relies. Unless someone invents hover-buses.

READ MORE: Report finds Edinburgh’s transport network is one of the world’s best

Lewis Ritchie may not find it easy as an independent
I don’t know Councillor Lewis Ritchie well and can’t comment on allegations of which I know nothing, but he’s always struck me as personable and approachable. Being an independent will not be easy and I obviously hope he’s able to resolve the issues he faces.

Putting the boot in over potholes

Ex-council leader Donald Anderson has put the boot into utility companies for the way they go about repairing the roads they have dug up, and followed it up with a headbutt for the Road Works Commissioner charged with their oversight.

”Chocolate and teapot spring to mind,” he wrote. Ouch . . .

There is no shortage of complaints about the way utilities conduct their work with seemingly scant regard for the impact on local people, never mind the longer term quality of the roadworks. And, seemingly, no sign of them mending their ways.

Time to speed up planning
One of the side-effects of being a successful city with a sensitive environment is the amount of time it can take to process planning applications, grant building warrants and issue completion certificates. In fairness to the SNP-Labour administration, they have recognised this and promised to take action, but our budget promises to go further and recruit five additional officers for the department.

I know of one relatively straightforward recent application in which the client walked away because it took so long and that’s not a reputation Edinburgh wants to enhance.

Feeding hungry children

I’m particularly pleased our group will be supporting the “Holiday Hunger” initiative to fund free meals for deprived children in the school holidays.

While it is unquestionably an absolute parental priority to ensure the family is properly fed, sometimes this doesn’t happen and the child should not suffer as a result.

There will almost certainly be other issues involved and this is one way of making sure a proper check can be kept throughout the long summer break.

Why is Edinburgh Rugby really leaving Myreside?

As the Evening News revealed two weeks ago, Edinburgh Rugby has confirmed its days as a tenant at George Watson’s Myreside ground are over. The club has cited the unsatisfactory back-and-forth to Murrayfield as the main reason, but a rejected request for exclusive use of the grandstand pitch is also being touted as a cause of the termination. Whatever happened, none of it was unpredictable so maybe something else is afoot. Was it perhaps something to do with Watsonians’ reluctance to join Scottish Rugby’s unpopular Super Six semi-professional experiment?