Susan Morrison: Princes St Gardens chainsaw massacre is a horror

A bare Princes Street after the trees were cut down. Picture: SWNS
A bare Princes Street after the trees were cut down. Picture: SWNS
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Cities always change. It’s the nature of the beast. A city that doesn’t knock down and rebuild bits is an ossified ­museum. Change makes people moan. I ­understand that. You grow unaccountably fond of a building, a wee patch of space or even a tree, and ­suddenly, without warning, it’s gone.

During a particularly unhappy time in my working life, my desk faced out on to a New Town back garden. A huge buddleia bush towered over the wall. It was a lovely thing to look at when I was feeling down. The lilac-coloured blossoms were a cheering sight on a miserable day.

One day, a digger turned up, ­flattened the wall and ripped the ­buddleia out. They built a garage. I had to go to the loo for a wee sniffle. I loved that tree.

It was their garden, their buddleia, and their right to a garage. I really had no cause to start a campaign to Save the Buddleia.

Meadowbank, on the other hand, technically belonged to the city, so when the news of its then imminent demise broke about ten years ago, hackles rose all over the city, even mine, despite the fact that a structural engineer I spoke to told me he wouldn’t even sneeze inside the main building. The original work was good, but the building had been designed with a limited lifespan. It had really reached the end of its days.

The council famously unleashed the plan to sell the land to a property ­developer. Back in 2007 they would have got good money for it. People would stick a new development in your front garden if you weren’t vigilant. You’d come out one morning to go to work and bingo, there’s a range of two-bedroom flats with balconettes where the shrubbery used to be. The communities that surrounded and used Meadowbank went ballistic. ­Nobody had really consulted with them.

The building was saved in the end, not by the rising anger of the ­people of Edinburgh, but by the falling fortunes of gambling bankers. The financial crash took property development off the table. Meadowbank did linger on for another ten years, but it’s waiting for the wrecking ball now.

I’ve taught myself to be pretty philosophical about cityscape change. That’s until I saw the mess in Princes Street gardens when I escaped the house. Where’s my Start a Protest kit?

It’s not just the fact that they ­flattened the trees. There are myriad reasons for taking trees down, I ­understand that, we all do.

Storm damage, age, disease, a ­desperate attempt to stop the squirrels taking the over the entire city (that’s what they’re up to, believe me). These all contribute to the end of a tree’s life.

But 50-odd trees in the Gardens coming down with very little warning is storm damage of a different sort.

It’s the weaselly explanations. We’re told it’s to build new pathways to ­improve access for wheelchair users and buggies.

Every mum in Edinburgh must have had experience of that moment when a gentle stroll in the park turned into a cutdown version of the Cannonball Run as the buggy met gravity on that steep slope to the bottom. I always thought of it as a bit of exercise for the thighs, really. Yes, we need to ­improve access for those with disabilities. If we’re getting hellbent on better access for people with mobility issues, why not ensure that the upcoming Christmas market is more welcoming to wheelchair users? Can’t the ­council ­insist on a few less stalls, creating ­wider walkways for this seriously crowded event?

Did we need a chainsaw massacre to do this?

Play fair by Henry and give us a good reason

This, we are told, is an attempt to recreate views that ‘were part of the architect William Henry Playfair’s original vision for this world-famous location’. What’s this? Tales for toddlers?

We live in William Henry Playfair’s city. The man was a genius. And, apparently, had the gift of the Second Sight.

How else would he have known that one day his famous views would include H&M, a massively expanded Waverly Station, the Balmoral Hotel and the front of the City Arts Centre, which, during the summer is usually obscured by a huge garish advertising banner, creating the impression that Edinburgh has been sponsored by a Spanish beer company?

I genuinely hope access improves, the buggy slalom comes to an end, and those with mobility issues will enjoy the gardens more, but it would have been nice to treat us like grown-ups and explain what was planned.

Cities always change, but it’s how that change is handled. People understand if things are happening for good reason.

If you don’t talk to us, we get suspicious, because we’ve been here before. Where’s my protest jacket?