'Get back to basics' Edinburgh City Council faces mounting pressure from business leaders over neglected Capital city centre
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Chris Stewart ignited heated debate after voicing his frustration in the Evening News this week about the poor standards of rubbish collections, graffitti and 'endless' disrepair of pavements.
The CEO of Chris Stewart Group (CSG) who has led some of the most prestigious redevelopments in the historic heart of the Capital believes that standards have been 'allowed to slip' and urged the city council to work with businesses to improve the appearance of the city.
His concerns follow growing complaints about the littered and weed-strewn appearance of Edinburgh' s streets.
Business leaders have thrown their weight behind his calls for the council to step up and tackle persistent problems.
Reply to Mr Stewart on Linked In many expressed the view that the council needed to get the basics right with the existing infrastructure instead of so-called ‘vanity projects’ like trams and spaces for people.
Denzil Skinner of the renowned Jewellers and Chair of Essential Edinburgh said: “The street teams and litter pickers are scarcer than hens teeth. And litter bins are left to overflow despite their being fitted with some form of device which tells someone they are full. To be fair the huge increase in home deliveries has increased the amount of household rubbish exponentially, a more recent challenge for the local authorities but where is the response to that challenge? There is an organisation in the city centre called Essential Edinburgh which endeavours and succeeds to keep the place freer of rubbish. Maybe our partisan local politicians could come together, for once, to the betterment of the city they serve and champion the city centre, educating against litter dropping and encouraging folk to pick up litter if they see it.”
Essential Edinburgh runs a Clean Team that offers additional services to paying business members, including graffiti removal, a fast response service and daily walk rounds to clear rubbish of the streets.
Bosses at the group said they accept the financial pressures on the council and the impact on services – but stressed the city’s cleanliness must be top priority.
Roddy Smith, Chief Executive told the Evening News: “It’s imperative the city centre looks nice, is clean and welcoming and reflects well on the city. This in my opinion is a priority for the council and should be top of the list. We are working with the council on looking at a number of major infrastructure projects. The quality of our public realm is crucial to this and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately certain parts of the city centre such as around West Register, Frederick and Rose Street fall well below the required level and need urgent attention. The recent work done on the Rose Street block between Hanover and Frederick Street and West Register Street (privately funded by CSG) show what is possible.”
Many also put forward suggested solutions for the cash-strapped council, including the appointment of a Mayor for the city.
But others expressed dismay at the council’s stance, with some claiming that council leaders are ‘defensive’ over the issues.
Brand consultant Susanna Freedman said: “Reading the ‘now-to-be-expected’ rather ridiculous and defensive comments from council ‘leader’ and deputy goes some way to demonstrate that there is zero accountability or sense of responsibility to get on with the job at hand. I fear until such times we have a real shake up with council elections next year, and bring in real leaders who listen, understand and respect business contribution to this city, we are in trouble. So the more pressure businesses can build to demonstrate a vote of no confidence in current council the better.”
Meanwhile, Bruce Anderson, property director proposed that a Mayor role could be the answer for the capital:
“The mayor role has been a huge success in Manchester and Birmingham where the Mayor actively promotes the city. Not sure if our elected politicians are up for that kind of positive profile which would be UK and overseas facing.”
Councillor Jo Mowat said: “The most depressing thing is that this is a political choice – council knows what resources are available (financial and staffing) and has chosen not to prioritise the day to day management and maintenance but to develop a lot of high level strategies and plans but we don't have sufficient resource to do both.”
Council Leader Adam McVey said: "There's no doubting the challenges in keeping our public space looking its best, particularly difficult during the impact of COVID on staff capacity due to track and trace requirements that I know people will understand.
"We have allocated additional resources with an extra £300k invested on top of our budgets for mechanical litter sweepers also capable of removing weeds.
"As well as street cleaning our roads team are already hard at work maintaining the city's gullies on a year-round basis and we allocated an additional £6m this year on top of our core roads budgets to make progress on maintenance of infrastructure, after being hit hard by weather.
"Our brilliant businesses in the city centre make it what it is and with major projects like the relaying of setts on the High Street, which is part of £14m invested in the city's roads this year, we can help keep the city centre one of the world's most beautiful destinations for residents to enjoy. Bringing iconic streets back to their former glory, and long-term, City Centre Transformation, will overhaul many of the streets at the heart of Edinburgh, creating a people-friendly environment where businesses can thrive
"Our message is please bear with us, the additional resources allocated will help make inroads on issues like weeds, but while staff capacity is still affected by COVID, I'm sure people will understand that our hard-working teams will continue to do all they can to keep Edinburgh beautiful."