Prominent business leader blasts council over state of city centre’s dirty, littered streets

One of the city’s most respected expert property developers has accused the council of failing to tackle problems in the city centre, amid mounting frustrations over dirty, littered streets.

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.

Chris Stewart claims that standards have been ‘allowed to slip’ and called for council chiefs to take urgent action to tackle problems with rubbish collection, graffitti and ‘endless’ disrepair of pavements.

Writing in today’s Evening News the CEO of the Chris Stewart Group urged the council to appoint a dedicated official who would be responsible for the look of the city centre and work with businesses to address persistent problems.

Weeds are growing freely on some city streets

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Mr Stewart who has built a reputation for renovating listed buildings claims that businesses in the city centre are fed up paying their taxes and doing their bit, while their attempts to work with the council are met with ‘disjointed’ efforts.

His company has led several regeneration schemes and redeveloped Advocate’s Close, where they are based, right up to the Old Town Chambers. The alley has been targeted repeatedly with graffiti.

The calls come after a number of high profile business leaders said they felt the council didn’t listen to their concerns and called for a “reset” in the relationship between policy makers and businesses.

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Out of control...another city centre street

A resilience group made up of over 60 businesses in the city proposed the appointment of a "business champion" within the council leadership as part of covid-19 recovery plans set out in a manifesto published with the Chambers of Commerce.

The Stewart group has invested large amounts in bringing old buildings back into use, including the former RBS headquarters in St Andrew Square which was transformed into the Edinburgh Grand.

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In his letter Mr Stewart said: “Edinburgh 10 years ago looked far better than it does now. Standards have been allowed to slip and no one at the Council is championing the city centre. It is about getting the basics right, but it is also about taking a coordinated approach to maintaining the integrity of Edinburgh’s historic environment.

Chris Stewart has highlighted problems in Edinburgh city centre

"Having paid our share of business rates, we have also helped with street cleaning due to gaps in Council provision. We are more than willing to pay our part, but the Council must fulfil its duties too.”

Visitors to the brand new Johnny Walker experience building at the West end reported this week that the area outside was dirty with uneven slabs and covered in paint.

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The new eight-floor visitor centre opened to visitors on Thursday morning after construction on the project spanned over four years.

The Evening News revealed in July that Edinburgh's streets are dirtier and more littered than they were four years ago, as figures showed standards plummeted across all of Edinburgh’s four localities including South East which includes the city centre.

Some city pavements are in a shocking condition. (Pic: Andrew O'Brien)

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Terry Levinthal, Director of The Cockburn Association said: “We have been very concerned for the past number of years about the state of our civic spaces and streetscape. The recent twitter storm regarding overflowing bins and general waste on Cockburn Street highlights gaps between the reasonable expectations of citizens and the ability to deliver basic services.

“We appreciate the challenges that Covid has created for front-line services in the city. However, poor or diminishing standards and approaches have been with us for some time. In many instances, it is not a case of poor management but a chronic undermanagement of our historic streetscape.

“There is a wider issue that, in part, rests with Government in that finite resources get targeted towards capital projects at the expense of revenue support for basic services. We need to rebalance this, with repair and maintenance of existing places becoming a strategic objective of city management. If we simply looked after what we have already, we would be in a far, far better place as a World Heritage City.

“We would hope that all Councillors would champion the quality of the city. The fact that senior people are calling for a single champion shows how far the city needs to travel.”

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Council Leader Adam McVey said: “We’re committed to improving the condition of our entire city, and invest heavily in the basics. For example, this year we’ll be spending £14m, including an extra £6m approved as part of the city’s 2021/22 budget, in significant roads and pavements improvement and resurfacing projects, as well as an extra £300k on top of our existing budget for street cleansing.

Litter blights some areas of the city centre

" However, we can’t ignore the fact that this has been a difficult time for local authorities. During Covid our services have faced immense pressure, and teams have worked extremely hard to serve the people of Edinburgh.

“We are absolutely dedicated to enhancing and championing the city centre, not only by supporting major development opportunities like the St James Quarter, but through our own, significant investment in schemes such as the £28m George Street and First New Town project to transform the heart of Edinburgh.

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"In fact, we’re surprised to see these comments from a developer who’s benefitted from working closely with the Council for some time.”

He added: “We’ve made every effort to provide support to the city’s businesses over the last year and a half, making more than 19,000 payments of over £250m to businesses through grant funds provided by the Scottish Government during the Covid crisis, providing rent assistance to our business tenants and launching the successful Forever Edinburgh, a citywide collaboration between tourism and hospitality sectors, the Council and other partners.”

Depute Leader Cammy Day said: “We’ve worked extremely hard to bring festivals back to the Capital this summer, with the support of local businesses, and have shown great flexibility in helping the hospitality sector to expand their footprint as they return from the damage of the Pandemic.

"We know what a challenging time this has been for businesses, who have shown great resilience over the last year and a half, and our City Centre Recovery Plan puts their needs at its core.

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“We’re doing everything we can to deliver road and pavement improvements, cleansing, rubbish collections and other essential services with as little disruption as possible, while in the face a pandemic, and the strain it puts on each department.

"I’d like to thank Edinburgh’s residents and businesses for their patience during this time, and we’d be happy to meet Chris Stewart to discuss his concerns.”

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