Review of the Year 2021, January-March: Covid, car bans and crowds at the Meadows

Our look back at the past 12 months, when the pandemic inevitably dominated many headlines.

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The year opened with all of mainland Scotland in the highest tier of Covid-19 restrictions – bans on indoor visiting or more than six people from two households meeting outdoors. Edinburgh's traditional street party and midnight fireworks were cancelled, but some people still headed to the Castle and Calton Hill to bring in 2021 despite warnings to stay at home. Organisers of Edinburgh's Hogmanay instead released "drone swarm" videos narrated by David Tennant.

Residents of the high-rise flats in Moredun celebrated 50 years of the six blocks by sharing their memories, old and new. Pictured (L-R) are: Phoebe McKail, Ellie Maughan, Abbie Kelly, Billie Grant. Each of the 540 households within the multis were contacted and invited to join creative workshops. The community's sense of identity shone through in the comments provided by former and current residents of the blocks - Marytree, Moredun, Castleview, Forteviot, Moncrieffe and Little France house.

On January 4, Nicola Sturgeon announced a new Covid lockdown with people told to stay at home except for an essential purpose such as exercise or shopping and schools staying closed.

Elderly and disabled people were said to be trapped in their homes because the city council was failing to grit their roads and pavements. Lothian Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour said none of the streets in his area around Comiston Drive, Morningside, had been treated since snow hit Edinburgh a week earlier.

A petition against plans to build a Formula 1-style race track at Musselburgh Lagoons attracted 5,000 signatures in just 24 hours. Objectors said the idea of a motor racing track at a wildlife site was "a nonsense".

Greens unveiled proposals for a railway tunnel under the Forth from near Kirkcaldy to Leith, costing up to £6 billion. The party described the plan as a gamechanger, cutting journey times and freeing up capacity across the Forth Bridge.

Despite warnings about the Covid restrictions, some people still headed to a fireworks display on Calton Hill to bring in the new year

A new £13.8 million Hillend Destination resort in Midlothian was granted planning permission in principle. The proposals included the highest zip wire in the UK, an activity dome, hotel accommodation, a glamping site for wigwams, and shopping and food retail areas.

A growing campaign to force a reversal of the Scottish Government decision not to fund a new eye hospital for Edinburgh saw opposition parties unite behind a motion at Holyrood calling for a rethink. The government had said NHS Lothian should adopt a "regional" approach and disperse services to other hospitals, including an elective care centre being built in Livingston.

Best-selling crime writer Ian Rankin spoke of the "tough" situation of being unable to touch or hug his disabled son for almost a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said his son Kit, who has the genetic condition Angelman syndrome, did not understand the circumstances but was well looked after by staff at his care facility, where he had a safe and "pretty full life."

The Edinburgh International Book Festival announced it was quitting its traditional home in Charlotte Square Gardens after 37 years and moving to Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place. Organisers said they had agreed a new "long-term partnership" with Edinburgh University, which runs the art school, in the wake of mounting criticism over the impact of the event on the New Town site.

Demolition began on the landmark grain silo at Leith docks to make way for Scotland's largest renewable hub .

The Cockburn Association announced it would oppose plans for a new multi-million "temple of film" in Festival Square at Lothian Road. It argued allowing the new home for the Filmhouse cinema to be built in square would set an "undesirable precedent" and could pave the way for "expectation of development" of similar spaces across Edinburgh.


Edinburgh South-West MP Joanna Cherry was sacked as the SNP's Westminster spokesperson for home affairs and justice. Her removal from the front bench followed a week of intense internal strife within the party. Ms Cherry tweeted: "Westminster is increasingly irrelevant to Scotland's constitutional future and @theSNP would do well to radically rethink our strategy."

Work began to demolish a historic grain silo at Leith docks as part of a major project to transform the waterfront and create Scotland's largest renewable hub. The Category B listed Imperial Dock grain elevator was an industrial landmark dating back to the 1930s and its removal will transform the Leith skyline.

Debora Kayembe became the first person of colour to be elected Rector of Edinburgh University

Staff at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) mass vaccination centre have raised concerns over Covid-19 vaccine doses being "wasted" due to an instruction for vaccinators to throw away unused vaccine at the end of a shift. The health board denied vaccines were thrown away unnecessarily but confirmed it had changed its policy in light of objections from staff.

Human rights lawyer and former refugee Debora Kayembe was elected the new rector of Edinburgh University. The first person of colour to hold the post and only the third woman, Ms Kayembe came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been living in Scotland since 2011.

An ambitious decade-long transport plan for Edinburgh – designed to fight climate change, air pollution, congestion and inequality in the city – was unveiled by council chiefs. The City Mobility Plan included plans for a north-south tram line to be operational by 2030, a review of the city's bus network by 2023 and a network of vehicle-free streets in Old Town.

A petition to halt controversial plans to make Spaces for People traffic schemes permanent attracted more than 4,500 signatures in just three days. Two campaign groups - Get Edinburgh Moving and South West Edinburgh in Motion - launched the petition in response to the launch of a city-wide consultation on which traffic measures and road closures residents may wish to keep.

The first tram tracks were laid in Leith Walk as work on the extension of the route from York Place to Newhaven progressed. Edinburgh Trams said the £207 million extension was set to take the first passengers to and from Newhaven in spring 2023.

Lodger Roman Frackiewicz was sentenced to at least 19 years behind bars after he was convicted of brutally battering a frail Edinburgh pensioner to death. Jadwiga Szczygielska, 77, suffered horrific injuries when 44-year-old Frackiewicz, who paid just £200 a month for a room in Mrs Szczygielska's house, launched a frenzied attack, causing her to suffer 14 fractured ribs, a broken breastbone and collapsed lungs.

Staff at the EICC vaccination centre raised concerns about doses being wasted. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Celebrated eye surgeon Hector Chawla, former director of Edinburgh's Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, condemned the decision to scrap the city's planned new eye hospital and disperse eyecare services across Lothian as "vandalism" and "a step back into the dark ages". Dr Chawla, who saved Gordon Brown's sight, warned that expecting people to travel long distances for treatment would mean more people risking blindness.

Plans were published to ban cars from George Street as part of a radical transformation to open up more space for pedestrians, bikes, and outdoor seating areas. Under the plans, bus stops would be located at either end and car parking would remain for blue badge holders and loading access for businesses.


Serious consideration should be given to decriminalising drug use to help tackle the "national emergency" of fatal overdoses, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said. The call came after the Evening News revealed that benzodiazepines such as Valium had caused more fatalities in Edinburgh than heroin. The RCPE also urged the introduction of a drugs consumption room and a heroin-assisted treatment programme in all major centres in Scotland.

New Tattoo boss Major General Buster Howes accused the Cockburn Association of wanting to turn the city centre into a "medieval theme park" over its campaigns against overtourism and festivalisation.

A letter from city education bosses to parents revealed the return to school could see some pupils receiving as little as half a day a week of classroom teaching. The letter said senior taking exams would be prioritised for face-to-face lessons, but all year groups could expect "a minimum of half a day per week of in-school learning".

The opening of five new nurseries at Edinburgh primary schools, due in August, was postponed until 2022 after the contractors went into receivership. The nurseries at Craigentinny, Granton and Nether Currie primaries and St Mark's and St John Vianney's RC primaries are needed to meet the increase in funded childcare.

City council leader Adam McVey apologised to victims of racism in Capital schools, after an investigation found numerous incidents of racist abuse from both students and teachers. Some of the allegations included pupils being called 'monkeys' and 'slaves', and being told to 'go home' by racist students.

Edinburgh research science manager Gary Wicksted completed his city trek, walking every one of the Capital's 4,841 roads, streets and paths to raise money for a mental health charity. The 39-year-old took on the year-long challenge in a bid to keep fit at the start of lockdown and estimated he had walked around 2,000 miles.

Lothian Buses withdrew all evening services across the city on March 17 after eight buses serving Edinburgh Royal Infirmary were targeted by vandals in the Old Dalkeith Road or Gilmerton Road areas. Over 100 anti-social behaviour incidents around Edinburgh's buses and trams - including youths throwing stones - were reported over a six-week period.

A 47-year-old cyclist was left seriously injured after a wire was deliberately tied across a cycle path in the Newcraighall public park in Craigmillar.

Police were called to disperse crowds of St Patrick's Day revellers who swarmed on the Meadows despite the coronavirus restrictions. Residents nearby complained people were brazenly treating their streets as toilets in broad daylight and threatening them if challenged.

East Lothian MP Kenny MacAkill quit the SNP to join Alba, the new party launched by former First Minister Alex Salmond in a surprise move aimed at winning the second votes of SNP supporters at the Holyrood elections in May.

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The first tram tracks were laid on Leith Walk as part of the extension of the route to Newhaven
Impression of ho George Street would be transformed under council plans to ban cars.
Huge police resources were needed to deal with the crowds converging on the Meadows. Picture: Anna Koslerova/