Review of the Year 2021, July-September: Floods, fire and Greens in government

Continuing our look back, as talk turned to recovery and new plans and projects were unveiled.

By Ian Swanson
Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 4:55 am

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Edinburgh was plunged into chaos after a thunderstorm caused flash flooding, disrupting businesses and travel across the city. Raeburn Place in Stockbridge was turned into a river and staff at the brand new St James Quarter were seen mopping up pools of water.

A group of wild swimmers hosted a coffee morning in Portobello's icy waves to raise cash for Macmillan Cancer Support. They braved the freezing water armed only with a swimming costume and a fresh cup of coffee at sunrise to promote the World's Biggest Coffee Morning.

Businesses in Edinburgh issued a blueprint for the city's recovery from Covid, calling for an accelerated return to workplaces, support for struggling firms, a new business promotion body and a new branding strategy. It also proposed more business support for culture and the arts, a comprehensive aviation strategy and a giftcard / loyalty scheme to help independent firms and hospitality businesses.

A puppet showing what a man in Leith from 700 years ago would look like was produced using digital reconstructions of skulls unearthed in South Leith Parish Church graveyard during the Trams to Newhaven project. "Medieval Mark” was based on images of centuries-old males which were then built up into digital versions of the skulls using special 3D scanners.

NHS Lothian announced it was postponing some planned operations after a rise in Covid hospital admissions and the number of staff self-isolating. With figures showing 568 per 100,000 people in Lothian testing positive for the virus, the health board said it had to focus capacity on the most-urgent cases.

Dobbies Garden Centres announced that "with regret" they were closing the popular Butterfly and Insect World for good. Midlothian SNP MP Owen Thompson urged them to halt dismantling of the site until all options were explored with potential investors and community groups, but said the firm had been "tight lipped" on financial details.

Flash flooding brought chaos to Edinburgh in July

An £11 million plan to transform St Margaret's House in Meadowbank into student flats was halted after a pre-let deal failed to come to fruition. It meant a temporary reprieve for tenants of the Edinburgh Palette arts charity, which has run St Margaret's House as studios since 2008.

Latest figures showed Edinburgh's streets were dirtier and more littered than they had been four years ago. And the north-east of the city, including Leith and Portobello, saw the biggest fall in its cleanliness rating.

Fast food giant McDonald's lost its fight to open a drive-thru in Musselburgh after an appeal to Scottish ministers was thrown out over concerns from police about anti-social behaviour. The drive-thru would have been within walking distance of the town's secondary school.


Medieval Mark was created from digital reconstructions of skulls unearthed during the tram works

Edinburgh's St Andrew's Fox Covert RC Primary School became the first in Scotland to receive a national award for its commitment to taking learning outside of the classroom. The national Learning Outside the Classroom Mark (gold status) was awarded for the school's use of outdoor spaces such as Corstorphine Hill to study their school subjects and learn about core ecological values.

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray handed himself in at St Leonard's police station in Edinburgh to begin the eight-month prison sentence received after he was found to be in contempt of court over blogs he wrote during the trial of former first minister Alex Salmond. The offending posts contained details which, if pieced together, allowed identification of women who made allegations against Mr Salmond, who was acquitted on all 13 charges, which included sexual assault and attempted rape.

Plans were announced for historic Dalkeith Palace to open its doors to the public for the first time in its 300-year history, creating a new museum and public library. The palace was built in 1702 under the guidance of the 1st Duchess of Buccleuch, who was daughter in law of Charles II.

An internal council audit report gave a "red" rating to Edinburgh's controversial Spaces for People programme, saying it was ill-prepared and not properly overseen and it was not clear how the cost of reversing the measures or making them permanent would be met.

St Anthony's Chapel in Holyrood Park was closed to the public amid safety fears

The historic ruined St Anthony's Chapel in Holyrood Park was closed off to the public due to safety fears. The 14th century building was cordoned off over fears of a masonry fall at the site.

Plans were unveiled for a multi-million-pound transformation of Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal, including the demolition of the former Debenhams store and the north multi-storey car park. Owners the Ambassador Group said the rest of te hopping centre would be reconfigured and a mix of housing built on the waterfront.

Serco, operators of Edinburgh's Just Eat cycle hire scheme, said they were not willing to continue the scheme because high levels of vandalism made it a loss-making concern. Talks with the council failed to reach any agreement.

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton was named leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. He was the only candidate for the post after Willie Rennie, who decided to step down after ten years in the job.

Edinburgh announced it would provide a haven for people escaping from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover as American and other troops pulled out. The city council said the Capital would offer places for permanent resettlement, as well as giving temporary accommodation.

A 98-year-old woman had to wait more than 16 hours for an ambulance after falling and bumping her head at her Fairmilehead home. The Scottish Ambulance Service apologised and blamed reduced resources and high demand.

Scottish Green co-leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie were appointed government ministers.

More than 100 firefighters tackled a huge blaze in buildings on Edinburgh's George IV Bridge. Flats had to be evacuated and Patisserie Valerie, the Elephant House Cafe and Oz Bar were among the businesses which suffered both smoke and water damage.

Lothian Green MSP Lorna Slater - elected for the first time in May - was appointed a Scottish Government minister, along with co-leader Patrick Harvie, after the SNP and the Green agreed a "historic" co-operation deal at Holyrood.


Scotland's biggest arts philanthropist Carol Grigor pledged £55 million to turn Edinburgh's historic former Royal High School building into a National Centre for Music after an overhaul of plans to secure the future of the A-listed building. Violinist Nicola Benedetti also became an official partner in a vision to breathe new life into the landmark building which had previously been at the centre of controversial proposals for a luxury hotel.

Edinburgh developer Chris Stewart, responsible for major renovation projects in the Capital, spoke out about the neglected appearance of the city centre, saying he had grown frustrated by poor standards of rubbish collection, the time taken to tackle offensive graffiti and the 'endless' disrepair of pavements.

The Johnnie Walker experience opened in the former House of Fraser store at the West End of Princes Street. Parent company Diageo said the attraction, spanning eight floors and including two rooftop bars, was the centrepiece of its £185 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism in Scotland.

Thousands of people signed an online petition to prevent the loss of the World of Football pitches at Edinburgh's Corn Exchange after London developers Watkin Jones submitted proposals for build-to-rent homes and addition to student accommodation on the site.

The UK Government terminated its contract with vaccine supplier Valneva, which has a major plant in Livingston, just months after increasing its order for doses by 40 million. Shares in the French pharmaceutical company plummeted after the government announced the move, claiming the company was in breach of its agreement - a claim which Valneva "strenuously" denied

A timetable drawn up by health bosses for construction of the Capital's promised new eye hospital showed patients and staff faced a five-year wait, with the building not due to open until December 2026. Concerns were voiced about why just over two years of construction was preceded by nearly three years of "red tape".

Plans were announced to recruit more than 400 nurses to help tackle huge pressures on Lothian hospitals - but health chiefs warned it still would not be enough. The move came amid a mounting crisis at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary's emergency department, which union bosses described as "bursting at the seams", with patients left on trolleys for hours.

A 130kg wild halibut, one of the biggest ever caught by a boat in Scottish waters, was bought for more than £1,000 by Armstrong's Fishmongers in Stockbridge before being cut into nearly 100 portions. The fish, measuring eight feet long and four feet wide, was caught by Scottish trawler, Aquarius, in the Atlantic off the Outer Hebrides, and brought to Newhaven.

Portobello High School experimented with having fewer bells ring throughout the day in an effort to help young people "feel calm and safe". Bells were still rung at the start of the day, end of interval and lunch time, but the bells marking the end of each lesson were silenced. Head teacher Ruth McKay said the measure had led to a calmer transition from one class to another.

Health bosses said plans to sell Edinburgh's Astley Ainslie hospital and its extensive grounds were "in abeyance for now" - because they did not have the money to build the new accommodation needed to transfer its services to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

The council published its City Plan 2030 proposals, saying housebuilding in Edinburgh over the next ten years should be focused on brownfield sites with no new greenbelt land released for development. It also said new developments should be a mix of residential and other uses and proposed a new minimum of 35 per cent affordable housing in any new development.

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Boris Johnson visited the Valneva vaccine lab in Livingston in January, but the UK Government cancelled its order in September.
An 8ft long halibut was bought for more than £1,000 by Armstrong's Fishmongers in Stockbridge.
The former House of Fraser store in Princes Street has been turned into the Johnnie Walker experience Johnnie Walker new visitor centre, Princes Street, Edinburgh