Edinburgh council to be asked: Should traders be compensated when major infrastructure works disrupt their business?
Councillors asked to make ‘once and for all’ decision
Councillors are being urged to make a once-and-for-all decision on whether businesses hit by major infrastructure projects should or should not get compensation.
Traders in Roseburn have been fighting to get financial support from the council after suffering a drop of up to 80 per cent in their business due to the construction of the new cross-city cycle route City Centre West-East Link (CCWEL). And they thought they had won their case when the council agreed to look at a compensation scheme, but officials warned in a report that such a scheme would set a precedent which they claimed could extend to "hundreds" of businesses.
Some of the traders explained their plight to the council's finance committee on Thursday. Julian Skinner, who runs Moving Pictures TV and audio repairs, said he was "pretty much on the verge of closure". "Passing trade is down 60 per cent compared to previous years, I've had to reduce opening hours by about a third, employees have had their hours cut by a similar amount and I've had to take a second job at Asda just to make ends meet."
He said councillors had recognised there was a case for the traders getting compensation but the report from officials went "completely against the spirit of that". "It's trying to block the compensation the councillors called for in September. The main argument seems to be the compensation wasn't in the budget when the project was planned, therefore we can't get compensation. I would argue that was a mistake and that's not an argument for not paying the compensation, that's an argument for correcting the mistake.
"If there was a payout we're talking a few thousand pounds to a couple of dozen traders. It's a minuscule amount of money in terms of the council's £1 billion-plus budget."
Another trader, Brendan Haddock, told the committee: "This is destroying businesses. We were put on our knees by Covid but now we are onto our last gasp. Please give us some support."
Former Lord Provost Frank Ross, SNP councillor for Corstorphine/Murrayfield, said the report failed to distinguish between temporary roadworks and a large-scale infrastructure project, which he said was expected to continue until April 2023. He noted a line in the report which said no project could be undertaken without "some disruption". He said: "Such a dismissive statement fails totally to understand the impact that these 15-month long infrastructure works have had and continue to have on the whole Roseburn community. As elected members it is our duty to consider the impact of council decisions on our communities."
Lib Dem councillor for the area, Euan Davidson, said he was "deeply disappointed" in the report. "There is no attempt to quantify how much a scheme would cost, no attempt to address the innovative solutions the traders put forward and no recognition of the real-life impact on so many of our small businesses." He argued a precedent had already been set by the compensation scheme for those affected by the tram extension. "Why do long-term works one part of the city result in a business continuity fund, but not in others?"
Peter Watton, the council's director of sustainable development, said based on the tram scheme, compensation for the Roseburn traders could cost up to £300,000 and if it was extended to the full CCWEL route it might be double that.
The committee agreed a new report should be presented to full council in December outlining criteria for a business support scheme for transport projects along with fuller costings and an assessment of whether it would apply to CCWEL.
Green councillor Alex Staniforth said the full council had to make a final decision. “Greens have been quite clear – we think it sets a dangerous precedent, it would make active travel infrastructure in the future more expensive and it isn’t typical to compensate people for scheme like this. If other parties feel differently, it’s time to bite the bullet and say so. It’s fine for this to go to full council, but it absolutely must be the point at which we make a decision and stop stringing the Roseburn traders along.”
SNP former transport convener Lesley Mcinnes said: “We need to meet the challenge of this, understand the criteria and decide once and for all as a council whether or not it is our role to compensate, if so under what conditions and how we would implement that.”
And Labour convener Mandy Watt said: “I think we’re all agreed on this and we share Cllr Staniforth’s view that we should bring this to a conclusion when it comes to full council.”