Edinburgh's Roseburn traders' hopes of compensation dashed at last minute
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Shopkeepers in Roseburn say they are “gutted” after their hopes of winning compensation for the impact of major construction works which have “devastated” their businesses were dashed at the last minute.
The traders told the full council how they had been forced to borrow money to survive since the work on cross-city cycle route City Centre West East Link (CCWEL) began in February and how customers had stayed away because of the barriers, cones and lack of anywhere to park. Some traders had seen their business fall by up to 70 per cent.
The proposal for compensation – of up to £3,000 per business – was expected to be successful, following a previous refusal, because Liberal Democrat, SNP and Conservatives had all signalled their support. But when it came to the vote, the SNP abstained on a joint Lib Dem/Conservative motion to make the payments because of a disagreement on what to do about a wider scheme for future projects.
George Rendall, of art gallery and picture framers Art Et Facts in Roseburn Terrace, said: “I’m really, really disappointed. We were expecting a positive result from this. A lot of businesses are in debt because they have been borrowing to keep going. People will have all sorts of problems as a result of this. My business right now is four per cent of last year's December. Next we’ve got January and February – never great months – and we’re moving into a real recession. I’m really gutted.”
A report by council officials said a business support fund originally set up during the pandemic could be used to cover the estimated £100,000 cost of the compensation. In the debate, Corstorphine/Murrayfield SNP councillor Frank Ross said it was clear there was a majority of councillors in favour of compensation. And he said: “I’m delighted the report has managed to find a source of funding which will not negatively impact other projects, as was a key element of the decision taken earlier by this council.”
Euan Davidson, Lib Dem councillor for the same ward, said traders and the community had been “hammered” by constant works. He criticised Labour, whose candidate in the area had campaigned for compensation in the election while the party was now opposing it. And he welcomed a change of heart from the SNP, which opposed compensation when it was in power. “If the previous administration hadn’t blocked this proposal earlier this year we’d be much further down the line.”
Tory councillor Joanna Mowat said the construction scheme had been poorly planned and managed, starting with traders being told the project would begin in four weeks’ time and then the road being closed two days later. She said there was no difference between the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the SNP on compensation for the Roseburn traders, but only when it came to a wider compensation scheme for future projects. “Cllr Ross has brought forward a fully conceived plan which he says is the only plan the SNP will accept, whereas the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have said bring forward a scoping exercise for future projects.”
And she said: “One of the ways this council would never have to pay a penny piece in compensation to a single trader would be if we panned our works properly and delivered them in accordance to those plans. That’s the fundamental problem here – we have not managed to do that and in doing so we have ruined the livelihoods of many of these small traders. It’s shameful what we have done to these traders.”
Labour transport convener Scott Arthur compared the plight of the Roseburn traders to that of businesses affected by the long-running repairs to North Bridge and said in many ways the North Bridge traders had had a harder time. “I’m reluctant to support anything which does not put North Bridge traders on an equal footing.” And he said anyone advocating a longer-term compensation scheme had to say where the money would come from or what they wanted the council not to do in future.
In the first round of voting, the SNP motion got 19 votes, the Lib Dem/Conservative one 21 and a Green motion, backed by Labour, rejecting any compensation, 23. In the second round of voting, with the SNP motion was removed, SNP councillors abstained, so the Green motion was approved by 23 to 21.
Green group co-convener Ben Parker said: "While we are sympathetic to the traders and residents who have been impacted by construction works, both at Roseburn and across the city, we don't believe the case has been made for compensation for traders. There is a wealth of evidence on the "pedestrian pound" which shows that creating spaces that benefit people walking, wheeling and cycling, as this scheme does, can also significantly increase the income of businesses over the medium to longer term. We believe increased investment in such schemes is the best way to support businesses, while also tackling air pollution, congestion and the climate crisis."