Helen Martin: I'm raging over Edinburgh's chill-out zone

City of Edinburgh Council is spending £80,000 on Edinburgh Lumen '“ zen-like, free chill-out zones which will run for five hours each evening for several weeks.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 6:00 am
St Andrew Square and The Mound precinct will be transformed into zen-like portals of tranquillity

Apparently, the idea is to provide “portals of tranquillity“ and “an aura of calm”.

Considering the chaotic mayhem we all have to suffer over Christmas and New Year, some people may regard this as money well-spent. Others, like me, will see it as yet another complete waste of taxpayers’ dosh.

This is exactly the sort of ridiculous council expense that should be avoided given that we face massive cuts, a huge budget deficit, and everything from road surfaces and refuse collection services falling apart.

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It’s a piece of delusional trivia, commissioned by Marketing Edinburgh who believe this will attract more tourists and locals into the city centre.

Increasingly, locals avoid the centre. Out-of-town retail offers free parking, the city is anti-car, plans are underway to impose access limits on those who were duped by the government into buying diesel vehicles, pavements have been widened and roads narrowed, increasing congestion. Trams haven’t helped, thus making public transport take longer than ever.

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At certain times of the year, trying to get anywhere in the centre on time involves barging through thousands of tourists. Attracting locals? A chill-out zone is going to be about as effective as wearing a paper hat in a monsoon.

As for tourists? Edinburgh is a global magnet, a city already run for visitors rather than citizens. Even a tourist tax wouldn’t deter them. Yes, they may give the free event a go for the short period it exists, and no doubt tourist numbers will continue to rise … but not because of a little bit of zen.

Admittedly £80,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to all the other money the council has wasted over the years. But when little follies like this are added to the tram fiasco and other badly run projects, council tax payers have a right to ask why we face rising charges for services and major cuts to the basics the council should be providing as priority.

Even if it’s all about enhancing the city, protecting its culture and preserving its history, wouldn’t it have been better to put that £80,000 towards lighting, CCTV, or night wardens in Greyfriars Kirkyard to deter the disgusting yobs, drugged-up morons and vandals who think it’s fun to destroy gravestones including that of Greyfriars Bobby’s John Gray?

Throughout my life, I have lived and worked in eight different local authorities from Central Scotland to South-East England. I swear on my mother’s grave, I have never encountered such bad decision-making, arrogance, repeated glory-seeking and such a lack of responsibility towards citizens’ needs and interests as I have seen in Edinburgh.

Individual councillors are not to blame. It’s almost as if the Capital suffers from a long-standing, tortuous, “Londonesque” council culture, hell-bent on grandiose or esoteric schemes rather than knowing its limitations and prioritising the welfare of the people and local necessities.

The tram inquiry, school building scandals, and other “mistakes” have shown that the city council over-estimates its financial, business, construction and civic abilities. Yet shame doesn’t seem to last.

With budgets now so tight, fripperies need to be ruled out, and every penny spent on essentials.

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RADIO 2 is sacking male DJs Paul Jones, Frenk Renton and Nigel Ogden and replacing them with women to avoid being accused of sexism. Don’t they see the irony in that?