Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas tree lights switch-on tomorrow




Carol Service and Festive Lights Ceremony



University of Edinburgh Music Society Brass Band

Preston Street Primary School Choir

Lights to be switched on by the Rt Hon

Donald Wilson, Lord Provost

Service led by Colin Symes, Community Church

and afterwards at the South Side Community Centre


Thanks to Tesco Metro and other local businesses

for their generous support

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Tram post 2: The financial case

I understand the case for completing line 1 from York Place down Leith Walk and along to Newhaven.  But the figures we have before us just don't make sense.

I am told that tram projects in the UK are more expensive than elsewhere in Europe.  Perhaps this is because of the bureaucratic way we approach such projects this side of the channel.  The benchmark rate for trams in the UK, I am told, is £25m per km.  The furthest option - the most cost effective one of the three options - is an extension of 4.7km to Newhaven.

That works out as £34.5m per km.  Now hold that figure in your mind as you recall the work which has already been completed.  Underground services have largely been moved and some structures and embankments have been built.  The trams have been bought.  So why are we being quoted a figure well above the accepted going rate for a new tramline?

Then how is the bill to be paid?  Last year there were all sorts of hints that the long overdue development of the St James Centre would mean the developer would be a possible lender at very low interest rates.  See here for some more details.  That possibility appears to have disappeared.  The focus of the report seemed to be raiding the coffers of Lothian Buses - perhaps to the tune of £25m.  That is to bridge a gap created by deferring the main borrowing costs away from the beginning of the project (saddling a future generation).

Annual borrowing costs are put at £9.5m (but that is only for the £145m total cost figure to Newhaven, not the higher figure of £162m).

But the financial part of the case for extending the tram is summed up in paragraph 3.42 of the report which the Administration pushed through last week:
"At this stage of project development no detailed assessment of the project finance/PPP solution has been carried out. . . "
There is certainly no credible case for proceeding with the extension based on these finances.

Cameron House Community Centre

Some of you may have wondered what to make of the recent publicity about the reports of dirty tricks in the Council in relation to Cameron House Community Centre in Prestonfield.

Today's Evening News runs its 6th front page lead article in the past 3 weeks on the scandal:
"Council computer used to bombard workers with porn"
I'll post more in the coming days giving the background and adding to the information already in the public domain.

The story goes back to 2002 and earlier and there has been much activity in the last year to get to the bottom of what has happened.  There is still work to be done to get to the bottom of what is clearly yet another scandal within Edinburgh Council.

And if you are wondering why events which began around 2002 are so important it is because they have been having an impact on events and people ever since.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Tram post 1: The case against extending the tram

The case currently before councillors for extending the tram is a mess.  There are four major problems which mean I cannot support it.

First is the cost.  Having already risen from the £80 million trailed a few months ago it has risen to £145m and not to £162m.  And that is despite a considerable proportion of the works already having been completed.  And the tram vehicles have been purchased.

Then there is the project timescale.  Almost six years according to the documents councillors are currently being asked to approve.  That is six years of speculation, uncertainty and disruption.

Thirdly, there is the question of whether Edinburgh Council is capable of managing such a large project. History, whether in relation to trams, the Water of Leith Flood works, waste collection etc., etc does not bode well.

Finally for now, the Scottish Government has set up and enquiry.  To go ahead regardless of Lord Hardie's conclusions smacks of self conceit.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Apologies for the pause

Posts have been scarce on this local newsblog over the last few weeks - for which apologies.  I have been particularly busy with a few issues.

So over the next few days I will update you on two of these issues - the debate over the tram extension and the goings on over a period of years at Cameron House.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Update on School Streets pilot at Sciennes

Additional signs are to be put up to support the School Streets Scheme around Sciennes Primary School.

There has been some concern about the implementation and effectiveness of the pilot project around the School to restrict motor vehicle traffic at the beginning and end of the school day.  The details are here.  I have the response from the Council's Road Safety Manager to my query about the current position. I replicate it (almost) in full below:
The school streets project is being taken forward as a pilot scheme for a maximum of 18 months; it is an innovative concept, the first of its kind on this scale in Scotland. It is being promoted under the statutory powers of an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO), which sets out the streets in each scheme, the operating days and times, and the groups which are exempt from the restrictions. These conditions cannot be changed during the life of the pilot, although the scheme is being monitored and evaluated at intervals throughout the 18 month duration, to inform and shape any possible future permanent schemes.
The Sciennes scheme is the only one in Phase 1 located on a through route. It was never the intention of the scheme to exclude all traffic from the streets; there are general exemptions including residents’ vehicles, blue badge holders, emergency vehicles, healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses, and essential services, such as mail deliveries, gas, electricity and water. In order to reduce the impact on the daily running of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, there are additional exemptions for the Sciennes scheme. These include taxis and private hire vehicles accessing the front entrance and delivery vehicles specifically serving the hospital.
My team is working with the school and the Junior Road Safety Officers to look at conducting assemblies and classroom activities to remind pupils of the dangers posed by traffic and how to behave when entering and exiting the school on foot or by bike.
The Scottish Taxi Drivers’ Federation, Fleet Transport Association and Road Haulage Association were formally consulted about the scheme. We will contact them again clarifying how the restriction affects their members and requesting they send a reminder out.
Lothian and will be approved for use in any future schemes ensuring consistency across Scotland The "When lights flash" wording is used to remove the need to add the exact operating days and times, which would be impossible for drivers to read as they approach the sign.
In addition, we will shortly be erecting signs in advance of access routes to the area warning that "Livingstone Place and Sciennes Road between Sylvan Place and Tantallon Place are closed to traffic at the beginning and end of the school day".
We hope that drivers’ awareness of the schemes will increase and drivers with destinations outwith the area will avoid it at the restricted times.
We are aware that the police cannot always be present to enforce the scheme. For the first few weeks of the scheme, they have been undertaking an educational role by stopping and speaking to drivers and explaining the new restrictions to them. Shortly they will begin issuing tickets to offenders who will face paying a £60 fine. We will be publicising this and are expecting it to have an effect on drivers currently flaunting the rules. This is in line with the other Phase 1 schools which started at the end of September, where compliance has improved since formal enforcement has commenced.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

East Suffolk Road planning permission refused

Planning permission to build 10 houses and create a smaller public park on the ground adjacent to East Suffolk Road was refused at the Development Management Committee this morning by eight votes to six.

There was an accompanying application for listed building consent to move the pavilion - and this was granted - though that is academic.

Friday, 13 November 2015

More drugs arrests in the Southside

Police are reporting over 100 people have been arrested in the Southside - especially the Nicolson Street area in an operation over the last three months (August to the end of October).  I know police have put in more resources to address traditional drug dealing, misuse of NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) and anti-social behaviour (my comment added below).

You can see the press release here and there is more coverage here.

Police have done raids on premises in Potterrow, Nicolson Street, Dumbiedykes and Upper Gray Street as well as a host of on street ;patrols (2000, I think they said).

Work led by Edinburgh's Trading Standards officers led to significant non illegal NPS substances being seized from shops distributing these death substances in the area.

Decision next Wednesday on 10 new houses for East Suffolk Road

The fate of the old East Suffolk Road playing fields will be decided at a meeting on Wednesday next week.

When the matter came before the Edinburgh Planning Committee on 7th October, the decision was deferred until next Wednesday 18th November (10am at the City Chambers) when a hearing allowing all interested parties and groups to be represented.

The proposals involve
Erection of 10 dwelling houses, creation of public park, new vehicle and pedestrian access, relocation of existing pavilion, alteration to existing boundary wall on East Suffolk Road and associated landscaping, drainage and engineering works on land at East Suffolk Road. Application No 14/03632/FUL  Click here to see documents.  There is also a listed building consent application for the moving of the Category C listed pavilion.
I note that the proposals are recommended for approval by planning officers.

Correction 1415 13/11/15:  Title amended to to correct the date of the hearing.  Apologies for the error which suggested the Planning Committee would be meeting on a Saturday on a Saturday!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Buccleuch Street to be closed on Sunday

I see there is a closing order for Buccleuch Street next Sunday to enable the removal of the large crane which has been used in the building of accommodation at the rear of the Odeon.

The order, which is for the complete closure of the street for the removal, is in force from 5am through to midnight.  I don't expect the closure will be implemented for all of that time.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Odeon: clarification

I posted at the weekend about the sale of the Odeon in Clerk Street to the G1 group.  They have indicated a focus in their plans is on cinema and restaurants.

The press release (below) gives a commitment not to turn it into a superpub.

G1 Group are delighted to announce that they have formally concluded on the purchase of the former Odeon Cinema in Clerk Street from Duddingston Leisure.

G1 Group are no strangers to the big screen, and currently operate the Grosvenor Cinema in the West End of Glasgow and the seven screen IMAX Playhouse Cinema in Perth. Our file on the Odeon dates back to 2007 when we first showed interest in this iconic cinema site. We have been very aware over that period that the building remains very close to the heart of the community, however, we are confident that the proposal to breathe life back in to the former Odeon and ensuring this fantastic listed building has a favourable future. We very much look forward to bringing life back into this part of Clerk Street which has for so long been the subject of concern and negative press.

Given the scale of the original site we believe full credit and thanks should go to the Council for allowing the student accommodation to go ahead at the rear of the premises. This was fundamental in allowing the continuing negotiation for the front of the property to go ahead”.  Bruce Hare of Duddingston Property Group said-
“ We are pleased that we found a solution to retain the cinema offer at Clerk Street as we promised we would but perhaps more importantly to create sustainability of the building going forward… we wish them every success with their latest venture.”

Lyn MacDonald, Marketing Director, G1 Group adds-
“As a Group, we are always fully committed to treating notable buildings and places of interest with due respect and care, and would like to clarify that there are no current or future plans to turn The Odeon building into a “superpub”. Instead, we are hard at work on developing a concept that will bring the space fully to life, creating jobs and regeneration in the area as we move forward to create a real ‘Destination’ in Scotland’s great capital!” 

Grange roadworks: Scottish Gas Networks

Findhorn Place as the current site for the laying of replacement gas pipes.  But the work is also due to cover Blackford Road (newly resurfaced!), St Albans Road, Mansionhouse Road, South Oswald Road, Oswald Road and Dick Place.

And the bad news:  the scheduled end date for this project is the 4th April next year (2016).  I'll need to go and find what co-ordination there has been on this.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

More police drugs raids: Key figure arrested.

From an email I received this morning from our local Inspector:
"Over 170 officers were involved in the operation Amyloid which targeted a serious organised crime network operating in the area.
As well as members of the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit (OCCTU) and local officers, the operation was supported by Health & Safety Executive, Department of Work and Pensions, Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (previously VOSA) and the
Scottish Ambulance Service.
22 premises were searched under warrants as part of the operation, including in the Liberton and two car garages.
A total of 21 people were arrested and charged with a variety of drug related offences and 13 remain in custody over the weekend. Importantly the principal member of the group targeted was also detained and sufficient evidence was gathered to secure his arrest.
In total £100, 000 of heroin, £2,000 of cannabis and £10,000 in cash was recovered and removed from the community.
The was one of our largest drugs operation in recent years and will send a clear message to local criminals that drug dealing and serious crime remains a continuing priority for Edinburgh Division. 
As always, we couldn't have carried out the operation without the support and information from the local community and our community officers were out on foot patrol after each search to ensure residents were reassured and understood the purpose of the Operation.
The operation is not a one off though and intelligence gathered as part of the work yesterday will be considered with a view to organising further disruption activity."
There is also a report here

The Odeon: movement again

Here's the first couple of paragraphs of the Evening News report today:
MILLIONAIRE nightclub mogul Stefan King has snapped up the former Odeon Cinema in Clerk Street in a move which will see the A-listed art deco landmark resurrected as a film theatre and restaurant.
Mr King's G1 group has bought the building in what is understood to be a multi-million pound deal, with work to clear rubbish and debris from the interior already under way. 
See the whole article here

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Those LED street lights

New LED street lamps are to be installed throughout the city.  The pilot - which has brought new lights to areas such as Prestonfield and Langton Road - brought many complaints that the new lights were not bright enough and that they left pools of darkness where there had previously been brightness.

But the new lights, we are told, will be brighter than those used in the pilot.  And of course, the LED lights will be considerably cheaper to run than the old sodium lamps.

There will also be the ability to control the brightness remotely (at the moment changes have to me made lamppost by lamppost).

Even if you have been part of the pilot and the lamps in your street are not bright enough, do get in touch to see if they can be adjusted.