Council Set To Improve The City Centre

Edinburgh City Council has developed a proposal to improve the pedestrian space in the city centre, particularly in the area around Princes Street and George Street. The report focuses, specifically, on improving the pedestrian space and environment in line with the delivery of the tram project, which is due to be completed this Summer.

One of the methods of achieving this is providing an opportunity for dedicated cycle provision in the area, as well as reducing the detrimental impact of vehicles on the City Centre environment. The Council’s ‘Action Travel Action Plan’ sets targets to provide significant improvements in the walking and cycling infrastructure of the city centre by 2020, and the promotion of these means of travel.

The proposal states that by managing the traffic movement of Lothian Buses, it would achieve these objectives. Eastbound buses on Princes Street maybe relocated to George Street effectively halving the number of buses on Princes Street. The proposal also sets to close Princes Street to general traffic in both directions, as well as to allow general traffic on George Street in an eastbound direction only, including taxis. The Council have also announced they are to massively reduce parking availability spots in the City Centre.  Josh Miller,  George Street Association, explained that ”this will just not work.. People will not have to park their cars somewhere else, more inconvenient, and a lot of time will be wasted’. He argued that the ‘Council have not though through a viable alternative’.

Ian Perry, Planning Convener of the Council, said ‘Princes Street has been suffering from the trams, and economic downturn, s we have agreed to increase the pavement space and redress the balance and attract more pedestrians into the town centre and to get more people to shop’.

The results of the consultation will be the subject of a future report and any changes will then be practiced to test how successful they are.

Interview with George Street Association

Interview with Ian Perry, Edinburgh City Council

Council Plans to Help the Elderly

Edinburgh council are today renewing calls for the public to get involved in shaping the care of elderly as recent figures suggest Edinburgh’s population of over  65 ’is set to increase by 21% by 2016.

MP's assisting elderly

MP’s assisting elderly

A total of almost £217 million will be spent between 2012 and 2013 on services for the elderly as part of the Council’s Joint Commissioning plan for older people.

Members of the public are invited to make their views known by completing a questionnaire.

The council say their vision is “to make older people feel safe and feel equal” and to ensure that they can be as independent as possible for as long as possible.

The Council intend to build on support for unpaid carers, to focus on preventative care, support self-management and work with communities to reduce social isolation.

The largest part of the council’s proposed budget – roughly £119 million – will be spent on people receiving intensive care and support in hospitals or care homes. Another £54 million will be spent on helping aged people who need home assistance.

The plan, once approved, will be monitored by the Checkpoint Group and a multi-agency Older People’s Management Group, which include representatives from the NHS, the council and various voluntary and private sector institutions.

Council ‘underhand’ with removal of trees

 

Council contractors have cut down five trees along the Water of Leith, despite earlier promises they would be protected.

One of the trees at risk of removal along the Water of Leith
Image: Alexandra Wingate

Stop the Chop campaigners were informed of the reversal on Thursday, with three trees removed within 24 hours. The two remaining trees were cut down earlier today.

Stop the Chop’s anonymous petition organiser said that local residents had been given “no time to respond to this Council U-turn”, adding that “the Council have acted with a lack of transparency and in a cynical, underhand manner”.

The Water of Leith Flood Prevention Scheme has seen numerous trees removed along the river between Stockbridge and Warriston Crescent in recent months, prompting a petition signed by 1,159 people to save the trees on the Canonmills stretch of the river.

In December 2011, Dave Anderson, director of city development, confirmed that the five trees in question could “be saved without any negative impact on the flood works programme”.

However, this government-backed decision was overturned by Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, convenor of the council’s Transport, Infrastructure and Environment Committee, after the trees’ removal was deemed necessary to “provide a safe access for the construction team”.

All of the trees along Warriston Crescent have already been removed
Image: Alexandra Wingate

Edinburgh first to back global Occupy movement

Edinburgh Council has become the first political body to officially back to worldwide Occupy movement.

The council this afternoon voted in an overwhelming majority to redirect economic decisions to be more focussed on the needs of the 99% in an attempt to reduce the “inequitable gap” between the rich and poor.

The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens, all voted in favour of the motion, with the Conservatives the only party to reject it.

During the debate, Councillor Chapman of the Scottish Green Group said: “Next week workers will go on strike to protect pensions whilst the 1% continue their parasitic feasting on the commonwealth.”

Labour Councillor Gordon Munro, who is an advocate of the Robin Hood Tax, added: “Occupy Edinburgh is a civilised response to the irresponsible actions of global bankers.”

Conservatives voiced concern over the safety of the Edinburgh camp based at St Andrew’s Square, citing anti-social behaviour and a risk to public safety. They also felt that a vote to back the movement would suggest that Edinburgh was closed to the needs of businesses.

Councillor Chapman responded: “This is not about saying Edinburgh is closed to business. It’s about representing the interests of the people.”

Background to the Occupy Movement

St Andrew’s Square has seen an influx of approximately 300 protestors since October 15 calling themselves Occupy Edinburgh. The demonstration, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in America, has seen campaigners rally against the influence of the ‘one per cent’ of wealthy individuals and companies over the ’99 per cent’ of the general public. Their mantra, ‘We are people over profit’, reflects their protests against cuts to education, disability benefits and the NHS. Dozens of students, working mothers, trade unionists and other campaigning groups have set up camp and made a call for social equality and corporate responsibility.

The non-violent protests in Edinburgh are among a small minority of the demonstrations which have gone smoothly with little disruption.

Council scraps environmental privatisation plans

The council has scrapped plans to outsource its environmental services to private firm Enterprise.

The move means that services such as bin collection, recycling and responsibility for public spaces including parks will remain with the council.

The decision came this afternoon after SNP councillors won a majority vote against their Liberal Democrat coalition partners who were in favour of privatisation. The SNPs were backed by both Labour and the Green Party, while the Conservatives supported the Liberal Democrats.

However, not all Liberal Democrat councillors were in favour of outsourcing. Councillor Gary Peacock was applauded by the public gallery for voting against privatisation, saying: “I believe that waste and parks should remain in the public sector”, but added that it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

Today’s vote is seen as significant in keeping other council services out of the public sector.

During today’s debate, Councillor Burgess of the Green Party said: “The Liberal Democrat motion, if approved, would see a large proportion of council services handed over to the private sector.”

The privatisation plans alone have cost the council £3.6million over the last two years, but the council’s director of Services for Communities, Mark Turley – who last year was paid £120,513 – said that a positive vote could have saved the city £27 million at a time that serious cuts are having to be made.

Councillor Mowat of the Conservatives warned councillors before the vote: “If you vote against Enterprise, you can go and justify it to the people who lose their jobs next year.”

There are now unconfirmed reports that the vote may lead to a collapse in the Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

More background on today’s decision is available here.

Midlothian council appeal for families during National Adoption Week

By Karen Rafferty

Sandra Bullock has done it. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman did it. Katherine Heigl has done it, and now Midlothian Council has launched an appeal for it. What is it? Adoption. Midlothian Council have release an appeal in the hope finding new families for children in the local area.

At present there are 90 children living in foster care in Midlothian, however homes are specifically needed for siblings or for children over the age of 5. The council aim to assist those who wish to apply to adopt by offering support at every stage of the adoption process.

Councillor Jackie Aitchison said: “Adoption can be rewarding and challenging and we are committed to provide help, guidance and support at each step of the way. We will often pay an adoption allowance to assist in providing an adoptive home for a child, if additional support is required”.

They are welcoming applications from single people and couples from a variety of backgrounds, and offer to provide support and guidance to prospective families. They believe that although there is no such thing as the perfect family for adoption, the main concern is that the needs of the children can be accommodated. According to their website they “require adopters from various backgrounds and with different life experiences who can provide a family for life for children who are unable to live within their birth families.”

This appeal comes as part of a national campaign to highlight the plights of children without families. National adoption week is running until 7 November 2010, and has been backed by national charity BAAF (British Adoption and Fostering). This week, BAAF released the results of research into the many misconceptions regarding adoption. Chief executive, David Holmes said: “It is very worrying how many myths have come to dominate in adoption. It concerns us that people may disqualify themselves needlessly, which could mean a child misses out on a family … every case is treated individually.” [Read more...]

Houses to be heated by solar power

by Suzanne Bargon

Solar paneled house

December sees Midlothian council hand over its first “solar-powered water heated” properties to their council tenants.

The council’s new development has 18 properties in total, of this, six first floor flats and six semi-detached in Cuiken Terrace, Penicuik have the new system installed.

Solar energy reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to heat water in each property. The system will also lower carbon dioxide emissions.

The cost of installation across the twelve solar properties is around £50,400, 30% of which is provided by Community Energy Scotland.

Solar water heating systems work by absorbing solar energy. The energy is transferred from the solar panel to heat the water in the property’s hot water tank. The system provides up to 60% of an average household’s annual hot water.

Eric Dodd, National Projects Manager of Community Energy Scotland, said: “Savings to each homeowner will be between £232 and £485 per annum. In many circumstance we are learning that in the summer months people do not have to use more conventional means of heating water such as gas and electricity and the sun provides all their hot water needs. Solar energy is used to heat the water from solar radiation and is to reduce the impact on the householder’s energy bill.”

Although the Scottish climate does not appear particularly sun drenched, the solar water heating panels are efficient enough to operate without relying on high temperatures or direct sunlight to produce energy. They work on the principle of light absorption, rather than needing heat or direct sunlight.

Councillor Adam Montgomery, Midlothian Council Provost, said: “The incorporation of a solar water heating system in these properties is a first for Midlothian Council. Embracing this technology reduces the quantity of CO2 households produce and saves energy. The system also reduces the average household heating bill, which reduces costs for our tenants.”

Midlothian council and the Scottish Government have funded the development of this project.

Scottish Council Caught In £100,000 Scam

By Adam Bergin

South Lanarkshire council have lost more than £100,000 after being duped by an African crime gang.

Strathclyde Police have been called in to investigate after the Council were tricked into paying £102,000 to criminals, who posed as one of their suppliers. It is understood £102,000 then had to be paid to the genuine supplier and the council was not insured against the theft as it was an external fraud.

The news comes on the same day as the council releases proposals to close or merge 27 schools in an effort to make £90m of savings over the next three years.

The local authority’s finance department received forged documents from fraudsters claiming to be a supplier who needed their bank details changed. An employee at the council’s headquarters in Hamilton then approved the new details, which allowed the money to be stolen by the West African crooks.

A South Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: “We are co-operating with an ongoing national police investigation. The council is confident no member of staff is involved in the fraud.”

Graeme Horne, chairman of the council’s risk and audit scrutiny forum, said: “I asked for procedures to be tightened up and this has been done. I can tell you that a scammer, believed to be the same one, came back after that and attempted to scam us again.”

City council WOWs customers

by Andrew Donaldson and Michael Behr

The City of Edinburgh Council has been nominated for a national customer service award.

The Council is on the shortlist in the WOW Awards category of Best Local Authority.

The capital city council faces competition from Stoke, Haringey, Warwickshire and neighbouring West Lothian Council.

The WOW  Awards are solely based on on customer nominations and began in 1997 in an attempt to promote better customer service throughout Britain.

The results will be announced on November 4th at a ceremony at the Grand Cannaught Rooms in London.

Reaction to the council’s nomination was mixed on the streets of Edinburgh.

One member of the public who spoke to Edinburgh Napier News said: “I’ve had a few enquiries and every time the council answered them quite dilligently and accurately and dealt with them in good time.

“In that respect I haven’t got any problems with their service.”

But another Edinburgh resident felt that recent Council actions didn’t warrant the award, saying: “The trams have been going too long.

“They ‘ve taken money away that is definitely needed for other things.

“Schools are having to pay back part of the budget to the council. It’s a disgrace.”

The City of Edinburgh Council declined to comment.

You can listen to the complete audio below.

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Public golf courses may become allotments

allotment

Allotments such as this may be even more common in Edinburgh

By Shane de Barra

They make up for one quarter of Edinburgh’s open space and have catered for those of a golfing persuasion for years however the Scottish capital’s 6 public golf courses may soon be sanctuary to aspiring gardeners as opposed to the next potential Tiger Woods.

The fall in the number of people playing golf across the Scottish Capital and the loss of membership to private courses, who have cut the costs of their fees significantly in the midst of recession, has led to a proposal that may see the land mass currently occupied by the courses replaced by allotments.

The six courses at Braid Hills, Portobello, Princes, Silverkowes, Craigentinny and Carrick Knowe are located at various points around the city and have provided a strong public service in recent years however the huge demand for allotments has raised the question if the space they occupy is being used in most cost effective way and if indeed they cater to a wide enough audience.

With waiting lists of over 2,100 for just 1,230 plots the surge in popularity of allotments has also been attributed to the recession as the Capital’s people look to revert to more simple and traditional forms of recreation to ride out the economic downturn. The proposal which will be considered by Edinburgh Councillors would see the golf courses ploughed up to make way for acres of next allotment space.

A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said:
“Once completed, the Open Space Strategy will help the Council to ensure that open spaces, such as parks, sports’ pitches and golf courses are managed and utilised to their full potential.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been a decline in the number of people playing golf across the country. As golf courses make up a quarter of the open space in Edinburgh, it is important that they are included in the study.
“However, the strategy is still in the early stages and information on how these facilities are being used is still being gathered.”

A naked future for Britain’s streets?

by Kirstyn Smith

An interesting new way of outlining London’s streets could soon be a reality, thanks to Boris Johnson’s plans to render the streets of London ‘naked’. 

However, this is not a case of the controversial mayor contemplating a mass public nudity bylaw.  Rather, he proposes to remove traffic lights, street signs and road markings in an innovative concept known as ‘shared space’.

Shared space is a theory pioneered by Hans Monderman – a Dutch traffic engineer and inventor.  The scheme is intended to get rid of the traditional seperation between road users and pedestrians by removing kerbs, lines, signs and signals.  It is thought that by eliminating the physical barriers put in place to reduce motorists’ speed, this allows drivers and pedestrians to essentially ‘share’ the streets, urging both parties to become more cautious and aware of the other.  As a result, it is hoped that road safety will be improved, as users will be forced to negotiate their way through shared ares at appropriate speeds and with due consideration for the other users of the space.drachten

Discussing the potential project, Johnson enthused: “I’m a great fan of naked streets.  I envisage a future where pavements would blend seamlessly with roads.”

The plan has already been implemented in a number of countries, including Germany, Sweden and Australia.  If Johnson’s plans came to fruition, London would be one of few UK cities to embrace the ‘shared space’ idea. 

However, could this proposition be a realistic propsect, not just for London, but for other significant British cities? 

The residents of Edinburgh will likely wonder whether ‘naked streets’ could be applied to their city centre. Enthusaists maintain that the tram system - once it is eventually in place – could help towards creating an urban environment ideally suited to the shared space concept.  In a number of circumstances, such a project could be advantageous, for example, there could be a place for the reduction in the number of road markings in residential areas.  Similarly, there could be potential in trialling a ‘naked streets’ approach to the city’s main high streets in order to reduce road furniture – worth pursuing to monitor the response to such an approach, all considering, of course, the reaction if the scheme were to go ahead in London.  

Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Boris Johnson about  It could be the case that those who support the idea of shared space – particularly in Edinburgh, where the idea is yet to even be proposed –  are getting ahead of themselves.  A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council was more realistic about the need for ‘naked streets':

“For the foreseeable future, there remains a role for signs, lines and road humps.  Signs and lines are key to managing parking, prioritisiroadsignng public transport and cycling; road humps have an outstandingly good record in reducing speeds and therefore accidents.  Thought there may be limited scope for removing traffic lights, they are key to managing traffic at our busiest junctions and to providing places where people can cross busy roads with more confidence.”  

Yet, as much as signs, lines and roadhumps play a part in the reduction of accidents, the actualisation of shared space in Holland has proven to have positive results in this respect.  The town of Drachten – one of the scheme’s pioneer towns – has no visible road markings, stop signs or directions.  Parking meters are also absent from road sides.  When traffic lights were removed from the town’s main junction, the number of accidents dropped from thirty to two over a period of six years.  This junction sees 22 000 cars each days and traffic jams are a rarity.

It has to be acknowledged that the towns in which shared space has been implemented tend towards less heavily urbanised areas.  Furthermore, the large number of cyclists on Dutch streets would benefit the ‘naked streets’ as their presence acts to slow and calm traffic – an advantage for the shared space approach.  The legal framework is also different and should be considered; in Holland it is the driver who is presumed at fault in any crash between a vehicle and a pedestrian or cyclist, so it has to be assumed that safer driving thrives in Hollondontraffic2land regardless of the shared space scheme.

Statistics are something that Johnson should also take into account.  There are 8 000 buses in London, 32 000 black cabs and 34 000 licensed mini cabs.  According to the London Road Safety Unit Fact Sheet, while the number of traffic accidents has decreased by more than 10 000 over the past decade, the number of people injured on the road each year remains very high at over 24 000.  By putting the ‘shared space’ plan into action, it could be that this number could fall further.

Fundamentally, this is what the plan wishes to generate – regardless of the city or region or mayor.  By allowing road users to take control of the streets for themselves, they are trusted to grow accustomed to communicating more with each other, ultimately creating an environment in which not only both parties feel safe to travel, but – through a reduction in accident – whose safeness can be proven.

Sir Fred and RBS To Be Sued

By Vikki Graves

Cherie Blair has been hired by two British local authorities to sue the Royal Bank of Scotland through the US Courts. RBS and its entire board of directors, including ex-Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin, are named as defendants.

North Yorkshire and Merseyside councils’ pension funds have plummeted in value along with RBS shares. They claim they were falsely assured that the bank was in good health.

The lawsuit, which is open to all European and US investors in RBS, comes just weeks after Ian Hamilton QC was forced to abandon his case against RBS plc in the small claims court.

Hamilton claimed he was misled when he bought 640 RBS shares at £2 each in April 2008. He said the bank had been negligent and knew it was in trouble. Each of his shares is now worth just 20p. But Oban Sheriff Court ruled the case too complex to be heard at a low level.

Mr Hamilton said it would be too expensive for him to take the case further, but continues to campaign online for more small claims actions to be brought against the bank.

Edinburgh Homeless Target Will Not Be Met

By Nicol J. Craig

The Scottish Government will now not meet its target of ceasing the practice of local authorities placing homeless in private accommodation by 2012, according to local councillor Gordon Munro.

Leith councillor Gordon Munro, who wants more social housing, said: “We’re at the end of 2008 now so we have three years to meet this target and it’s not looking good.”

He added: “It’s partly down to the capital effect as well. More people are coming from other areas into Edinburgh because they know they’ll get put into decent accommodation, possibly quicker.”

Edinburgh taxpayers currently have to pay at least four times more than anywhere else in Scotland to curb the cities homeless problem.

Recent figures show that 900 people were put into private rented accommodation in Glasgow last year compared to 200.

A council representative said the new figures do not take into account Edinburgh’s unique situation regarding the homeless.  Edinburgh requires three quarters of the nations affordable housing need, but receives only a quarter of the funding.  Council aids say that using the cities abundance of private rented accommodation is good for the homeless and good for landlords.

The council currently spends £2 million on putting up homeless people back into homes, but also uses the money on B&B’s up to £35 a night.

Councillor Paul Edie, housing leader, said: “We subsidise them going into private accommodation so they are not on the street and I don’t think it is a long-term solution, but short of getting more money for affordable housing it is just sticking plasters over the problem.

He added: “We need to build more council and social housing and faster because it does take time as well.”

The council are also discussing proposals to give council backed mortgages for those in rented accommodation that are in work.

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