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Edinburgh at crossroads – and direction hotly disputed

In the final part of a special report on the problems facing the capital, Brian Ferguson explores the possible routes ahead

AS THE great and good of Edinburgh mingled at the launch of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations yesterday, it was hard to escape an impression all was well in the city.

With budgets tightening in towns and cities across Britain, Edinburgh is preparing to roll out an extravagant welcome mat for what is still billed as “the world’s best New Year party.”

It will herald what the tourism industry is convinced will be a bumper year for the city in the global spotlight, basking in the reflected glory of London’s hosting of the Olympic Games and the expected spin-off for our festivals.

Hopes are also high that the arrival of the giant pandas, the unveiling of the revamped Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the long-awaited arrival of Primark on Princes Street are all signs the city is striding out of the rubble of the recession.

Yet behind the scenes, many key figures in the city concede that Scotland’s capital is at a crossroads.

There is an overwhelming sense, particularly among those who insist on speaking anonymously, of the need for a new long-term strategy for the city to encourage investment and large-scale regeneration schemes.

Fears over a looming shortage of office space, of the city’s retail offering slipping further behind Glasgow, and concerns over how to kick-start the building of new housing are not difficult to unearth.

Major developments are running years behind schedule, some have stalled completely and others have been sent back to the drawing board. Only yesterday it emerged that the Scottish Government had intervened over the fate of Leith Docks by ordering a new masterplan after work on previously agreed schemes had drawn to a halt.

Projects such as Caltongate, in the Old Town, and the transformation of the old Royal High School, on Calton Hill, are not even on the starting blocks, despite the best efforts of the council to engineer investment. Factor in expected disruption from almost three years of further construction of the tram and it is little wonder the voices of optimism are muted.

Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said: “There is no denying that the building and property development market has taken a hit, not only in Edinburgh but nationally and internationally. There have been a number of major investment projects that have not developed as far as we might have liked.

“Although the evidence may not be on the ground yet, discussions are always ongoing with interested parties to ensure investment can take place when conditions allow.

“Whether new projects are about to come to fruition, or are merely on the horizon, there are many grounds for optimism but there can be no complacency.”

DONALD Anderson, former leader of the council, now head of a public affairs consultancy in the city, said: “There can be no doubt that Edinburgh is facing some huge challenges.

“Just this year, according to a PKF study, Glasgow has now overtaken Edinburgh as a tourism destination, though it remains to be seen if this will be maintained. Glasgow is to be commended for such a great achievement, but it is also a warning to Edinburgh.

“Much good work has been done to encourage investment in the centre of Edinburgh, but the challenge of delivering modern sized shops in the city centre is a formidable one. And these are just two of the lower profile issues being faced by a city that has lost its place in the vanguard of the city renaissance in Britain.

“While Edinburgh was first among cities to develop major events like Hogmanay, our Christmas events and our summer festivals, most other cities are catching up.”

Professor Joe Goldblatt, an expert on international tourism and events at Queen Margaret University, also warned against complacency. He said: “The question arises as to whether we are standing upon the threshold of unprecedented future success or perhaps risk decline due to civic and political trepidation and insecurity.”

The warning signs are there. The official European Cities Monitor is regularly quoted by the city council for Edinburgh’s high rating for the quality of life it offers. In the most recent survey, it is rated at 11, alongside Oslo, and just behind London.

But the main survey, which rates the best cities in which to locate a business, has seen Edinburgh slip four places, to 31, putting it behind Glasgow. Edinburgh is rated as one of the worst cities at promoting itself and its availability of office space is also one of the worst, while Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester rate among the best in Europe.

scottishAngela Lowe, a partner at Cushman and Wakefield, which produces the European study, said: “Edinburgh does not actually do too badly in our survey, but it has slipped down the rankings.

“However, the reality is most other cities in Britain, outside of London, have been affected by the same factors as Edinburgh and the city still has quite a lot of office space lying empty.”

MR BUCHANAN insists the council has played a “key role” in helping steer the city through what he admits have been “stormy waters”.

Read more: Edinburgh at crossroads – and direction hotly disputed

Kinmel Bay builder is cream of the crop

A BUILDER has been presented with a seal of excellence. Steve Wyman, 30, of Kinmel Bay won a Wales Pride in the Job award from the National House Building Council (NHBC) for his work on St Francis Park Estate in Prestatyn. The site manager for Anwyl Construction will now travel to London to take part in the UK-wide awards dubbed the “Building Oscars”.

Read more: Kinmel Bay builder is cream of the crop

Open House At Padipa Solutions

Padipa Solutions are having an Open House at their base in Hampshire on 18th-19th November 2011. They will be hosting several of their suppliers and also will be demonstrating their products on those days.

Read more: Open House At Padipa Solutions

INFRARAIL TO INCLUDE NEW MACHINERY DISPLAY

trainA new exhibition area dedicated to plant and machinery for rail construction and maintenance is to be unveiled at Infrarail 2012. The event, at the NEC in Birmingham from 1 to 3 May 2012, will feature companies supplying track construction and maintenance, signalling and communications, electrification and railway civil engineering.

Read more: INFRARAIL TO INCLUDE NEW MACHINERY DISPLAY

Safety watchdog challenges construction industry to learn from London 2012

Britain’s safety watchdog is challenging the construction industry to learn from the London 2012 construction project and improve the safety record of one of the most dangerous occupations in Britain.

Read more: Safety watchdog challenges construction industry to learn from London 2012