FORGET TOP GEAR… EDINBURGH’S TOP CATS ARE THE REAL JOKERS!

JOHN McGURK

Never mind the newly-launched Chris Evans’ Top Gear just switch on to Edinburgh Council TV, sit back and prepare to be amazed at the antics of our elected representatives.

Some say these Top Cats do a terrific job for the city before they break for their lunch in the Mandela Room. Some say they are only interested in the folk they represent when they need to get re-elected.

All we know is that if this is local democracy in action… then God help us.

One of them in particular, fat cat Councillor Alex Lunn (pictured) — who appears to take up two chairs as vice-convenor of Edinburgh’s planning committee — has incensed those voters who strongly objected to plans for a new 235 bedroom hotel smack in the middle of the Old Town.

The proposal is to renovate the dilapidated India Buildings in historic Victoria Street all the way down to the Cowgate and create a four star hotel which will apparently help the city cope with the growing number of tourists who need accommodation during the Edinburgh Festival.

All very well, you might think, for the economy and jobs but the problem is this: if you live near or in the Old Town your life will be made even more miserable.

Edinburgh prides itself on its “living centre” where, unlike most capital cities, folk can enjoy the benefits of residing in a world heritage site which is arguably one of the most impressive anywhere in Europe.

Deacon Brodie himself strolled down the High Street into the bow-shaped Victoria Street and then into the Grassmarket where the Covenanters are remembered, where public hangings were once common place and where Robert Burns drank in the White Hart.

Alas today’s Old Town public houses and swing-joints lure drinkers and late-night revellers who have turned the area into, at times, a world class cesspit.

Litter and waste overflow from the street bins; squadrons of shaven-headed men and short-skirted women roam around getting drunk before urinating and vomiting in the streets; intimidation and hooliganism is very real; ragged beggars with big dogs and out-of-tune buskers are still there way after midnight.

Many of those who live in the area, and who continually complain about the lack of sympathy and attention from Edinburgh Council, believe that this latest hotel proposal will only aggravate and exacerbate the problems which is why 240 of them lodged objections along with 2000 signatures on a petition.

Their spokesperson, Wendy Hebard, told the committee how the hotel would be too big and the site too small. There was little provision for parking or disabled access and, in particular, Andrew Carnegie’s central library on George IV Bridge would have its windows significantly blocked; rather ironic because the stone-carved inscription above the library declares: Let There Be Light.

This is where Councillor “Two Chairs” Lunn, our man for the Craigentinny/Duddingston ward, stepped in and opened his big mouth.

Once a Labour councillor who switched to the SNP before the independence referendum, he decided to brush aside the objections and completely ignore other councillors who made the very important point that it was about time the council started listening to the people.

The objectors were insignificant, said “Two Chairs”, when compared to the size of the electorate in the area before supporting the motion that the hotel should go ahead.

Well done to Councillors Rankin, Mowat, Howat, Bagshaw and Keil for standing up to the brute.

But because of the support of the committee convenor, Ian Perry, who had threatened to throw out the objectors for interrupting proceedings, the hotel application was approved by 8 votes to 6.

Watching this on the council’s internet TV was in many ways more entertaining than watching Sunday night’s new Top Gear which, without Jeremy Clarkson, Hammond and May, turned out to be an extremely poor imitation of the previous offering.

There was a sudden realisation.

Was this the same planning convenor from 20 years ago when I was the editor of the Edinburgh Evening News?

Yes…it’s him!.. Councillor Ian Perry.

It started to come flooding back.

He was one of the Labour big-shots who wanted to end the delivery of free black bin bags across the city despite the paper’s enormous petition which was even signed by folk in Colinton and Barnton.

The protest became so powerful that the council’s chief executive invited himself into my North Bridge office to beg for mercy.

Eventually, we struck a deal. They would speed up the introduction of wheelie bins to replace the bin bags.

But when the plan was put to the Labour group, the agreement began to fall apart.

They declared that they “would not be dictated to by the editor of the Evening News”.

That day’s front page had the heads of Councillor Perry and another (whose name I forget) in bin bags.

The headline read: “A Pair of Has-Bins”.

And on that bombshell…goodnight!

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

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  Comments: 2

  1. Duncan Thomson


    Is this the same committee that has given the go-ahead for the silly, twirly, cup-cake of a building behind Register House (which just happens to be one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere)? And the committee that has allowed the boring glass box with golden wings that is appearing in St Andrew Square? (Look how it ruins the view along Rose Street!) What is it with an Edinburgh Council that has no aesthetic sense whatever, that is incapable of keeping the city centre clean and has allowed our streets to resemble scree on broken hillsides? (But not sure that the vice-convenor’s girth has anything to do with it.)

  2. Murray Forgie


    1st June 2007
    Like John, I watched the Planning Committee debacle online whilst on holiday and was appalled at the dismissive comments made by its Vice Convenor, Councillor Alex Lunn.
    As a long term Grassmarket resident who loves living in our beautiful Old Town, I was one of the 240 formal objectors and 2000+ signatories to an on-line petition, who opposed this greedy overdevelopment of a 225 hotel, as being far too large for the tight and constrained site in its proposed form.
    Yet Councillor Lunn – as Vice Convenor of the Planning Committee – dismissed these as immaterial:
    “I’ve got to commend the amount of people who’ve taken the time to write to all of us… it’s something in a lot of planning applications we don’t see, but I do think that it’s best to put things into context here. I’ve just asked for the number of objections… we have 105 objections to scheme 1 and 135 objections to scheme 2. Being realistic, the electorate of the city centre ward is nearly 14,000, that’s an incredibly small number of objections!”
    What? Over 2,400 objections, when you include the 2000+ on the petition (whose author wasn’t allowed to speak at the committee)!
    I took the time (considerable) and the effort (significant) given the complexity of 100s of drawings and reports, that were continually updated as they had been lodged incomplete by the developers, which myself and others had to plough through as laypersons, to engage in an informed and engaged way in the formal planning procedures.
    In this process our community successfully lobbied our elected representatives at all levels and convinced our three local cross-party Councillors, our then MSP and our current MP to support us – because like us they too were keen to see the gap-site behind India Buildings and Victoria Street down to the Cowgate developed, but with increased community gain and saw this as a hugely missed opportunity to have a diversified, genuinely mixed development, that would improve the area for residents and visitors alike.
    In opposing the development in its proposed form, Councillor Nigel Bagshaw retorted:
    “As for local objections, Councillor Lunn was very dismissive. I think we should remember the turnout for local elections is only 40%, with Councillors getting elected on 6% of that 40%. We’re on dangerous territory, so I suggest that you don’t want to go there again in future!”
    It ill beholds a senior Councillor like Coucillor Lunn, who has considerable weight on the Planning Committee as its Vice-Convenor, to dismiss electors’ views so roundly. His comments call into question the entire transparency of the labyrinthine planning process as somehow irrelevant, if objections are thus dismissed and Councillors can push through 8 to 6 such a major development with unanswered infrastructure consequences, despite the pleas of their elected colleagues at all levels, Heritage Bodies, Civic and Community organizations and residents. There may be a political price to pay in the future…

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