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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