A coin toss decides a £3m planning decision. What on earth happened?
Plus: “Very high risk” to series of NHS Lothian services; the worrying impact of income tax changes to businesses; and Ross Bandstand revival talks
Major housing development “in jeopardy” after coin toss decision
One of Scotland’s leading housing developers is expected to appeal a council decision which landed it with a levy of almost £3m on the toss of a coin.
Artisan Real Estate has been told it needs to pay a contribution of almost £3m to help expand local schools as a condition of building 256 flats off Ferry Road.
The contribution is around three times what it had been told to expect when it applied for planning permission.
In one of the most extraordinary scenes seen at the City Chambers in recent times, the decision to treble the demand was made on the toss of a coin after councillors couldn’t agree on the increase.
The background: The building of so many flats at the former State Street Bank data centre at 525 Ferry Road has been almost universally welcomed in the middle of the city’s housing emergency. The extra housing, however, will increase pressure on local schools and the extra contribution was intended to help build an extension to Flora Stevenson Primary.
Why the toss of a coin? Councillors on the local authority’s development management sub-committee were split 4 against 4 when asked to vote on the request to increase the developer contribution. Normally, the committee convener has the casting vote, but Lib Dem councillor Hal Osler declined, having backed a third, alternative option earlier in the debate. Therefore the decision was taken by coin toss.
Wait! What? Is that even legal? Green councillor Chas Booth did question whether the convener was allowed to decline to take the casting vote. Officials confirmed that this was the process laid out in the council’s governance rule book, its standing orders.
The housebuilder’s view: David Westwater, Artisan’s Scottish director, said: “This decision could delay or put in jeopardy the delivery of this much needed housing in Edinburgh which we had hoped would significantly address the city’s well-publicised ‘housing emergency’.”
What happens next? Artisan are expected to appeal to the Scottish Government to lift the condition trebling its contribution. The developer is thought to have a high chance of winning because the council - as Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat warned the committee - has not yet finalised the policy on which the increased contribution is based.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
WILLOW TEA ROOMS: The Glasgow institution that is the Willow Tea Rooms, the elegant Buchanan Street venue famously designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is coming to Edinburgh. The Princes Restaurant Group, which also operates Salerno Pizza in the St James Quarter, with open the sister venue in a former Starbucks unit on Princes Street later this month. It will be close to the Hanover Street site where property developer RRH intends to open another tea room on the site of the former Crawford’s Tearooms.
DEPARTMENT Q: The producers of the Crown have announced an all-star cast for its much-anticipated detective series Department Q currently in production in Edinburgh. A Discovery of Witches star Matthew Goode, The Queen’s Gambit actress Chloe Pirrie, Leah Byrne, Alexej Manvelov, Kelly McDonald, Mark Bonnar, Jamie Sives and Shirley Henderson will all appear in the Netflix series. The series is adapted from the novels of the same name by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Queen’s Gambit creator Scott Frank will executive produce and direct two episodes.
BLACK BULL TO SHUT: The Black Bull in Leith Street, well known as one of the city’s original alternative rock bars and as the scene of Renton and Spuds get-away run in the original Trainspotting film, has become the latest victim of the hospitality industry crisis. Owners Greene King said it had taken the decision”with great regret” and that the bar would continue to operate until it could confirm a closing date in the coming weeks.
BANDSTAND REVIVAL: The city council is talking to architects about potential plans to renovate the Ross Bandstand to allow more concerts to take place in Princes Street Gardens, Scotland on Sunday reports. The increasingly decrepit bandstand has sat largely empty in recent years since multi-million plans to provide a modern replacement were shelved.
GREENBELT SCHOOL BID: Plans to demolish Kirkliston Leisure Centre to clear the site for a new high school building have been put on hold in order to explore alternative sites in the greenbelt. The new school is needed due to hundreds of new homes being built in the area but there is widespread local opposition to the leisure centre site plan. The council may decide to rule the school an exception to normal greenbelt rules as it is seen as “essential infrastructure”.
‘UNSAFE’ CITY CHAMBERS: City councillor Kayleigh O’Neill has been forced to stop working in the City Chambers after concluding the building is “not safe for disabled people”. The Green councillor, who is a wheelchair user, has moved into an office at the council’s headquarters at Waverley Court after being left “without assistance” during fire alarm drills.
GREENER HILL: The Friends of Calton Hill have completed re-turfing of 160m2, repairing damage caused by hundreds of thousands of feet, following an increase in visitors. The volunteers work to protect and improve the hill, and raise awareness of the challenges that it faces.
NAKED CHEF? It’s Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, and what’s being described as “a first-of-its-kind raunchy food delivery service” is launching in Edinburgh, London and Manchester. Oysters perhaps? Sophisticated chocolates? Erm no, the food being delivered by sexual wellness brand LELO is designed specifically for eating off your partner. Apparently whipped cream, cherries, cake, chocolate sauce are on offer by Click and Lick delivery | LELO . Over 18 only. Here at the Inquirer we’ll share a nice Madras – with plates. And they say romance is dead…
FOLK CLUB AT RISK: The future of one of the city’s longest running live music nights is in doubt due to a financial crisis and dwindling ticket sales, reports The Scotsman. Edinburgh Folk Club, which holds weekly concerts on Wednesday nights at the Ukrainian Community Centre in Royal Terrace, is celebrating its 50th anniversary season this year.
CRISIS “CUTS INTO THE MUSCLE” AT NHS LOTHIAN: The full extent of the strain on health services in the Capital has been laid bare as NHS Lothian faces up to its biggest spending cuts in recent years. The health board has to save £133m in the next financial year, which at nearly 7% of its budget is almost double the level of savings it has grown used to making.
‘Very high risk’ to several services: The dire budget outlook has led the health board to declare a “very high risk” of failure in several areas of its operations. Those areas include: its finances in general (ie balancing its books); the four-hour target to see emergency department patients; running out of hospital beds; access to treatment in general; the capacity of the Hospital Sterilisation and Decontamination Unit; attracting and retaining enough nurses; a shortage of beds and inappropriate and inadequate accommodation in the secure unit at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital; and fire safety at the Royal Infirmary.
‘Services will suffer’: Craig Marriott, NHS Lothian’s finance director, warned: “We can’t kid ourselves on that this is all going to be delivered through efficiencies. This will be about cutting into the muscle.”
NEW ECONOMY SECRETARY: Mairi McAllan has become the Scottish Government’s new Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy, following a cabinet reshuffle. A former trainee solicitor before entering politics, her predecessor, Neil Gray, has moved into the Health Secretary position vacated by Michael Matheson.
Scottish income tax now hitting business recruitment
One of the new Economy Secretary’s first tasks will be tackling the concern of the city’s business community - with its vital financial services, technology and hospitality sectors - that the growing divergence with the rest of the UK on income tax is hindering Scotland’s ability to create economic growth.
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Liz McAreavey, forecast at the time that the increases in taxes, and indeed the increasing number of tax bands north of the border, would threaten our ability to attract and retain talent, and increase the “brain drain.”
She said: “The only way to fund and deliver a wellbeing economy with strong and sustainable public services is to grow the economy, and to do that we need to create high skilled, high paid jobs, attract inward and capital investment and help businesses scale and grow.”
Within the past week, leaders in our tech sector plus a well-respected economic think tank for Scotland have both repeated those concerns. First, Karen Meechan, chief executive at digital economy membership body ScotlandIS, told Scottish Business Insider: “We were disappointed to see changes to Scotland’s tax system that will have a significant negative impact on the competitiveness of technology companies when it comes to attracting and retaining the very best talent.”
“Feedback from our members consistently highlights attracting staff as one of the biggest barriers to growth for the Scottish tech industry, and this change simply exacerbates that.”
In addition, economic forecaster the EY Scottish Item Club, said there is now a “meaningful” cross-border divide between England and Scotland on tax, and pointed out that many sectors were now having difficulty in recruitment including hospitality, technology, manufacturing and financial services.
MERGER ADDS UP: MHA, the UK independent member firm of Baker Tilly International, has announced a merger with Edinburgh-based accountancy firm Geoghegans, which provides a full complement of accountancy services for clients in the capital and across Scotland. Geoghegans’ office at St Colme Street, Edinburgh, has been rebranded under the MHA banner. All four partners – Euan Fernie, Iain Binnie, Lachlan Fernie and Paul Marshall - will remain - and become partners at MHA.
RECESSION CALL: The UK will discover this week whether the nation has been in technical recession in recent months when the national GDP figures are released on Thursday. The UK economy shrank 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in Q3 last year, and a decline in retail sales in December threatens a similar result for the final quarter of last year. Falling inflation may help, but pundits predict it will be a close call.
BARCLAYS TAKEOVER: Barclays has agreed to buy the core retail banking business of Edinburgh-based Tesco Bank, including acquiring its 2,800 staff, most of whom are based in Scotland.
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD: Inspiring, optimistic and thoroughly researched, Hannah Ritchie’s Not the End of the World: How we can be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet offers us all hope in the face of climate anxiety. Hear talk about the book and where we should focus to ensure further progress at a Toppings meet the author event, at Greenside Church, on Wednesday, 21 February.
SONGS AND LAUGHTER: Rob Brydon, it turns out, is a one-man variety show. He sings, tells jokes and even if you are lucky a dramatic monologue from Under Milk Wood. Rob Brydon: A Night of Songs and Laughter comes to the Festival Theatre on Sunday, at 7.30pm. Expect the channeling of Tom Jones and Vegas-era Elvis alongside plenty of self-deprecating humour.
DOCTOR, DOCTOR: The phenomena that is the Capital Sci Fi Con returns to the 02 Academy on 17-18 February 2024 with former Dr Who star Paul McGann this year’s star guest. Now in its 9th year, the celebration of all your geeky favourite TV, film and comic book characters has already raised £370,000 for children in Scotland living with a life-shortening condition to support hospice charity CHAS. Expect to spot storm troopers in kilts and killer-looking Harley Quinns in around Chesser.
COOKY COOKIES: Kids (and grown-ups) are in for a treat when they visit the St James Quarter Food Hall, Bonnie & Wild, over the February half term this week. Chulo’s Stuffed Cookies will be welcomed into its Scottish Marketplace for an exciting pop-up over the holidays. Chulo’s is the latest Scottish venture to take over a space at Bonnie & Wild with the Food Hall championing innovative Scottish food and drink businesses.
RECIPE FOR EXCELLENCE: Congratulations to Edinburgh’s five culinary temples. Condita, Heron, Martin Wishart, The Kitchin, and Timberyard all retained their coveted Michelin star status. Edinburgh is home to almost half of Scotland’s 11 recipients. No new starred restaurants were announced in Scotland last week, but one - The Glenturret Lalique in Crieff - gained an extra star and joins Andrew Fairlie as the only two-star holders in Scotland.
SEAFOOD HEAVEN: We can’t wait to get our claws into this. The multi award-winning Edinburgh seafood restaurant Ondine is to launch a new set menu, with a focus on fresh, East Neuk lobsters, with the first ‘Lobster Mondays’ sitting due to take place on Monday, February 19.