Court battle looms over city centre bans for most polluting cars
Plus farewell to the Festival; hello to the US President’s Climate Envoy; and the departure of an Abrdn fund once worth £53 billion.
As the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry used a visit to the Capital to warn of the existential dangers facing the planet, one of the Scottish Government’s flagship environmental policies, Low Emission Zones (LEZs), is facing a legal challenge.
The former US Secretary of State and Presidential candidate attracted international headlines with his stirring speech to the inaugural Scottish Global Dialogues event at the Signet Library off Parliament Square.
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His speech coincided with a potential setback for the roll-out of LEZs in Scotland’s major cities after a senior judge gave the go-ahead for a Judicial Review of the first scheme to be introduced, in Glasgow.
CLEAN AIR ZONE: Edinburgh is due to start enforcing its LEZ in June next year, banning the most polluting cars from just over a single square mile within the city centre. NHS Lothian is among the organisations to welcome the health benefits of the ban, which is predicted to cut harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides from vehicles within the zone by up to 50%, especially for children and older people. Older cars entering the zone (generally pre-2006 petrol cars and vans and pre-September 2015 diesel ones) face fines starting at £60 (reduced to £30 for prompt payers) and rising up to £480 for repeat offenders.
FINES ‘NOT FINE’: Unlike LEZs in London and other English cities, where motorists can pay between £8 and £12.50 to drive through, the Scottish scheme bans particular cars and vans from the zones, enforcing the rules with automatic number plate recognition and fines. This part of the Scottish Government’s approach is central to the legal challenge being brought against the legislation by Glasgow auto repair business owner William Paton. Glasgow started enforcing its city centre LEZ this summer, with Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee due to follow next year.
‘DISPROPORTIONATE’: The central argument that will be tested in the courts is that banning certain types of car and van from city centres is ‘disproportionate’ because earlier restrictions on buses have been enough to bring pollution levels within legal requirements (although they don’t yet meet stricter World Health Organisation targets). The argument applies equally in Edinburgh where the statutory pollution levels are being met. In Glasgow, 8,078 drivers have been fined in the first two months. Critics say that the legislation punishes motorists who can’t afford to upgrade their vehicles, and makes life harder for hard-pressed businesses and for city centre staff working late shifts to get home safely.
WHAT IMPACT? With most people accepting that some form of LEZs are necessary to tackle air pollution, the legal challenge is highly unlikely to stop the schemes, and indeed the courts may well dismiss the concerns entirely. However, it is possible that the Scottish Government could be forced to redraw the rules around fining drivers. That could delay or significantly change the plans for Edinburgh.
KERRY SPEECH IS CALL FOR CLIMATE ACTION
While Greta Thunberg decided not to come to Edinburgh, John Kerry was the next best thing when it comes to rallying the world about the Climate Emergency. His deeply inspirational talk at the Signet Library shows how the Capital still resonates as a centre for the raising of lofty ideas about the fate of humans on this planet.
Kerry, who served as US Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017 in the Obama administration, was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in the 2004 election. In January 2021, Kerry assumed a full-time position as President Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate.
It was the first of a series of ‘Scottish Global Dialogues’ with Beyond Borders to be held each year during the Edinburgh Festivals. Introduced by Scotland’s First Minister Hamza Yousaf, Kerry spoke about the Scottish Enlightenment and how Scottish geologist James Hutton and his fellow scholars showed that natural disasters were not “divine retribution for earthly pride and sin” but geological acts caused by natural science. He painted a picture of our global crisis today, citing the great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, the so-called ‘cradle of civilisation’, which have now dried up, and are waterless, causing vast populations to move.
“Around the world people are moving because they can’t grow food, because they are flooded, because they can’t live and work in the extreme heat, because the air that they are forced to breathe is clogged with pollution – greenhouse gas pollution.”
He said catastrophic climate change is indiscriminate and global with typhoons, wild-fires, drought, and heat records being broken – and he hit out at climate deniers. The crisis has been caused by the “unabated burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and super-pollutants from industry and agriculture. That’s it folks, that’s it.”
“Humanity is inextricably threatened by humanity itself,” he said.
He added that millions have been seduced by people who have a fictitious alternative reality where: “We don’t need to act, and we don’t even need to care.”
It was a very sombre presentation reminding us we are on the precipice of a tipping point and we must stop using ‘unabated fossil fuels’. However, Kerry believes there is an opportunity to accelerate the transition on the road to COP28 in Dubai. You can watch his speech on You Tube, worth a view.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
PIZZA AND CHAMPAGNE: Edinburgh’s latest sporting hero Josh Kerr celebrated in style after his dramatic and glorious victory in the men’s 1500 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. The 25-year-old emulated his childhood friend and former Edinburgh Athletics Club teammate Jake Wightman by winning the global title. The pair both had to beat Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen to claim their golds and did it in successive years. Jake was among family and friends who joined Josh to celebrate in the Hungarian Capital with “pizza and a glass or two of champagne”. After getting to bed at 4am, Josh was feeling a little the worse for wear the next morning. If clinching a world championship after 16 years of hard work on the track doesn’t deserve a celebration, then we don’t know what does. Kerr has called for a renewed focus on grassroots athletics to ensure Scottish Athletics can keep producing future champions.
HOUSING CRISIS: Edinburgh has failed to hit its target for building new affordable homes despite reducing the objective part way through the year. The city council reduced its goal for last year from 1,186 to 800 but failed to meet even the lower requirement after seeing only 734 secure planning permission and funding in 2022-3. Senior policy and insight officer Catherine Stewart said the targets were “updated depending on Scottish Government funding”.
NEW TOWN DEMOLITION: A controversial plan to knock down an office block in Dundas Street has been approved by the city council. Centrum House, which is opposite the demolished RBS building, is itself to be demolished and a new 49-flat block will be built. Local objectors had previously taken legal action over the plans which they say would block out neighbours’ views and sunlight in Fettes Row.
HOGMANAY TO LIGHT UP: 20,000 people are expected to join an expanded Torchlight Procession on 29th December as part of the city’s rebooted New Year celebrations this winter. It is hoped the event will raise around £50,000 for the homeless charity Social Bite mainly through participants paying (£20 per torch and £7.50 for regular tickets) to take part in the spectacular parade. The procession, one of the most popular parts of the Winter Festivals in recent years, is moving to a new location at The Meadows. Vikings from Shetland’s famous Up Helly Aa’ Jarl Squad will lead it and there will be street theatre, fire performers, pipe bands and drummers. An expanded four-day Hogmanay programme will also include a bigger Street Party with its capacity extended from 30,000 to 40,000.
BUS STATION HOMES: Plans to build accommodation for 289 students on the site of the old New Street bus station have been lodged with the city council. The development would also include affordable housing consisting of three 3-bedroom townhouses and replaces previous plans to build 87 homes with an underground car park. The Vita Group proposals would fill the last major vacant development plot within the £240m New Waverley regeneration.
TRAMS FINED: The operator of the Capital’s trams has been fined £240,000 after a pedestrian was killed after being hit by a tram as he walked over a crossing at Saughton Mains. Bus driver Carlos Correa Palacio, 53, died after being knocked down on 11 September, 2008. Edinburgh Trams admitted breaking health and safety laws at a hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court which heard it had failed to carry out a full risk assessment after a previous near miss at the site.
Book-loving Baillie Gifford are not the only Edinburgh-based fund managers in the news during the Festival. Abrdn, head-quartered at 6 St Andrew Square, sandwiched between Dishoom and the Ivy on the Square, have recently revealed that one of their funds, worth a tidy £53 billion in 2016 – is now valued at only £1.4 billion. It is now being shut down. Why does this matter? This is a lot of money and relates to the pension pots for many people working in Edinburgh. The demise of Abrdn’s Global Absolute Returns Strategies (GARS) fund is a shocker too for some of Abrdn’s highly-paid stock and bond pickers. It’s also an indication of the volatility of funds moving away from fossil fuel investments towards sustainable ESG [environment social governance] investments. The fund, domiciled in Luxembourg, was launched in 2008 and designed as an “all-weather fund to perform well irrespective of market conditions.” The fund initially did very well but has been hit by COVID, a war in Ukraine and high levels of global inflation. “The promotional hype for Gars was incredible and the idea of a holy grail all-weather strategy captured investors’ imagination. The closure highlights the necessity of questioning slick marketing that often surrounds investment strategies,” Amin Rajan, of Create Research told the Financial Times. Abrdn declined to speak with the FT on this matter.
SIR TOM CALLS FOR NEW TAX APPROACH: Business doyen Sir Tom Hunter called for Scotland to learn lessons from Ireland in taking a focused, strategic approach to economic development driven by attracting foreign direct investment.
In a report commissioned by the Hunter Foundation, and authored by Oxford Economics, Sir Tom suggested Scotland should look over the Irish Sea. There, high levels of growth have been achieved through a tax system that supports sectors that offer high-skilled and well-paid jobs less likely to relocate to cheaper overseas alternatives. A reduction in corporation tax across the chosen sectors – down to 15% (from 19%-25% depending on profit levels) would help attract global interest in investing.
He suggested that Scotland should consider focusing on a small number of high potential areas – and he indicated that renewables and low carbon manufacturing, life sciences and medical technology, and software, big data and Artificial Intelligence would be worthy of consideration, given the existing strengths of the sectors backed by world class research and universities.
He said “It’s time for a grown-up debate and action over how we make Scotland an economic powerhouse. We need to stop doing those things that don’t add any value and focus on what delivers, otherwise, with a ticking demographic time bomb, we will leave an unbelievably appalling legacy for the next generation of Scots to contend with.”
SHOUT OUT FOR START-UPS: EISA, the Enterprise Investment Scheme Association, will be holding a Ready, Steady Grow! networking reception tomorrow at 6pm. The event is free to attend and will take place at RBS/Dundas House, 36 St Andrew Square, EH2 2AD. 'Ready, Steady Grow!' is part of a ten city series designed to promote early-stage and SME investment. Speakers include Barry McCulloch of the British Business Bank, Neil Norman of CT, Laura Peachey of MBM Commercial. Jo Forster of NatWest will be joined by fund managers Eos Advisory, Octopus Investments and Par Equity. Ishani Malhotra of Carcinotech will attend with Christiana Stewart-Lockhart, EISA's Director General.
B&B BUSINESSES PLEA FOR DELAY TO SHORT TERM LET LICENSING SCHEME
Scotland’s trade body for the bed and breakfast sector has written to First Minister Humza Yousaf - adding their voice to pleas for a delay in the implementation of controversial new licensing legislation.
A new licensing system run by local councils to govern short term let accommodation - aimed at curbing the rise in “Airbnb-style” accommodation - has a deadline for applying of October 1, and to date only a tiny percentage of Edinburgh operators have applied. Last week City of Edinburgh Council leader Cammy Day suggested that the council would be supportive of a joint lobby to delay. He has since appeared to backtrack from the comment.
The Scottish Bed & Breakfast Association said the impact of these plans is far greater, with the legislation also hitting B&Bs while aparthotels – “typically owned by multi-nationals” – are exempt.
The association fears this development will “merely cost jobs and push up the price of holidaying in Scotland, while doing nothing to tackle government concerns over housing challenges”. Their research shows that 61% of B&Bs and small holiday let businesses are considering shutting down at the end of September.
The letter, from chairman David Weston, points out this would be “catastrophic for Scotland’s tourism industry and those who depend on it – hosts, local shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and many more Scottish businesses… Scotland won’t have a tourism industry if the very accommodation needed to welcome international visitors is decimated”.
He added: “Humza Yousaf inherited this flawed legislation but it is well within his grasp to pause it so to avert a catastrophe in Scottish tourism. We implore him to do the right thing, back small Scottish business and halt the rollout of these regulations until a workable solution is found.”
Meantime, this week short-term lets operators in Edinburgh revealed the scale of personal abuse they have received since going public on their concerns. One, Louise Dickins, who has operated a legal and responsible business without complaint for 25 years, said: “I have faced a barrage of harassment, abuse and vitriol that has, I’m not ashamed to say, really affected me.”
KILLER GIGS: Legendary The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr is supporting The Killers at the Royal Highland Centre on Tuesday, while Paolo Nutini is the star attraction at the same venue on Thursday. Our best wishes go to local hero Lewis Capaldi who had been due to play at Ingliston twice this week before deciding to take a post-Glastonbury break from performing to take care of his mental health.
PUPPY LOVE: An afternoon of free family-and-dog-friendly events is on offer at the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home Open Day with plenty of activities and entertainment promised. (Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, Seafield Road, Sunday noon-4pm)
NUMBER ONE: The Balmoral Hotel has created a new intimate dining space at its award-winning Number One Restaurant. Sitting beside Number One’s wine cellar, the exclusive dining room seats up to 10 guests and features Head Chef Mathew Sherry's menus. “75% of the menu is Scottish, with all seafood and shellfish from here. Guests dining in the private room can choose either a seven-course tasting menu or opt for designing their own bespoke tasting menu,” he says. Suppliers include Phantassie farm in East Lothian for vegetables, butchers John Gilmour, Ian Mellis Cheesemonger and East Neuk Salt.
THE INQUIRER’S BEST BITS OF THE FEST 2023
There has been a welter of outstanding music, theatre, dance, drama and comedy in Edinburgh during the Festival. Of course, it is always subjective to select some of the best. But here are Edinburgh Inquirer’s first Festival Favourites.
Buddha Passion Festival director Nicola Benedetti asked the question Where Do We Go From Here? Part of the answer was the meeting of east and west in the Chinese-American composer Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion. “Entertaining, joyous and surprising as it was profound and emotionally moving,” said critic Richard Morrison. Sung in Sankrit and Chinese, with a conventional orchestra aided by Chinese traditional instrument, including a dancing pipa. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus, the RSNO Youth Chorus and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra all played their part brilliantly in this Festival highlight which earned a standing ovation.
Alvin Ailey company. What an utterly outstanding performance which invigorated the soul. The masterpiece was Revelations, first premiered in 1960, and which The Times said: “demonstrated how great the Ailey company is at embodying the stirring joy of dancing.” The joy of movement and dance leaps from the pores of every one of the 32 dancers.
Gyles Brandreth: Can’t Stop Talking. The loquacious broadcaster and presenter is one of the cherished aspects of the Fringe. There is something about his cheery demeanour that seems to excite audiences of all ages. See you again next year, Giles.
The Scotsman Fringe Firsts for new theatre - a Festival institution. The final five winners include Ben Target’s solo show Lorenzo and Miriam Battye’s two-hander Strategic Love Play (both at Summerhall), Mandi Chivasa’s solo show Beasts (Why Girls Shouldn’t Fear the Dark) at Zoo Playground, Danish writer Anna Skov Jensen’s one-person play The Insider at Zoo Southside, and American duo Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland’s show What If They Ate the Baby? at TheSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. A constant star attraction. The lone piper on the battlements playing a lament across the darkening evening remains nerve-tingling. It is still the most spectacular event on the Castle Esplanade and has the cachet which attracts hundreds of thousands to the city. When visitors arrive they see what else is on offer, and, in general, they love our City.
And what was the Best Joke of the Festival in 2023?
Can’t really agree that it’s Dave’s Joke of the Fest choice from comic Lorna Rose Treen, which was: “I started dating a zookeeper, but it turned out he was a cheetah.”
We think the runner-up was funnier: “The most British thing I’ve ever heard? A lady who said, ‘‘Well I’m sorry, but I don’t apologise’.”
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
One of the first entries in our calendar each year is the glorious Doors Open Day. For those who, like us, love the opportunity to peek behind closed doors into some of the region’s most fascinating buildings, the days you need to circle are 9-10 September for Midlothian and West Lothian and 23-24 September for Edinburgh and East Lothian.
The men’s Rugby World Cup in France is only a few kicks away. The opening game is France versus New Zealand on Friday 8 September. Scotland’s group stage games, in Pool B, begin on Sunday 10 September against South Africa, at the Stade de Marseille. Scotland play Tonga in Nice on 24 September, Romania in Lille on 30 September, before what could be an amazing crunch game again Ireland on Saturday 7 October, in Stade de France in Paris. Good luck, fellas. Scotland need to win or be runners-up to progress to knock-out stages. The final is on Saturday, 28 October in Paris.
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