Growing fears for housing market as builders stop work in East Lothian
Plus: Police petrol-bombed in Bonfire Night violence; Tourist tax 'unlikely to deter visitors'; and Innis & Gunn celebrates 20 years in style.
Construction downturn sees projects halted in fastest growing part of Scotland
The slowdown in the housebuilding industry is starting to bite in the Lothians as developers put work on hold in one of the country’s busiest development hot spots.
The Inquirer is aware of two significant housing developments in East Lothian where work has stopped over the last two weeks amid growing concerns about rampant cost inflation in the construction industry.
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Industry costs, including materials and labour, are rising far faster than the overall inflation rate. That combined with the rising cost of borrowing is putting huge pressures on housebuilders.
The slowdown is fueling concerns about the Capital’s housing crisis at a time when the city council has declared a “housing emergency”.
UK-WIDE SLOWDOWN: Britain's construction sector is shrinking at its fastest pace since the start of the COVID pandemic, according to a survey published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) last week. A net balance of 10% of respondents reported a fall in activity in the three months to September.
FALLING SUPPLY: RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn said: "This suggests that housing supply is likely to fall at least for the next year compounding the problems already being faced by many of those looking to get a first step on the property ladder or move into the rental market."
ALARM BELL: The slowdown in East Lothian will deepen concerns about prospects nationwide as it has been one of the country’s most dynamic housing markets. Most newbuild homes have been sold off plan until recently with the scale of development making the country the fastest growing local authority area in Scotland.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
BONFIRE NIGHT VIOLENCE: Petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown at police as serious disorder once again marred Bonfire Night in the Capital. Trouble broke out from around 4.40pm on Hay Avenue, Niddrie, as lines of police in riot gear were pelted with rockets as they tried to maintain order. Around 50 young people were involved in the disturbances which started with fireworks being fired at homes and cars.
‘Unprecedented’: Police Scotland, whose officers were also attacked in Glasgow, Dundee and Blackburn, West Lothian, said there had been “unprecedented levels of violence”. Eight officers suffered minor injuries in Edinburgh and Glasgow. No firefighters were hurt, but one fire engine had its windscreen smashed by a brick in West Lothian. Arrests are expected in the coming days based on evidence collected last night.
‘Adults encouraged violence’: Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs told the BBC that the violent disorder in Niddrie was "extremely concerning" - "not least because because it is believed young people were being actively encouraged and co-ordinated by adults to target officers while they carried out their duties".
‘Appalling’: City leader Cammy Day condemned the “appalling” behaviour of a minority - which followed the council working with community groups to provide alternative activities for youths in trouble hot spots - and praised the response of emergency services.
REMAINS RETURNED: The remains of four tribal warriors killed nearly 150 years ago have been repatriated by the University of Edinburgh. In the first move of its kind to Taiwan, the University presented the skulls to dignitaries from the Mudan community – also known as the Botan tribe – in a formal handover ceremony at the University’s St. Cecilia’s Hall.
A spokesman said the University continues to examine ways to address its colonial legacy and the contemporary impact of its complex past and is undertaking a range of activity to review its past associations with the Transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and other aspects of race.
TOURIST TAX: A visitor levy at the rate suggested by the city council - which would add 4% on to accommodation bills - would be unlikely to deter visitors, according to a senior business leader. In a submission to the Scottish Parliament, Roddy Smith, the chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the city centre business improvement district, said: “If the levy introduced is not too great, less than 5 per cent, then I do not think it will negatively impact on the number of visitors coming to the city.”
Industry warning: However, the Edinburgh Hotels Association, which represents more than 60 of the city’s major hotels, has raised concerns that it may deter visitors not just from overseas, but other parts of the UK. “Overnight stays by residents of the rest of the UK to Edinburgh will be impacted, as UK taxpayers question why they are required to pay yet more tax to stay in their own country.”
Council blackhole: Many of the submissions to the parliamentary consultation stressed the importance of using the estimated £11.6m to £14.6m a year it would raise to protect and enhance the city’s heritage and visitor experience. They warned of a risk of the funds simply filling a blackhole in local authority funding to pay for basic public services.
SCHOOL PAY VOTE: School janitors, catering staff and other non-teaching staff are to vote on an improved pay offer after calling off strikes that were due to close most state schools across Edinburgh this week. Unison is recommending its members accept the offer, saying it will establish a £15 per hour minimum pay rate within three years, raising the earnings of many of the lowest paid public sector workers.
TOO EARLY? The big wheel has returned to Princes Street Gardens and work is under way on George Street as preparations begin in earnest for this year’s Winter Festivals. The Christmas Markets and attractions are due to open on 17 November. While November might seem early to many of us to be thinking about Christmas, the extra visitors they bring will be warmly welcomed by many city centre businesses.
GUNSHOT ATTACK: Police patrols have been stepped up in the new housing estate behind the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh after gunshots were fired at a flat twice in one day. Detectives believe the incidents on Greendykes Road, just after 3am and at 10.15am on Thursday, were targeted attacks. No one was hurt and a man was seen driving away on an electric motorbike with a pillion passenger at around the time of both incidents.
£67M NEW SCHOOL: The city council has signed off on a £67m contract to build a new campus for Liberton High School. The new building will be built to exacting Passivhaus environmental standards and include modern astroturf pitches, a library and cafe. The work will be carried out by Balfour Beatty.
NOBODY PHONE: Eighty-five phone boxes are to be removed from the city’s streets by BT over the next six months after becoming unused, vandalised and graffitied. The phone boxes had been widely condemned as eye sores.
A TO W HOTELS: The budget boutique Point A Hotel chain is to become a near neighbour of the St James’ W Hotel after buying the A-listed former offices of Scottish Widows above the Sainsburys supermarket on St Andrew Square. Announcing the deal, Tristan Capital Partners, owners of the hotel group which has existing premises at Haymarket, described Edinburgh as “one of the strongest hotel markets in Europe”
DINING OUT: Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin’s former Michelin-starred Castle Terrace Restaurant premises are set to be turned into holiday apartments after lying empty for three years.
EAST LOTHIAN CRISIS: East Lothian Council is facing funding pressures “of a scale that has never been seen before”, the leader of the local authority councillor Norman Hampshire has warned. The council is facing a shortfall of £70m over the next five years, the East Lothian Courier reports, with Cllr Hampshire saying: “The current financial situation has resulted mainly from external pressures including significant growth in the population of East Lothian over the last two decades which has not been matched by increased grant funding (from the Scottish Government).”
NEW ARTS CHARITY: Summerhall, Europe’s largest privately-owned multi-arts venue, is setting up a charity to support new work and emerging talent, reports The Scotsman. The move will separate arts commissioning from the commercial running of the building, with Summerhall Arts seeking funds from national arts agency Creative Scotland, philanthropists and sponsors.
SAFE HANDS: Lothian Buses was delighted to receive the prestigious Gold Defence Employer Recognition Scheme Award from the Ministry of Defence for its support of the Armed Forces community in Scotland at an awards ceremony in Edinburgh Castle. Lothian employ many individuals who serve in the Reserves or are ex-Armed Forces personnel with established policies and procedures which offer support to these employees.
WELCOME ARRIVAL: A critically endangered red-fronted macaw has hatched at Edinburgh Zoo for the first time in 20 years. Now three months old, the as yet unsexed bird has fledged the nest and can be spotted by visitors in the aviary across from the zoo’s Indian one-horned rhino. The wild population is declining due to habitat loss, making this new arrival an important ambassador for the species. Edinburgh is now home to five of the world’s 800 red-fronted macaws: two adult males, two adult females and the chick.
PREMIUM POSITION: Edinburgh-based brewer Innis & Gunn has celebrated its 20th anniversary by becoming the fastest growing premium lager in the UK. Dougal Sharp, the founder and master brewer, speaking at the company’s annual meeting in the company’s Taproom in Glasgow, said he was delighted with being an industry ‘disruptor’, but said cost inflation has pushed up prices, with the war in Ukraine causing a steep rise in raw materials.
Rising costs and interference: Despite his admission that it has been a hard year, the beer and events company grew 7.7% last year. Over the last three years, the company has been hit by £3.5 million of price increases. “It has been a real fight over the last two years to manage the cost base.” Another tough factor has been “constant government interference” including a “huge fight” over the Deposit Return Scheme, which has been paused. “I’m glad to see now that the Government in Scotland seems to be listening.”
David v Goliath: However, he is pleased that Innis & Gunn, which launched its lager in 2013, is the number four premium lager in Scotland, behind Moretti, Peroni, and Stella Artois. The company also enjoys second place in vital brand metrics for its category behind Peroni in Scotland. He said this was a brilliant feat considering the huge marketing budget of the Italian beer. “It’s like David and Goliath – and here we are hitting that number two brand metric.”
”It’s fair to say we’re in not bad shape.”
Transatlantic success: Innis & Gunn is inside the top five and the fastest growing premium lager in the domestic on-trade in pubs, it is also doing well in North American markets, including Canada. He spoke of the extreme highs and lows, saying a warm June 2023 was a record month, yet August was one of the quietest on-trade months.
Castle concerts: He spoke about partnerships with the Royal Highland Show and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as important brand-building opportunities. The company is increasing the event side of the business, including the Edinburgh Castle series of concerts which included The Who. On the charity front, the company has been supporting Meals and More to help those on lower income feed their children and end holiday hunger.
Loving the slog: Dougal Sharp told investors the last 20 years “has been a hard slog, but I’ve loved every second. We’ve had so many high and lows over the years but one of the best things has been the people I’ve worked with. It’s the people who make the business and they build the culture. It’s been a privilege to work with all these amazing people over the last 20 years.”
DOWNSIZERS DILEMMA: It is not only young people and students having difficulty finding a home in the Capital. A report points to a shortage of mid-market senior living developments. Real estate advisors CBRE analysed responses from over 2,000 UK residents aged 55+ and found that 62% of respondents are open to moving into a senior living scheme.
A quarter (24%) of respondents are already considering a move in the next five years, with demand highest in Edinburgh, Birmingham, London and Southampton. However, supply is constrained in these cities and hindering take-up.
More than 69,000 units would be needed across Edinburgh, Birmingham, London and Southampton alone to address the supply gap. At a UK level, CBRE estimates that there is an undersupply of 614,000 senior living units.
Finding sites ‘challenging’: Kathryn Bennett, head of operational real estate for CBRE Scotland, said: “In Scotland, we haven’t yet seen dedicated senior living development at any scale, however, with growing demand due to an ageing population, improved medical care and increased awareness around mental wellbeing and the impacts of loneliness in later life, there is a very clear demand pool for dedicated senior living accommodation in an affluent city like Edinburgh – the challenge will be unlocking suitable sites.”
NEW FREEPORT CHIEF: Dame Susan Rice, viewed by many business figures as a safe pair of hands, has been appointed as the inaugural independent Chair of Forth Green Freeport. Dame Susan is a respected chartered banker who has had a distinguished career in finance as the former Chair and CEO of Lloyds TSB Scotland, where she was the first female in Europe to lead a clearing bank, and Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland. She was also the founding Chair of the Scottish Fiscal Commission. Dame Susan is currently the Chair of Scottish Water and will step down at the end of this year. She was awarded a DBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List.
‘Compelling’ business: She takes over from interim chair, the Chief Executive of Forth Ports, Charles Hammond. She said: “The Forth Green Freeport has a broad and exciting vision for Scotland and I’m pleased to be leading the team in its execution. The creation of major port infrastructure, the development of new green industries and re-industrialisation of our communities is hugely compelling to me.”
Unlocking investment: Charles Hammond said: “Dame Susan’s career background is aligned perfectly as the consortium works together to create the driving force to deliver long term benefits for communities through well paid skilled green job creation and to assist in achieving the country’s net zero goals.”
Forth Green Freeport will become act a catalyst for new green technologies and renewable energy manufacturing, unlocking private and public investment for Scotland.
NEW OFFICE OPENS: Angela Constance, Almond Valley MSP, has opened the new headquarters of one of West Lothian’s most prominent businesses. Workflo House, on the Shairps Business Park in Livingston, is the new 6,800 sq ft headquarters of Workflo Solutions, the outsourced managed services company. The company specialises in managed print, unified communications, IT services, cyber security and document digitisation.
Michael Field, founder and managing director of Workflo Solutions, said: “Our new facility expands and enhances our service capability significantly and will enable us to attract and retain highly skilled staff and create new skilled jobs in West Lothian for young people.”
Angela Constance MSP said: “Michael is a good example of a young entrepreneur and business leader starting a business from scratch back in 2007 and through his endeavours, has developed Workflo Solutions into one of the UK’s market leaders for managed print services.”
PINK MOON: Celebrate 50 years since the release of Dark Side of the Moon with The Australian Pink Floyd Show. Generally regarded as one of the leading tribute acts going, the popular Aussies will perform the album in its entirety. The Australian Pink Floyd Show, The Usher Hall, Thursday.
LA MAGIE DU CINEMA: The French Film Festival UK celebrates its 31st edition in cinemas across the UK, but is most at home here in its original base in Edinburgh. The selection at the Institut français d’Ecosse in West Parliament Square provides a perfect opportunity to see a range of exciting, diverse titles, both classic and contemporary. All films in French with English sub-titles. The full programme runs from Thursday until 18 November.
BALTIC WARMTH: Something new is on the menu of Edinburgh’s culinary scene with the opening of Pinčiukas – Scotland’s first Lithuanian eatery, at 83 Morrison Street, bringing cuisine from the Baltics.
ALL THAT JAZZ: Le Petit Beefbar at the Intercontinental Edinburgh The George Hotel has launched a Sunday Jazz Lunch.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
ROYAL SCOTS: The Royal Scots Museum, Edinburgh Castle, is presenting Remembrance 23, a free interactive exhibition, at Dalkeith Palace until Wednesday. The temporary exhibition has been specially designed to promote the strong connections between The Royal Scots and Midlothian as well as marking Remembrance Day. Entry is free, but must be booked in advance.
POETRY IN MOTION: If you’re missing your Festival fix, then Push the Boat Out has something for every taste, from poet Michael Pederson performing at the Maison de Moggy cat cafe in West Port to a one-off special of the Quines Cast podcast. One of the highlights of Edinburgh’s International Poetry Festival promises to be a discussion of the art of songwriting between rising indie star Hamish Hawk, Scottish folk legend Karine Polwart and celebrated cross-disciplinary artist Inua Ellams. Push the Boat Out is at Summerhall on 24–26 November.
DANCE POEM: Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland presents the world premiere of Elegies on Saturday at 19:30 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – the first dance adaptation for the screen and stage of Hamish Henderson’s series of poems Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica (1948). For further information and tickets please visit Scottish Storytelling Centre (red61.co.uk)
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