'Systemic failure' declared in city's overwhelmed homeless services
Plus: 'Night tsar' to oversee Capital life after dark; and builders turn to more student flats
Housing regulator warns Capital cannot afford to meet demand for emergency accommodation
The Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) is to monitor homeless services in Edinburgh after warning the city council does not have the resources to meet the soaring demand.
Almost 5,000 households, many with children, spent Christmas in temporary accommodation as record numbers declared themselves homeless in the Capital, due to a severe shortage of social housing and rocketing private rents.
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That has seen thousands placed in accommodation legally deemed “unsuitable” with many stuck in bed and breakfast or other temporary digs for months on end.
The SHR’s move increases pressure on the Scottish Government which last month cut its affordable housing budget by 26% from £713m to £556m in the face of warnings of the “devastating” impact that would have.
Housing emergency: The city council declared a housing emergency in November as it called on the Scottish Government to fund a huge social housing building programme. It said it has a number of ‘shovel-ready’ sites but needs government funding to kickstart the work and to pay for improvements to existing sub-standard housing.
City ‘cannot cope’: John Jellema, the SHR’s Assistant Director of Regulation, said: “The demands on Glasgow and Edinburgh Councils now exceed their capacity to respond.”
Inflation cost: Housing Minister Paul McLennan, who is also the MSP for East Lothian, has blamed the funding cut on “sustained high inflation and a UK Government Autumn Statement that failed to deliver the investment needed in Scotland’s public services.”
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
ROYAL PORT SETON: They might not be rolling out the bunting yet, but Port Seton had reason to celebrate with the daughter of a local couple set to become Queen of Denmark. John and Etta Donaldson left East Lothian to emigrate to Tazmania in 1963 but are fondly remembered in the town, where they were contemporaries of the artist John Bellany. Next week, their daughter Mary, who married Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark, will accede to the throne, following the abdication of Queen Margrethe II.
OCEAN TOWER: The long-awaited reinvention of Ocean Terminal is set to take a major step forward with plans including a 17-storey tower block and a paddle tennis court expected to be given the go-ahead next week. The development would see 500 flats in three blocks, with nine commercial units and public space including a direct pedestrian link to the Royal Yacht Britannia, being built on and around the site of the former Debenhams and the centre’s northern car park.
HORIZON SCANDAL: A million people have now signed the petition calling for former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE amid mounting anger about the scandal. Any new action will come too late for many of the victims, including Fiona McGowan, partner of former city sub-postmaster Phil Cowan, who died of an accidental overdose in 2009, aged 47, after being charged with stealing £30,000 from their Post Office at Jock’s Lodge. The charges against her had been dropped before her death, but the couple were not informed by the Post Office.
LOW TRAFFIC: Residents in Corstorphine, where low traffic neighbourhood measures have prompted some local protests and even vandalism of enforcement cameras, have backed the scheme by two to one in market research carried out for the council. Transport convener Councillor Scott Arthur suggested the “silent majority” back the measures to divert motor vehicles away from key pedestrian routes, such as those near the primary school.
FOOD ACTION: Edinburgh councillors are tomorrow expected to approve an action plan to drive the growth of consumption of plant-based foods in the city. Edinburgh last year became the first European capital city to support the Plant-Based Treaty by national governments as a companion to the UN Paris Agreement on Climate.
While the council stressed the plan does not seek to eliminate meat and dairy served by the City of Edinburgh Council or in the city, it does aim to continue the focus on high quality, sustainable food and increase reliance on locally sourced products where possible. The actions to be taken by the council, and by external partners including a number of Universities, EICC and Food for Life Scotland, are aimed at raising awareness and capacity, reducing food waste, increasing the provision of plant-based foods, and providing influence and leadership.
A report to go before the Policy and Sustainability Committee states: “A detailed analysis of UK diets involving 55,000 participants led by Oxford University and published in Nature food in July 2023 found that, in average, plant-based diets resulted in 75% less greenhouse gas emissions and land use than diets in which more than 100g of meat a day was eaten. Plant-based diets also cut the destruction of wildlife by an average of 66% and water use by 54%. The article concludes that “dietary shifts away from animal-based foods can make a substantial contribution to reduction of the UK environmental footprint.”
The report recognises that further work needs to be done to engage with the wider farming and business sector to ensure Scottish farmers are supported and public awareness is raised on the benefits of buying and supporting local producers when meat is consumed and is also calling for more local food growing initiatives.
CHIMP-TASTIC: Chimpanzees at Edinburgh Zoo live in one of the world's most innovative and interactive enclosures, Budongo Trail, which contains the Budongo Research Unit (BRU), run in partnership with St Andrews University. Former BRU researcher and visiting PhD student from St Andrews, Laura Lewis, has published a paper in the prestigious National Academy of Science journal proving chimps, like people, recognise their companions even after decades apart. C’mon, that’s got to help you start 2024 with a smile.
WELL DUN: Research by Savills and The Telegraph has revealed the UK's best value destination – Dunfermline. The average cost of a home in the ancient Scottish capital is a staggering £133,000 less than in the current capital, and it’s a relatively quick trip into Edinburgh.
PARKING CLAMPDOWN ON TRACK: Edinburgh councillors will hear later this week of plans to further tackle the irresponsible car parking that has been causing dozens of delays to tram services between the city centre and Newhaven. The transport and environment committee will be told on Thursday that there have been 36 instances of delay due to parked cars causing obstructions since June. Removal of the vehicles is impossible due to overhead power lines preventing the cars being lifted safely.
STUDENT FLATS: The former Scottish Law Commission offices in Sciennes would be demolished and replaced with 174 student flats under plans submitted to the city council. The applicant Balfour Beatty Investments, which has built similar accommodation elsewhere in the Capital, cites the continuing exceptionally high demand for such accommodation in its submission to the city council. In a separate application, Finance Development LLP is looking to flip some of the residential flats planned for the empty Finance House call centre on Orchard Brae to student accommodation.
GRANTON MURDER: Two people were expected to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today in connection with the death of a 38-year-old man in Granton on Hogmanay. A 32-year-old man and 25-year-old woman have been arrested and charged in connection with the incident.
NIGHT TSAR: A new role is set to be created to help develop Edinburgh’s night-time economy – from the hospitality and retail offering right through to supporting key night-time services such as transport and health and social care. The city’s Policy and Sustainability Committee will tomorrow be asked to identify a preferred route for employing a “Night Tsar” following the lead of other cities and metropolitan areas such as Greater Manchester or West Midlands. The options vary from Voluntary to full-time paid funded via Visitor Levy monies.
Doors close on ambitious organic venture
A combination of tough trading conditions has meant a unique Edinburgh store will be closing its doors for the final time later this month. Locavore in Dalry Road opened two years ago as Scotland’s largest local, organic and zero waste supermarket.
In a statement, the store said: “We tried to do something really ambitious by opening in a 6,000sqft shop front. In hindsight we did this without enough money behind us, and at the absolute worst time we could have… we opened in January 2022 as the cost of living crisis began, energy prices soared, and the UK economy melted.
“Fundamentally, our shop just has not been busy enough to support all the costs that come with running such a large operation. Our sales were much lower than we had hoped and despite growing support and our best efforts with very limited resources, we’ve just not been able to build custom to a sustainable level quick enough.”
The statement also flagged up some positive achievements, including attracting around 130,000 customers, spending £1 million with local suppliers, paying more than £300,000 in wages and feeding tens of thousands in their organic café.
GROWTH FIGURES: Eyes will be focused on the UK’s November 2023 GDP figures which will be released on Friday. The figures for October showed a fall of 0.3%. The Office for National Statistics will not announce the quarter 4 data for 2023 until mid-February but the monthly figure issued this week should provide a sense of whether the economy managed to eke out any growth over the final part of last year. Latest forecasts imply growth hovering around 0.6% which would be lower than earlier expected.
HOUSING PLEA: A leading expert on Edinburgh’s residential property market has called on the Scottish Government to create a more positive environment to encourage investment in housing. Dr John Boyle, director of research and strategy at Rettie & Co, made the comments following a report published by global property experts Colliers.
The report identified Edinburgh in top spot, followed by Glasgow in second. Andrew White, head of residential at Colliers, said: “Edinburgh has once again secured the top spot for our UK Residential Investment Cities report thanks to its quality housing stock, diverse economy and residents reporting satisfaction with living in the area.” However, given the housing crisis declared by the city council, the difficulties being faced by the house-building sector and a variety of other problems, Dr Boyle believes an opportunity is being missed due to legislative and regulatory factors. Lack of funding, planning delays, rent caps, and other issues have come in for criticism.
Dr Boyle, who has advised house-builders, local authorities and the Scottish Government in recent years, said on social media: “This report from Colliers should be great news for Scotland. Unfortunately the legislative and regulatory environment here is preventing the potential being realised. If the Scottish Government can create a framework that allows investors into the residential sector it will be of huge economic benefit.”
WICKED END: It’s your last chance to catch the smash-hit West End show Wicked as it finishes its run at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Sunday. A few tickets are left for most of the remaining shows but they are close to sell-outs.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is promising music designed to raise a smile - or even a belly laugh - to mark its 50th anniversary. Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev leads a performance of Mozart and Haydn at The Queen’s Hall on Thursday, 18 January.
IN MODE: Catch Nadine Shah on a night off in between her slots supporting Depeche Mode at the Assembly Rooms on 28 January. The indie star is headlining as part of the Burns and Beyond Festival which also sees local heroes Callum Easter and the Roulettes (recent support for Young Fathers and Noel Gallagher) at the same venue on 25 January.
MORE HERRINGBONE: Cocktails and seafood specialists Herringbone are set to open a new restaurant in Barnton to add to its four elsewhere in the city and in North Berwick. It has submitted plans to take over a unit at 195 Whitehouse Road.
TEA-TIME: An Edinburgh restaurant named as one of Scotland’s ‘most beautiful’ by Conde Nast has announced the launch of a limited edition afternoon tea. The Spence at Gleneagles Townhouse will begin to serve the new menu exclusively from today until Tuesday, April 30.