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Starting the year on a high

Council Leader Cammy Day
Council Leader Cammy Day in the City Chambers

Council Leader, Cammy Day looks to the year ahead – and beyond.

Starting the year on a high

2024 is upon us and, with 40% of the world’s voters heading to the polls in the next 12 months, it promises to be a fascinating year of political debate – and change.

Here in the Capital, we’ve already enjoyed a great start to the year, welcoming in 2024 in style with our world-famous Hogmanay celebrations – bringing great pride to our residents and an estimated £48m to the local economy.

Overall, our Winter Festivals proved once again to be a great draw and the city centre welcomed a 6.4% increase in footfall in December 2023 compared to the same period the year before. In fact, we bucked the national trend, with the Capital the only city in Scotland to register an increase and the top performing city in the UK. Add to that hotel occupancy rates of well over 90%, shows just how attractive ý is and how far we’ve come since the pandemic.

Striking the right balance

But with this success, comes the other side of the same coin: the pressure on our core services and on the people who live and work here. Of course, we’re glad that so many people want to visit our beautiful city and recognise the importance of tourism to our economy. But we also acknowledge the impact this has on residents and that we have a responsibility to manage that impact. 

One way we can do this is to introduce a visitor levy, which would present a major opportunity for us to generate millions of pounds in additional revenue to support, sustain and develop the city and this visitor economy – just as so many other major cities do so successfully. With MSPs endorsing the principles of the Visitor Levy Bill in Holyrood, I look forward to progressing our plans this year and keeping ý on track to become the first city in Scotland to introduce it.

Another way in which we can relieve this pressure is to better manage the number and quality of Short Term Lets in the city and I remain convinced this is the right thing to do – both for our residents but also for the businesses running them. Following the recent Judicial Reviews, we now have greater clarity on the legislation, and its application, and will publish a report outlining our next steps in the coming weeks.

Working towards net zero

Sticking with our business plan priorities in 2024, we remain determined to play our part in the global fight against climate change. We’re sticking with our bold and ambitious target to be a net-zero city by 2030 and, as our demonstrates we’re continuing to make progress against these targets.

Coming on the back of a series of national and international awards and other accolades recognising our action on climate – most recently being named the world’s most sustainable travel destination and featured on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Global A list – we’re at the forefront of driving the change we need to make real and lasting difference.

We’ve also published a new to address the impacts of climate change on the city. This new strategy will address issues around flooding and overheating whilst supporting the city to protect and enhance our beautiful greenspaces and biodiversity.

Cleaner, greener transport

Did you know that 91% of travel emissions in the UK are caused by road traffic? That’s why creating a better connected, environmentally friendly transport system is a must and, in the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a major package of proposals for the way we move people and goods around the city. These will include recommendations for a consultation on a north–south tram line between Granton and the Bioquarter for public consultation and first sight of our new circulation plan, Our Future Streets.

This work will complement significant investment in active travel routes too and, in the coming year, we’ll see the completion of both the City Centre West to East Link, a major walking, wheeling and cycling route between Roseburn and Picardy Place, and the Roseburn to Union Canal route, which will transform public spaces and bring disused areas back into community use. The introduction of our LEZ from 1 June, meanwhile, will not only improve air quality in our city centre but is expected to have benefits citywide. For our part, we’re continuing to improve our own council fleet and 30% of our vehicles will be upgraded to electric by the end of 2024.

Over the coming years, through schemes like Meadows to George Street, we’ll significantly improve walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport, and reduce the dominance of cars on city centre streets. We’re already making great strides towards delivering our flagship city centre transformation project, George Street and First New Town,and this year will see us engaging in our final designs before beginning construction in 2025.

Of course, 2023 was a hugely significant year for trams, with the completion of the line to Newhaven and passenger numbers already well ahead of expectations. Taken alongside the outstanding work of the team at Lothian Buses in returning patronage to almost pre-covid levels, the future looks bright for our transport companies, not least as we continue our work to bring them together as one. This can only be good news for ý’s travelling public – better integration, better service and better value for money.

A catalyst for sustainable growth

The development of our tram network has been – and will continue to be – pivotal to the city’s evolution. From the huge and growing investment in the west of the city – think ý Park and the potential for an 8,000 capacity music venue or the £2bn West Town development, to the transformation of Haymarket and the West End. The ever-changing face of Princes Street – book-ended by the Johnnie Walker Experience in the west and ambitious restoration of the former Jenners building in the east. The latter sitting proudly on the corner of St Andrew Square, which has itself been completely transformed and rejuvenated.  

Then, in between, we have a boutique Red Carnation Hotel due to open in the former Royal Overseas League building later this year, a £100m redevelopment for the luxury Ruby Hotels chain planned for the former Zara, Next and Russell and Bromley stores and Japanese clothing retailer, Uniqlo, moving into the former BHS building in the spring.

Not forgetting, of course, the unbridled success of St James Quarter – whose £1bn investment depended heavily on tram and significant support from the Council, the regeneration of Leith Walk and the Waterfront, with the long-awaited £250m reinvention of Ocean Terminal set to bring 500 much-needed homes and a direct pedestrian link to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Just along the coast, the £1.3bn transformation of Granton Waterfront into Europe’s first net-zero coastal town, complete with 3,500 new, sustainable homes, will rely heavily on tram, while the prospect of taking the line south past the Cameron Toll to the Royal Infirmary, Sick Kids and beyond will be truly transformational for that part of the city.

I’m eagerly anticipating the completion of the Granton Gasholder refurbishment by spring 2025, which alongside the improvements to the public spaces surrounding it, will be a great resource for the local community and a beacon of hope for a bright future for North ý.

Like many in the city who spend their very first hours and days in the old Royal Infirmary, I’m also really looking forward to seeing inside the ý Futures Institute when it opens later this year – the latest product of the £1.3bn City Region Deal.  And then there’s the Usher Institute at the Bio Quarter, ensuring we stay at the forefront of Life Sciences innovation in the UK and internationally.

Elsewhere, work is also beginning on designs for hundreds of new homes at the site of the old Liberton Hospital and good progress is being made on new housing at the old Sick Kids site. Having declared a Housing Emergency at the end of last year, we’re continuing to create as much new affordable housing as we can afford, from Pennywell to Greendykes and Wester Hailes, and buying homes that are already built at scale while turning empty homes around to help increase our housing supply.

Getting the basics right for our communities

As our city continues to grow, we must provide the right infrastructure and amenities in our local communities, and our 20-minute Neighbourhood Strategy will help us develop places where everyone can meet most of their daily needs within a short walk or wheel from their home. We’re approaching the next stages of exciting town centre improvement programmes in Dalry, Portobello and Craigmillar and are due to consult on our proposals in the spring.

This extends of course to the ‘everyday’, but no less important, services we provide, such as fixing roads, keeping streets clean and collecting waste. And the evidence tells us that these services are improving thanks to the additional investment we’ve put into them.

For instance, we’ve doubled the amount of money we put towards roads and pavement projects and, having delivered approximately 420,000m2 of carriageway improvements and 170,000m2 of footway improvements in 2023/24 – the highest ever delivered in one financial year in ý – our Road Condition Index (RCI) has improved yet again over the period 2022/24, having also improved in the two years before that. The investment is clearly paying off.

Likewise, we’ve seen year on year improvements in our street cleanliness scores. This is thanks to investing £3m towards keeping the city in a good condition, including £750,000 to give the city a deeper clean, tackling problem areas like fly-tipping and graffiti. Added to that the similar £3m boost we’ve given to our beautiful parks and open spaces, recognising their importance to everyone’s wellbeing, we’ve helped to keep ý’s 38 Green Flags flying – which is more than anywhere else in Scotland.

Tackling inequality and giving our young people the best start in life

Turning now to another key priority: tackling poverty. Over the past year we’ve doubled our homelessness budget, helped over 4,000 people into work or learning, and, through our advice partnerships, helped put more than £20 million directly into the pockets of residents who need it most. We’ve also begun to narrow the poverty related attainment gap in our schools and recorded the best performance we have ever seen on the proportion of leavers moving on to positive post school destinations.

Despite all this hard work, I remain deeply concerned that one in five children in this city still grow up in poverty. The cost of living crisis means that the wealth divide continues to widen and it will take urgent and consistent action from us and from both governments to meet this challenge. This year, we’re committed to carrying on our work with partners to deliver our End Poverty in ý plan, help people keep their family’s heads above water and ensure the very best future for ý’s children and young people.

We also have big plans for new schools and early years centres taking shape. The new Maybury Primary School will open its doors in October with new early years centres opening this year in Kirkliston and Ratho. Development is progressing at a pace on the replacement Currie High School and construction work on new schools and teaching blocks at Liberton, Wester Hailes and Trinity Academy has started in earnest.

Alongside delivering the best start to our young people in school, we also have a huge responsibility as corporate parents. All children deserve to have a safe place to live, where they feel loved and supported and, following recent inspections, I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making in our children’s and residential services.

We also have the responsibility of supporting our older residents in care homes and in receipt of at home care and everyone in between. We need to prioritise health and social care services across the city, ensuring faster and more effective early intervention – and, following a challenging period for the service, I’m heartened by the steps being taken under the new management team.

Fighting for fairer funding for our Capital City

To finish, then, 2024 promises to be yet another exciting and rewarding year for the Council and for the city; a year full of opportunities – but also of challenges.

For our part, we’ll continue to focus on our key priorities for ý: to face into the climate emergency, tackle poverty once and for all and to consistently deliver high quality services for our residents and businesses. With Chief Executive, Andrew Kerr, leaving us in June to enjoy his well-earned retirement, I look forward to working closely with his successor (once appointed) to build upon the progress we’ve made so far.

What’s clear, however, is that we can’t do this alone. As a Council, we can shape and influence change through our policies and plans, but this needs to be a team effort, a pulling together of resources and plans across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Where we’re lacking commitment, unfortunately, is from the Scottish Government who, rather than backing our plans, are systematically stripping away their support. You need look no further than December’s budget announcement, where, once again ý remains the lowest funded local authority in Scotland.

We will, of course, continue to develop sustainable financial plans for the future, but It’s imperative that we find a better way to work together more collaboratively, and my first big task this year will be to fight for fairer funding for our Capital City.

 

Published: January 19th 2024