Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Edinburgh: how good... or bad?

I had an interesting discussion this afternoon, where it was pointed out to me that Edinburgh City Council has a serious problem with its finances. As such that it needs to sell its assets (e.g. India Building, Royal High School) and make several thousand employees redundant to address its deficit. Not to dismiss the pain of those being made redundant, Edinburgh appears to have become a developer’s scramble to grab prime sites - but for what purpose? Hotels and offices?  But how much affordable housing? Commercial gain at the cost of that which sustains the city - its community. This appears to be a very short sighted strategy that perhaps does not bode well for Edinburgh long-term. 

Indeed, what is the long-term future of Edinburgh? There is a Humblebum song  "Why Don't They Come Back to Dunoonwww.youtube.com/watch?v=4ruwmeWFqyc. Perhaps it will be, in the not too distant future: "Why Don't They Come Back to Edinburgh”. There is, perhaps an arrogant view, that visitors will come to Edinburgh because it is Edinburgh. Why? Especially with the apparent current trend to rapidly commodify the city. Moreover, there appears to be an assumption that Edinburgh is doing well as a tourism destination.

It is reported in the Edinburgh Evening News that a chief executive  states "city leaders “shouldn’t underestimate how well regarded Edinburgh is worldwide”  www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb. But high regard does not bring visitors to Edinburgh. Indeed, does anyone know what has brought visitors to Edinburgh in 2015? Moreover, why do VisitScotland statistics suggest that people are staying fewer nights in Edinburgh compared to 2006? (see earlier blog). This CEO  is also reported as stating: “If Edinburgh wants to be premium city, it has to behave like one”.  www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb But, does a 'premier city’ have apparent popularity as a destination for hen and stag nights? How dependent is Edinburgh upon this market for out of season trade? It is further stated that  “A music school will not add to Edinburgh’s attraction from an international point of view.” www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/marketing-chief-hails-scheme-for-royal-high-hotel-1-3949120#ixzz3rmQcvMsb. Is a school going to attract any less visitors than a hotel? Yet he supports the transformation of the Royal High School into a hotel, that is arguably unsuited to be a five star hotel, irrespective of claims by developers. Visitors do not come to a destination for a hotel unless it has something special to offer. Where is the publicly available business case to support the case for a hotel on the Royal High School site? It is not the first time that 'quality' hotels have moved downmarket. How quickly will this proposed hotel become 'budget'? 

I suggest there is a desperate need for a national debate about the long term future of Edinburgh, which is the second most popular destination in the UK. VisitScotland numbers suggest that visitors (both domestic and international) are spending less nights in Scotland (see previous blog). Scottish tourism is in part dependent upon the success of Edinburgh. However, I suggest that Edinburgh is squandering its heritage (see earlier blog) for short term gain. What attractions has Edinburgh developed that reflects heritage - culture? How long does it take for a visitor to ‘do’ Edinburgh as a destination? Why would a visitor want to come back? And all the other questions….. If Edinburgh cannot get it right then what hope for the rest of Scotland?

Is Edinburgh following a strategy of short term gain for long term pain? Perhaps (and it is only 'perhaps' - other solutions invited) it would be better that the City of Edinburgh Council declares bankruptcy so that a long term strategy for social, economic and sustainable development is put in place - for the benefit of those who live in Edinburgh  - its community.