Victory for Environment or Nimbies?
Only a few weeks ago, Scottish Water was under fire for not dealing adequately with a scare over cryptosporidium (a bug which causes stomach upsets that can be serious for vulnerable people but who should be boiling all their water anyway) in Glasgow's water supply. Now the company is playing the role of "white knight" as it wages a public relations battle over its plans to build a £100 million water filtration plant at Mugdock reservoir near Glasgow. The local East Dunbartonshire Council ignored the positive recommendation of their planning officials, the local community council and the local civic amenity trust and rejected the planning application this week by 9 votes to 6. They said the decision was based on environmental grounds, noting that Mugdock was a popular beauty spot and that other sites had not been properly considered. Within 24 hours, a media frenzy broke out with the "Friends of Mugdock" being accused of being nimbies (Not In My Back Yard) and threatening the health of 700,000 Glaswegians. European Union legislation requires Scottish Water to have water filtration in place by 2005 - and the Glasgow supply is the only one in the UK which does not have it - due to the water authorities dragging their feet on the issue in the past. On the other hand, despite the lack of filtration, Glasgow has about half the Scottish average for reported cases of the cryptosporidium bug. The matter is now likely to be referred to Ross Finnie, the Minister for the Environment in the Scottish Executive. If Scottish Water are forced to opt for an alternative site, they will be unable to meet the 2005 deadline.
NHS 24 Goes Live
A new 24-hour telephone advice service for patients was launched in Aberdeen this week, offering guidance and health information by qualified National Health Service (NHS) nurses. It will also provide better links between doctors' out-of-hours services, pharmacists and accident and emergency services. It will also give an improved and more appropriate response to 999 Emergency Service callers who do not require the immediate dispatch of an ambulance. The NHS 24 centre based in Aberdeen employs around 60 nurses and currently provides advice to patients in Grampian. This will rolled out later to Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. By the end of the year the new round-the-clock service will also be available in other major centres of population such as Glasgow.
Opponents of Hospital Plan are "Neanderthals"
The argument between the supporters and the opponents of the £700 million plan to modernise hospitals in Glasgow became a slanging match this week as Sam Galbraith, a former Health Minister (who at one time was an eminent neuro-surgeon) described opponents of the proposals as "Neanderthals" who were holding up progress towards creating quality care in Glasgow's hospitals. But those who are arguing against the plan are concerned that the proposals will cut the number of Accident and Emergency units from five to two in an area serving nearly a million people. Under the plan (which has now been approved by the Scottish Executive) those who live in the northern suburbs and who need accident and emergency services, will now have to travel six miles, including the bottle-neck of the Clyde Tunnel, to reach the Southern General Hospital, south of the river.
Section of West Coat Main Railway line to Close for Four Months
A 40-mile section of the main railway line between London and Glasgow will close for four months next year to allow Railtrack to speed up improvements to the route. The upgrades will allow the new high-speed tilting trains operated by Virgin Rail to operate at higher speeds. The Strategic Rail Authority says that while the closures will mean local trains near Stoke-on-Trent being replaced by buses, main-line services will be diverted to other lines, minimising delays. In 2004, there will be another four-month closure on another section of the line. It is estimated that the new plan will save Railtrack up to £2 billion and will allow the upgrade to be completed in late 2004 instead of 2006.
Scotrail Passenger Numbers Falling
The number of people travelling on the rail network in Strathclyde, which accounts for about half of Scotrail's business, fell by 11.1% in July compared to a year ago, despite many services getting back to normal after the industrial action by drivers in the early part of the year. Punctuality and reliability are major problems - only 83.6% of the trains on the flagship route between Edinburgh and Glasgow arrived within ten minutes of schedule in the month to 17 August. Exceptionally bad weather has been a contributory factor but punctuality has been a major headache all year. There was an encouraging sign on the Edinburgh/Glasgow service which has achieved 95% punctuality in the first full week of the return to a 15-minute frequency. Scotrail is launching an advertising campaign and introducing bargain fares in an effort to win back customers who have moved to alternative forms of transport. Two years ago, Scotrail had the best punctuality record of all the major rail companies in Britain.
Scottish Booking and Information Hotline Goes Live
Scotland's new National Booking and Information Hotline has been set up to provide a service to both national and international visitors. Initially, it will only available by telephone (0845 2255 121) or e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org but eventually providing an on-line Web facility, the new service from VisitScotland will have the ability to book accommodation throughout Scotland and provide brochures and tourist information.
Glasgow Airport Flies High
The ongoing struggle between Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports to win government support for expansion to became the designated hub for international air travel in Scotland, took a new twist this week with a report from the respected Fraser of Allander Institute which estimated that Glasgow Airport is currently worth £700 million a year to the Scottish economy and supports 15,000 jobs. Edinburgh Airport, on the other hand, is worth £300 million and supports 7,000 jobs. Last year, Glasgow handled 7.3 million passengers and Edinburgh 6.2 million but Edinburgh has been growing at a faster rate, in part due to the number of low-cost air services from the capital's airport.
Island Hopping Costs Less
British Airways slashed the cost of flying to the Western Isles and Shetland with a new fare structure which means that, for example, flying from Glasgow to Sumburgh in Shetland will cost £109 instead of £410. Previously, there was also a special fare of only £160, but only if the journey included a Saturday stopover and was booked in advance. It is hoped that the new fares will encourage more people to visit the islands as well as being of benefit to those living there. But residents of Orkney - served by Loganair, a British Airways franchise - believe that they are missing out on the new fares.
Professional Patisserie Beats Greek
The proliferation of vocational subjects in the new National Qualifications for school pupils, which are replacing the old Highers, Standard Grades and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies, has meant that some pupils are taking exams in such subjects as scheduled air travel, fish rearing and beauty care. While the numbers sitting these exams are still small, there were 1,930 who sat professional patisserie while only eight sat the long-established classical Greek exam.
Visitors Roll Up for Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel - the world's only rotating boat lift which raises and lowers vessels between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal - opened in June this year. British Waterways had estimated that 250,000 people would come to see the engineering marvel i the first year but visitor numbers have exceeded expectations and already 200,000 have done so. The structure is due to close for two weeks at the end of September for routine maintenance. Even though it will not be operating, it will still of course be highly visible to any visitors.
Decline in Oil and Gas Engineering Orders
More than half of the companies operating in the oil and gas sectors of the engineering industry have reported a slump in orders in the last quarter. There had been an increase in orders in the previous quarter but there are now fears that as many as 20 oil rigs will be mothballed by the end of the year because of a slowdown in drilling. The decline is being attributed to the tax increases announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his budget in the spring. This slapped an extra 10% onto North Sea oil and gas profits, action which has been greeted with alarm by the oil companies. A vociferous campaign against the extra tax has been mounted and the Government has recently agreed to meet representatives of the industry to discuss their concerns.
A company which planned to provide tours down the river Clyde using converted Second World War landing craft has gone out of business. Glasgow Duck Tours had hoped to provide combined land and water tours using DUKW high-speed amphibious craft but poor summer weather and unreliability has resulted in the company going into voluntary liquidation. They were also hampered by having only one slipway at Braehead to gain access to the river.
Scottish Master Fails to Sell
A painting "Still Life with Coffee Pot" by the Scottish colourist Samuel Peploe, failed to reach its reserve price of £350,000-£450,000 at an auction by Sotheby's of Scottish paintings at Gleneagles. The painting was being sold by Lord Irvine of Lairg who is the Lord Chancellor, the most senior legal post in Tony Blair's government. However, a painting of a Highland landscape "The Halt" by John Frederick Herring, being auctioned by another seller, reached £470,000, equalling the world record price for a painting sold in Scotland.
Automobile Club Sells Margaret Thatcher
When the Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) in Glasgow's Blythswood Square sold off all its furniture, fixtures and fittings it included all its valuable paintings - including one of Margaret Thatcher sitting beside two small boys who had taken part in a "Glasgow's Miles Better" competition. The exclusive RSAC closed last month after years of declining membership. But Glasgow City Council and Historic Scotland have prevented the club from removing features considered to be an integral part of the listed building - including a large chandelier hanging over the main entrance. The building is expected to be turned into flats or a hotel.
"Majority" Vote in Favour of Road Tolls
12,000 people in Edinburgh took part in the consultation exercise on the introduction of a £2 charge on all motorists coming into Edinburgh. The result was that 51% voted in favour of the congestion charges. 250,000 leaflets were distributed to people living in Edinburgh, Lothian, Fife and the Borders, asking recipients to vote on a range of options. Results from the poll of those living outside the city are not yet known but are said to be not much different from the Edinburgh poll.
Quality Control for Edinburgh Buskers
Particularly in the tourist season, the centre of Edinburgh has many people playing the bagpipes in the street in the hope of earning money from passers-by. Sometimes the quality of playing leaves much to be desired and now there are moves to introduce tests for buskers to ensure that they come up to a minimum standard of playing. Some of the players are in favour of the initiative, believing that it is those who play badly who create a prejudice against all pipers. Businesses overlooking the most popular pitches sometimes complain to the police about the "noise". But questions have already been raised about who would judge the standards and police it - maybe the City of Edinburgh Police Pipe Band?
Rise Expected in Whisky Sales to India
Scotch whisky companies are gearing up for a major increase in sales in India after the government there recently announced a cut in the level of duty on imports. The highest rate of duty on the most expensive brands was over 700% and this has now ben reduced to just over 400%. While this still makes Scotch expensive compared to local products, the Scottish whisky producers are predicting a 25% annual growth rate as a result of the comparatively lower levels of duty.
Harris Tweed Future Under Threat
The owner of the company which accounts for 97% of the Harris Tweed produced in the Hebrides, has put business up for sale "for personal reasons." Derick Murray has been in the industry for 40 years and was the main player involved in the introduction of the double-width looms in the mid-1990s. The production of Harris Tweed involves 70 staff in mills in Stornoway and Shawbost and another 200 home-based weavers. The sale raises the prospect of ownership of most of the Harris Tweed production leaving the Hebrides for the first time. However, an Act of Parliament requires that all Harris Tweed is physically made in the Outer Hebrides. See Do You Know? - Harris Tweed for more on tweed and its history.
Fish Supper for Royals
When the Duke and Duchess of Wessex recently found themselves at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh without the services of a chef, they didn't try to book a table at a smart restaurant - even the royals would have difficulties at the height of the Edinburgh Festival. Instead, they sent a chauffeur up the Royal Mile to find a take-away fish restaurant and got two "fish suppers" - deep fried fish and chips (French fries in some parts of the world). It seems unlikely, however, that they ordered any deep-fried Mars Bars, a local Scottish "delicacy".. A palace official confirmed the story - but declined to identify the establishment which got the unexpected royal patronage. Pity the Duke and Duchess hadn't been in north Fife where the Anstruther Fish Bar has won the title of "Best in Scotland" for the last two years - a title which I can confirm is well justified!
Where Have All the Sharks Gone?
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has reported that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of basking sharks off the Western Isles. In previous years, there have been up to 500 of the three tonne gentle giants which can grow to over 30 feet long. But this year a survey found only one. The second-largest fish in the sea was hunted almost to extinction until about ten years ago - the oil from its liver is used as an engine lubricant and in the manufacture of skin creams. 50 years ago the author Gavin Maxwell wrote of seeing basking sharks in shoals "packed as tight as sardines". Although the basking shark has several rows of sharp teeth, it feeds by filtering out plankton through its enormous gills. There is no obvious reason for the decline - there is plenty of plankton in Scottish waters and they normally live for up to 50 years.
Warm Weather Brings Out the Wasps
Wasp exterminators have been overwhelmed during August as millions of wasps made their presence felt as they try to pack a whole summer's feeding into one month. After months of very wet weather, the higher temperatures and long spells of sunshine have resulted in wasps hunting for food - and picnics and outdoor eating establishments such as beer gardens and barbecues are as attractive as flowers to hungry wasps.
Christmas Comes Early to Aberdeen
We are all used to retailers starting to decorate their stores well in advance of Christmas, but guests at the Aberdeen Jarvis Hotel blinked recently when they found that there was a six-foot high pine tree in the foyer, complete with decorations and flashing lights. The hotel manager explained that they had just launched their Christmas brochure and decided to put up the tree to help to promote it. Some guests, including a couple of newly-weds, have had their photos taken beside the Christmas tree at a time when other hotels are advertising their end-of-summer specials.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures have hovered around 20/21C (68/70F) in many places in Scotland for much of the week with Aberdeen reaching 23C (73F) on Wednesday. There has been a fair amount of sunshine, especially at the start of the week when Glasgow had 13.2 hours of sun on Monday. On Friday, however, a weather front passed over the country bringing heavy rain (over 0.75 inches of rain in Glasgow and Edinburgh that day) and temperatures dipped to 14C (57F) in Aberdeen. The outlook for Sunday and the early part of the week is for more sunshine though temperatures will not be as high as in recent weeks.
This week's illustration of current flowers in Scotland is of a dahlia in the "Hercules Garden" at Blair Castle, north of Pitlochry, in the heart of Perthshire. The photo was taken in brilliant sunshine earlier this week.