£1 Billion Transformation for Granton
Further plans were unveiled this week showing the proposed £1 billion transformation of the Granton waterfront area of Edinburgh. Key features include a long boulevard running diagonally across the site and a large open area - expected to be called Lighthouse Square. Granton is currently a rundown, former industrial area, currently best known for its gasworks dominating the skyline - one of the huge gasholders is now a listed building and is to be retained. The shoreline from Portobello to Cramond will be involved, with a marina, hotels, boardwalk, leisure facilities and new homes for 20,000 people over the next 15 years. Small professional businesses will be encouraged to locate in the area. The project is being compared with the 18th century development which created Edinburgh's "New Town" area.
Fishing Fleet Fury
The Scottish fishing industry has been waiting with foreboding the outcome of the review of North Sea fishing quotas by the European Fisheries Council. At first sight, the announcement was not too bad - a 53% increase in the quota for haddock (the mainstay of the fleet) and a 30% increase in the valuable prawn quota. But in order to help in preserving cod stocks, the restriction on the number of days at sea have been tightened. Previously they were able to fish for 15 days outside of the cod-sensitive zones. Now the 15-day restriction will be applied to the whole North Sea and there will be unprecedented enforcement action against any boats found breaking the rules. This follows claims that many Scottish boats were flouting the rules and illegal landings of "black fish" almost equaled the legal catch - hardly a recipe for conservation.
Crown to Appeal Lockerbie Bomber Sentence
The Lord Advocate, acting on behalf of the Crown, is to apply to have the 27-year prison sentence imposed on Abdelbaset al-Megrahi increased, arguing that it was unduly lenient, considering the serious nature of the crime and the loss of life involved. The Court of Criminal Appeal has never set out why the maximum sentence should be 30 years and the move may at least force an explanation.
Edinburgh Leading in Fight for Second Runway
The long-awaited report on air travel growth in the UK, which was at last published by the UK government this week, says that land for developing a second runway at both Edinburgh and Glasgow airports should be ring-fenced. But it says that there is a stronger case for Edinburgh than Glasgow. The capital's airport has been growing faster than in the west in recent years, due to a combination of a booming economy in Edinburgh and the increase in low-cost airlines using the airport. The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, suggests that there is "already a second runway in the west, at Prestwick" which is 30 miles from Glasgow. Budget airline Ryanair has been developing its services there at the expense of traffic through Glasgow airport at Renfrew, a few miles from the city boundary. However, it is likely to be 2020 before a second runway is needed and the British Airports Authority, which owns both Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, says that it is content that the options are still left open for expansion at both facilities.
Relocation Plans Shelved
The aim of the Scottish Executive to spread government-funded agencies and departments around Scotland took a knock this week when the Tourism Minister announced that tourist agency VisitScotland would not be moved from Edinburgh. He argued that staff disruption should be minimised as the tourist industry got back on its feet after the upheavals of recent years. The lease on VisitScotland's premises in Edinburgh expires in 2005 and a shortlist of locations had been drawn up, including Dundee, Falkirk and Inverness. Of course, the minister may also have seen the bruising experience of trying to move Scottish Natural Heritage to Inverness. Two-thirds of SNH staff have voted in favour of industrial action in protest at the plan.
Cutting Edge Surgery
Most of the stories which appear in the media about the National Health Service are usually about the failures of the system, the long waiting times to see consultants and the poor state of the nation's health. So it was nice to find a positive report about a new state-of-the-art facility which has just opened at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital at Clydebank. There are two new operating suites, each costing £1 million, which are amongst the most advanced in Europe. Surgeons can control much of the medical equipment by voice activation so that they don't have to take their eyes off the patient. The air is changed 500 times an hour and 99.999% of particles above 0.3 microns are removed and it is said to be the most advanced in the UK. And if the consultant is flagging during a long operation, he can even ask the computer - named Hermes - to pay him a compliment and remind him that he is a "world-class surgeon."
Rough Sleepers Initiative
In 1999, an ambitious target was set by the Scottish Executive of ending by 2003 the need for anyone to sleep without proper shelter by providing additional special accommodation and support. According to a research report published this week, there has been a significant drop in the number of hardcore homeless with numbers down by over 30% since 2001. While in October 2003 it is estimated that 328 people reported sleeping rough, there were beds available for all but 13 of them, if they had chosen to use them. The Scottish Executive has won an international human rights award for the work they have done to tackle homelessness in Scotland.
Scottish School Information on Web
A new website, which gives parents instant access to information on every Scottish school, was launched this week. Scottish Schools Online, part of the Parentzone website, provides parents with a picture of schools’ achievements, including exam results, attendance and absence rates, number of children taking free school meals (an indicator of the number of underprivileged pupils) and links to school inspection reports and school websites (where available). See www.parentzonescotland.gov.uk/ Paper copies of school information, for parents without web access, are also available by phone. Previously, the Scottish Executive published exam league tables, comparing schools in different local authority areas. Controversially, the Scottish Executive decided to discontinue such tables - so many of the daily newspapers promptly recreated them from the raw data on the website.
Mohammed al Fayed Takes Case to Scottish Court
Ever since the death in a car crash of Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris in 1997, Mohammed al Fayed has asserted that his son Dodi and the princess were murdered. But he has failed to obtain an official inquiry in the UK. So this week he went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, seeking a judicial review of the refusal to hold an inquiry in Scotland. The businessman, who owns the Harrods department store in London, has a castle in Scotland and so can claim residence here. He turned up at the court wearing a tartan jacket and tartan shirt to reinforce his Scottish credentials.
Student Prince Lives on Sweets and Snacks
By and large, the media have left Prince William alone while he attends St Andrews University. But this week, TV and newspaper photographers were invited to join him as he ambled down the street to the local shops. Despite the gaggle of media representatives, most of the locals took little notice as the 21-year-old heir to the throne visited a Good News store and bought a pint of milk, a packet of sea salt and vinegar flavoured crisps, a bag of Maltesers (chocolate candies) and a chocolate Milky Way bar. In other words, his choice of snacks is much like any other student, at least as far as this photo opportunity was concerned. Prince William stays in student halls of residence at St Salvator's, pictured here.
Glasgow's Stores Streets Ahead
The largest survey of retail opinion in the UK has named Glasgow as the best for retail shopping in the UK outside of London. The Prime Retail report by property consultants looked at the size and range of shops, accessibility, parking, safety and the number of fashion shops. Glasgow came first by a substantial margin. In the same survey, Edinburgh was placed seventh in the UK.
Scots Shoppers Continue Spending Spree
Retailers in England have been gloomy about the level of trade there with only a 0.9% UK increase on like-for-like sales in the month of November. But in Scotland, shoppers continued to pour in and the Scottish Retail Consortium reported that the equivalent figure here was 3.4%. London retailers in particular reported poor figures, due to a combination of the Rugby World Cup (as English supporters remained glued to their TV sets) and the visit of President George Bush. Not surprisingly, on the weekend that England won the Rugby World Cup, Scottish retailers reported the number of shoppers was unaffected. The illustration here shows the Christmas decorations in the Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow.
Hoovering Up Financial Support
After two months of negotiations, management have agreed that the Hoover vacuum cleaner production plant at Cambuslang will to be kept open, saving 150 jobs out of the current workforce of 360. The company has undertaken to keep the production plant going until at least June 2005 and research and development until 2007. The company had previously announced that these jobs would be going to their factory in Wales. In return, the Scottish Executive will not request the return of £1.7 million worth of grants to the firm. The jobs which have been lost, are being moved to China - where labour costs are 20% of those in Cambuslang.
Glenmorangie Bids for Scottish Malt Whisky Society
The 20-year-old Scottish Malt Whisky Society, which aims to give its 24,000 members around the world access to the delights of a wide range of Scotch malt whiskies at cask strength, is poised to accept a takeover offer from whisky company Glenmorangie. The company claims that it would preserve the independence of the society and that it wants ownership because of its interest in malt whisky education. But the company does acknowledge that having access to 24,000 malt whisky enthusiasts would give it a great marketing advantage. From the Whisky Society's point of view, the takeover will give it access to funding for expansion.
Scots Fruit Growers Benefit From Diet
The popularity of the Atkins diet - and the good weather this summer - has given an added boost to soft fruit growers in Scotland. Sales of raspberries and strawberries, both highly recommended for followers of the Atkins diet, reached record levels this year. During 2003, over 30,000 tonnes of strawberries and 23,000 tonnes of raspberries were sold in the UK - and Scotland is one of the main growing areas for raspberries. Early spring frosts on the continent of Europe also restricted competition from foreign growers. Production techniques in Scotland are now getting more sophisticated, resulting in better quality over a longer season.
Counterfeits Worth £10 Million Seized
More than 100 police officers descended on the Ingliston market on the edge of Edinburgh last Sunday and confiscated counterfeit DVDs, CDs and computer software estimated to be worth £10 million. The raid was prompted by recording and film industry companies threatening legal action to close down the market entirely unless action was taken. A similar exercise at Glasgow's Barras market netted £2 million in fake goods - possibly the smaller amount was due to lookouts at the Barras giving traders more warning of the approach of police.
Weekend Station Closure
There are fears of a major disruption on the railway network serving Edinburgh next month when Waverley station in the capital will close on 17/18 January to allow the completion of a major upgrade to track signalling. Trains will terminate at Haymarket instead, with half the services being cancelled as a result. A fleet of buses will take passengers into the city centre from those trains that do run.
Edinburgh Airport Open on Christmas Day
For the first time in its history, Edinburgh airport is to open on Christmas Day this year - to service just four flights operating that day. Airport buses will not be running, so taxis will have a field day. It is estimated that the four flights will have around 700 passengers. The decision to open brings Edinburgh into line with other airports such as Glasgow.
Scotrail Blames Passengers for Late Arrival of Services
Passengers who arrived from Glasgow at Edinburgh's Waverley station in a train delayed by 15 minutes didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the guard announced over the loud speaker "We apologise for our late arrival. This was due to passengers overcrowding the train." A Scotrail spokesman said later that the delay was actually due to a train in front running late. The following train was more overcrowded than usual as it was short of some carriages due to an engineering failure. Of course, Scotrail could legitimately blame passengers for causing delays because so many travellers don't buy a ticket before boarding the train at stations along the way. If Scotrail staff man the ticket barriers at the terminus, long queues develop, delaying passengers from boarding the train on its next journey. Next year, automatic ticket barriers are being introduced which should alleviate that problem - and force more travellers to buy a ticket in the first place.
New Air Services for Aberdeen and Inverness
The airports in the north of Scotland sometimes seem like the Cinderellas of Scottish aviation. With the smaller passenger numbers, services are limited and with a lack of competition, ticket prices are high. So there was delight in Aberdeen when BMI, the UK's second largest scheduled airline, announced this week that it was to start a service from the Granite City to London, Heathrow as well as to the Midlands of England. For the first time, this will provide competition for British Airways on these routes. And BMI also plan to fly the Inverness to Heathrow route, a service BA abandoned six years ago. Quite apart from the benefit to those travelling only as far as London, the new service opens up a wide range of international services via the London airport hub.
Ski Resort Slides Back Into Action
The operators of the White Corries resort in Glencoe, who had said that the ski centre was to be mothballed over the winter, have now announced that they will open at weekends in the coming months - if there are suitable snow conditions. The operators say that there had been outstanding public support from the Scottish ski-ing public since their announcement about suspending operations. Unlike some of the other ski resorts in Scotland, Glencoe does not have a mountain railway or gondola system to take tourists to the top of the slopes when there is no snow. These facilities allow Cairngorm and Fort William to operate as a tourist attraction throughout the year, offsetting losses in winters with poor snow. Scotland has five ski centres but it was the White Corries at Glencoe which led the way when it opened in 1950 as the country's first commercial ski centre.
Pilots on a High After 'Marathon'
Three pilots from Glasgow Flying Club decided to mark the 100th anniversary of the first aircraft flight (by the Wright brothers at Kittyhawk on December 17, 1903) by completing a record number of 100 take-offs and landings in continuous circuit flying from Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire to Islay. They stopped once at Campbeltown to refuel their Piper PA28 Warrior. When the task had been completed they commented that they had hoped to get stuck on Islay at the end and have to stay at Arbdeg Distillery...
Thieves Target Raptor Centre
The owners of the Scottish Raptor Centre at Turfhills in Kinross were puzzled by the theft of a Harris hawk. The bird is not that rare or expensive and can be bought from a number of breeders. But there have recently been a series of thefts of birds of prey throughout Perthshire and it is thought that they are being stolen to order.
Politicians Not Wanted
An opinion poll of Scots who were asked to name the guests they would most like to drop in at their Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) party found that comedian Billy Connolly was the most popular with 39% of the votes. Not surprising, considering his reputation to liven up any gathering. Next on the list was Robbie Williams, but he only got 13%. But when it came to the least popular house guests, politicians easily topped the poll, with 67% of Scots saying that they would be unwelcome. When it comes to midnight, 31% of Scots said they would have a glass of whisky in their hand, with vodka as the second most popular tipple at 9%. By contrast, 27% of those living in London said that they would be bringing in the New Year with a glass of champagne.
Christmas Comeback for Beetroot
Baxter's of Fochabers have reported that sales of beetroot have risen by 15.6% in the run-up to Christmas. The red root vegetable is hardly likely to generate lot of enthusiasm, but Baxters say that they have doubled the acreage devoted to the crop over the last five years. There is some puzzlement, however, about why interest in beetroot has grown, although there may be an increasing awareness of its nutritional value - it is rich in iron, potassium and possible anti-cancer agents. It is even said to have aphrodisiac qualities. The insatiable interest in celebrity chefs presenting TV cookery programmes may also have contributed to the demand.
Oldest Bird Runs Rings Round Rivals
Thirty years after it had been ringed in North Rona, the Outer Hebrides, a petrel has turned up again on the same spot. Since birds are not ringed until they reach adulthood, that makes this petrel at least 32 years old - a longevity record for this type of bird. The British Trust for Ornithology included the information in its annual report on the ringing scheme, which was introduced in 1909. The report shows that nearly 800,000 birds were ringed last year - the most since 1997.
Weather in Scotland This Week
An unsettled week of weather with not too much sunshine. Monday was chilly with daytime maximum temperatures only reaching 4/6C (39/43F) but recovered by Wednesday when Glasgow and Edinburgh experienced 9C (48F) and Aberdeen reached 12C (54F). By the end of the week, however, as the winds veered round to the north, temperatures fell again. There was heavy rain in central Scotland and high ground in the northern Highlands and in the Southern Uplands there were heavy falls of snow. A party of climbers on Ben Nevis had a lucky escape when they were caught in an avalanche. But they escaped unhurt when the snow "spat them out" as a member of the mountain rescue described it. Snowploughs have been struggling on the A9 between Perth and Inverness as blizzards made driving conditions difficult in Drumochter Pass.
This week's illustration of current flowers in Scotland shows first of all a winter flowering viola which is managing to withstand the overnight frosts. The illustration below is a bit of a "cheat" as it shows a hyacinth which has been growing inside my own house (filling the room with its scent).