Ocean Terminal Launches Out
The leisure and retail resort, at Leith Docks, in North Edinburgh, designed by Sir Terance Conran to look like a giant, sleek ocean liner is aptly named Ocean Terminal. It opened in October, 2001 and initially occupancy of the retail units was slow. Even the berthing of the former royal yacht "Britannia" at the terminal was not enough of a draw to bring shoppers cruising in. So it has taken until 2005 before the owners could proudly announce that all 60 retail units had been let. Encouraged by that milestone, the Forth Ports Authority and the Bank of Scotland, who jointly funded the project, have announced plans for an extension which will almost double its size. The development will also see Ocean Terminal living up to its name and having a long-delayed cruise-liner terminal. Ocean Terminal is just part of the "Edinburgh Forthside" development which is one of the largest dock redevelopments in Europe, covering the redevelopment of Leith docks, Western harbour and Granton harbour. It will create a city the size of Perth in Edinburgh’s docklands over the next 20 years.
Government Approval for Motorway Extension
Environmentalists were rocked this week when the Scottish Executive's Transport Minister announced that the "missing link" connecting the M74 motorway to the south of Glasgow to join up with the M8 five miles further west would go ahead - despite an official enquiry recommending that it should not proceed. Nicol Stephen, the Transport Minister, approving the £500 million motorway, said that the enquiry had not given sufficient weight to the economic benefits, social and safety issues and reduction in congestion on the other roads around Scotland's largest city. It was in the 1960s that Glasgow began building what was to have been a "ring road" round the city. The northern and western sides, with a crossing over the river Clyde via the Kingston bridge, were completed first and the Monklands Motorway, largely using the line of a disused canal, then took the motorway to the east towards Edinburgh. But the southern portion of the ring has been constantly delayed. As a result, traffic from the south often continues north on the M74 until it reaches the M8 and then swings west on an already congested road. The announcement of the green-light for the motorway by the government will just be the latest stage in a long battle - a few years ago environmentalists harassed and delayed the extension of the A77 dual-carriageway from Ayrshire to the south of Glasgow by repeated direct action.
Population Decline Slows
The latest figures published this week on births, marriages and deaths from the Registrar General show that the steady decline of Scotland's population was slowed last year due to a combination of higher births and lower deaths. Births were 2.9% higher than the year before at 53,957 and deaths were 4.1% down. The number of deaths attributed to coronary heart disease fell from 2003 by 5.9% to 10,770. Marriages were also up - by 4.5% to 32,154 - but many of those married in Scotland came from abroad. The changes will help to defer the date when Scotland's population is forecast to fall below 5 million. The country's population has been falling, more or less steadily, since 1975. It now stands at 5,057,400.
Text to Tackle Truancy
A truancy alert system - which texts or calls parents whose children don't turn up to school - is to be rolled out in 160 secondary schools facing the biggest truancy problems. Parents will have to confirm whether they are aware of the absence. The system has already been piloted in a small number of schools and has helped to cut truancy rates. Texting and calling parents will help to free up staff to concentrate their efforts on reaching the hardcore of persistent truants. And occasional truants will know they have a far greater chance of being caught. Schools may also use the system to send group messages to all parents alerting them to school events or updates to individual parents on the progress of their child. The latest attendance and absence statistics (published December 2004) showed that, while the overall attendance rate was continuing to rise, a small number of persistent truants were responsible for the vast majority of truancy. 9% of pupils were responsible for 90% of time lost due to truancy and 2% were responsible for half of truancy.
Jenners Sale Completed
The sale of Jenners in Princes Street, Edinburgh, the world's oldest independent department store, to House of Fraser plc has been finalised. The total price was £49.5 million, including £3.4 million to be injected into the staff pension scheme. Jenners has 750 employees and the main store and the outlets at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports and at Loch Lomond Shores will continue to trade with the Jenners name. The Jenners deal will bring the number of stores owned by House of Fraser to 52.
Greens See Red
Normally, environmental groups are in favour of public transport in all its guises, arguing it will reduce the amount of road traffic. So there was some surprise this week when the government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) told a committee of Scottish Members of Parliament that they were worried about the effect on the environment of the new railway line from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders. The Scottish Executive are providing £115 million of public money towards the £151 million cost of implementing the project. But SNH say that Scottish Borders Council, who have been agitating for the re-instatement of the rail link for many years, have not given enough information about the "green" impact of the project. SNH say that they cannot assess the effect the railway would have on wildlife and natural habitats - particularly in the Tweed River Special Conservation Area. The line will run 35 miles from Edinburgh to south of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. The original rail service was closed down in 1969 and the new track will have additional stations.
High Life for City Harbour
The next phase of the £1 billion Glasgow Harbour development on the north bank of the river Clyde has been redesigned and will create 700 apartments in tower blocks ranging from 14 to 22 storeys. There will also be commercial units, underground parking and a public square leading down to the river and a river bus stop. The river walkway will also be extended along the riverbank. Criticism that the initial designs looked too much like "1960s Glasgow" when plain "filing cabinets for people" were thrown up, has stung the architects into producing a new look for the buildings. They were originally planned to provide 857 apartments in even higher blocks. Now they will be smaller and clad in a mixture of black granite, copper panels, ceramic tiles and large glazed areas of curtain walling.
No Customers for Park-and-Ride
A new public park-and-ride transport project called "Fastlink" has got off to a slow start with not a single car owner using the system in its first two months. The £6 million system aims to encourage car drivers to leave their cars in Livingston at three sites if they are commuting to Edinburgh and instead use a fleet of 30 buses running every 15 minutes. The local West Lothian Council claim that although buses have been in service since January 17, publicity about the scheme had been delayed until road improvements to improve safety and produce faster journey times were completed. The local authority is confident that the scheme will be a success once a massive publicity campaign has been launched.
Canals Floated to Reduce Road Traffic
The Scottish Executive has announced that it will provide multi-million pound funding for a scheme to get freight off congested roads and onto the water. The Waterborne Freight Grant (WFG) scheme will help meet shipping costs for freight currently transported by road. The grant will be available to canal, inland waterways and short sea shipping operators. The aim is to make waterways an increasingly attractive and competitive choice. Scotland is the first area in UK to introduce this scheme which it is hoped will not only help with shipping routes around Scotland, but also between Scotland, the rest of the UK and mainland Europe. Canal traffic, travelling at little more than walking pace, lost out when railway services began spreading across the country at the end of the 19th century. In recent years, more and more freight has moved from the railway to the roads. The Forth and Clyde canal across central Scotland closed in 1962 but was reopened in 2001 following a £75 million project funded largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In recent years the government has provided finance for the repair and restoration of the Crinan Canal linking Loch Fyne with the Sound of Jura and the Caledonian Canal which runs diagonally across the Highland Region from Inverness to Fort William.
"Inter Bank Transfers"
There used to be an unwritten rule amongst the three main banks in Scotland that they would not poach staff from one another. That mould was broken when the regional Trustee Savings Banks formed TSB Scotland and recruited experienced staff from the other bank. As such moves became more accepted amongst the banks, staff even moved at the highest level - the Chief Executive of TSB Scotland was lured to the Clydesdale Bank in the early 1990s and a subsequent Clydesdale Bank chief became the top executive in the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1998. But such moves create problems of confidentiality. So when four Clydesdale Bank staff in bank's Aberdeen financial solutions centre resigned to join the Royal Bank, they were sent on "gardening leave" while they worked their notice. Morale is said to have dipped in the Clydesdale Bank as result of uncertainties over restructuring of Clydesdale's business banking operations. That in itself was surprising as regular "restructuring" is a permanent way of life in financial services companies these days. There was more bad news for the Clydesdale Bank when figures were published which showed that Lloyds TSB Scotland was more profitable than the Glasgow-based bank. In the year to December 31, Lloyds TSB Scotland posted a pre-tax profit of £106 million, 16% up on the previous year; Clydesdale had reported a 44% fall in earnings to £90 million for their year to September 30 2004.
City of Perth?
Historically the county town of Perth has long been known as the "Fair City". But it is just a name and the town has never been officially recognised as a city by the monarch. Perhaps that wouldn't have mattered too much, but in recent years both Inverness and Stirling have been honoured in this way - and they are experiencing an upsurge in civic pride and - perhaps more importantly - an economic benefit. That includes Scottish Executive funding under the "Cities Growth Fund". To an extent, history is on Perth's side and the Provost (roughly equivalent to a mayor) says it has been recognised as a city since 1600 when King James VI confirmed that status in a so called Golden Charter. In more recent times, 19th century official documents such as the Acts of Parliament, which were given Royal Assent, have also constantly referred to Perth as a city. More recently, official documents approved by the Scottish Secretary have called Perth a city. Now Perth, planning to celebrate its 800th anniversary as a royal burgh in 2010, wants official recogniton from the Government to be applied. However, there are no plans to allocate city status in the near future to any town (the last accolades arose from the Millennium and the Queen's Golden Jubilee). So Perth local government councillors have taken the law into their own hands and have declared that "Perth should be referred to as a city at all times." Not that such a declaration will produce a single penny from that "Cities Growth Fund". For more on Scotland's cities (both real and aspiring) see Did You Know - Scottish Cities.
Falling Foul of the Law
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music and long-term resident of Orkney, has fallen foul of the law for preparing to cook and eat a swan which had been killed by hitting power lines. He says it is not the first time that he has made a "delicious terrine" from swans found in this way. But under the Wildlife and Countryside Act the whooper swan is a protected species and according ancient law only the Queen is allowed to sample the meat. Of course, in Orkney they often claim that Viking Udal law still applies (when it suits them) and it says swans belong to the people and not the Crown. It's not as if Sir Maxwell was trying to keep his find under wraps - the carcass was spotted "maturing" outside the composer's cottage. The 70-year-old is clearly not getting into a flap about his "crime" and voluntarily handed over a leg of swan stored in his freezer. He says it tastes "a bit like pheasant, with a hint of venison as well." Being Master of the Queen's Music he expects that he will not be locked up in Inverness Prison for his culinary tastes - doing porridge in the Tower of London seems more appropriate. He thinks the experience might inspire some interesting music. Sir Peter says that migratory whooper swans going to and from Iceland often get caught up in the power lines. He consulted the local Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and was advised to "dispose of" the dead birds. He considered it would have been a waste to deed it all to his cat.
Recovery for Scotland's Sparrows
Nearly 20,000 Scots took part in a two-day UK-wide birdwatch survey organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at the end of January. The results published this week show that the number of house sparrows in Scotland has gone up slightly and that it is the most frequently reported bird. However, with an average of 5.8 sparrows per garden, the numbers are still well down on 10 sparrows per garden reported in 1979. The increase in sparrow numbers in Scotland was not reflected in the figures for England and Wales. In Scotland, the starling was the second most reported bird, followed by the chaffinch and blackbird. The robin came in at 7th place and the dunnock (often mistaken for a sparrow) was 10th.
World's Fastest Texter
The Guinness Book of Records this week crowned a 24-year-old Scottish factory worker as the "world's fastest texter". Craig Crosbie took just 48 seconds to type out the 160-character message: "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human." He beat the previous record holder by 19 seconds. Crosbie says that he sends about 75 text messages a day from his mobile phone and says his speed is down to lots of practice.
UK's Smiliest City
Maybe it was that "Glasgow's Miles Better" (which could also be read as Glasgow smiles better) campaign which did it, but a new survey has shown that Glaswegians are one of the top UK cities for smiling. Edinburghers may wonder "What have they got to smile about?" and suspect that it is more of a vacant grin than any sense of humour. While such surveys always have to be taken with a pinch of salt, this one suggests that Edinburgh is amongst the unhappiest cities in the UK. It seems that it's not leafy suburbs which harbour the happiest people but inner-city, stay-at-home mums who are happiest with their lot. The survey of 2,000 people across the UK exploded some other stereotypes - men and women over 55 turned out to be the happiest group in society. Instead of being grumpy old men and women with one foot in the grave, they are more likely to have a spring in their step.
An Urban Myth is Born
Staff at the up-market Harvey Nichols store in Edinburgh were surprised recently to find that a larger number than usual of expectant mothers seemed to be browsing in the store and having afternoon tea in the restaurant. Then security staff began to wonder if a new breed of shoplifter had arrived as heavily pregnant women seemed to be loitering in the store. Eventually, the store had to issue an official statement that, contrary to the rumours sweeping ante-natal classes and doctor's surgeries, they were not giving gift vouchers to expectant mums if, by chance, they went into labour in the store. Nobody really knows who gave birth to this urban myth - but a number of stores did admit that individual managers had discretion to offer a gift if, by accident, a lady went into labour in their department store.
British Summer Time Begins
The change from Greenwich Mean Time to Summer Time officially takes place at 1am on Sunday 27 March this year. All the clocks will move forward by one hour, producing longer daylight hours in the evenings. But bars in Oban were amongst those bemoaning the fact that the local licensing board had decreed that they will have to call time and close an hour early on Sunday morning. The Saturday night of the Easter weekend is one of their busiest of the year and getting an extra hour at the end of October, when the clocks are moved back again, will not compensate for their loss of trade.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The passing of the vernal equinox and the arrival of "British Summer Time" does not always guarantee that the weather will be getting better but this week the thermometer did seem to pick up quite a bit, after the colder spells earlier this month. Last Sunday, Aviemore reached 18C (64F) and had ten hours of sunshine - though further south, St Andrews in Fife still shivered at 8C (46F) and only 30 minutes of sunshine. Later in the week, temperatures were mainly on the region of 14/16C (57/61F) though Aberdeen dipped to 11C (52F) on Thursday. Sunshine was in short supply in the west of the country for most of the week but eastern locations such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen had a number of days with appreciable amounts of sunshine.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland shows first of all the yellow blooms of the Forsythia shrub (named after Scotsman William Forsyth (1737-1804) from Old Meldrum who became Superintendent of the Royal Gardens of St James and Kensington). Below is the cherry blossom which is now bursting out all over the country as a result of the milder weather. Then there is an illustration of two swans in "battle stations" formation, ready to chase off any rivals. Finally, the Great Crested Grebe at Drumpellier Country Park in North Lanarkshire in the picture below has been at Drumpellier with his mate for a number of years - clearly the anglers on the bank of the loch are not going to get it all their own way...