"Don't Panic" as Geldof Invites a Million to Edinburgh
Demonstrations, charity concerts and marches already planned to coincide with the G8 conference at Gleneagles in Perthshire in July are already overstretching the Scottish police forces who have to protect the world leaders and maintain law and order amid threats from a minority of protestors reported to be planning to "bring Scotland to her knees." Then Sir Bob Geldof announced this week that a series of six pop concerts are being organised around the world on 2 July to focus attention on world poverty and put pressure on the G8 leaders to do something about it. "Live 8" is seen as a follow-up to Live Aid 20 years ago to highlight the famine in Ethiopia and raise funds to alleviate it. During the press conference Geldof called on "everyone" to give up two days of work or schooling to travel to Edinburgh by any means possible for a march in Scotland's capital. He suggested that a million people joining a "Make Poverty History" march in Scotland's capital city would make the heads of state sit up and take notice. Indeed it would - a million people descending on a city of 450,000 would create nightmarish logistical problems not just for those living there but for those arriving if they have no accommodation - or even toilet facilities. Unlike the march already planned for Edinburgh on July 2, when 100,000 are expected to participate, this new demonstration is being planned at the last minute. Later, Midge Ure who accompanied Bob Geldof on the platform when the "million people in Edinburgh" call was made, suggested that the authorities should not "panic" as the number had been plucked out of the air. But Geldof then insisted that he was sticking with his million figure as a large number was the way to attract attention.
Red Faces for Inspiring Capital
Last week Edinburgh unveiled its new "brand" with the slogan "Edinburgh - Inspiring Capital". But anyone searching for Inspiring Capital on Google will find, after a couple of newspaper articles on the story, a Web site with the domain name www.inspiringcapital.com. However, the site was set up by someone who has created a tirade of abuse and criticism of Edinburgh City politicians and the London-based company that charged them £800,000 for the project - and forgot to register the domain name. An Edinburgh-based businessman is believed to have registered the name a month ago and is using it to highlight the failings of the capital's governing bodies. Edinburgh City Council and the marketing company tried to brush off the oversight - others were more scathing of the failure.
It Just Isn't Cricket
With so many images of Edinburgh which are recognised around the world, you would have thought that selecting graphics to promote the Capital, attract tourists and promote the new "Inspiring Capital" brand would have been easy. So what did they select as the first examples? Well, there is that quintessentially English sport of cricket, a display window from a vintage clothes shop and one of the Beltane Fire Festival (which Edinburgh City Council nearly killed off), complete with topless women covered in red paint. Of course, the National Cricket Academy in Ravelston was delighted (at least about the use of cricket in the initial campaign), claiming that the sport is more popular than rugby in Scotland.
Does Glasgow Need a "Cafe in the Square"?
The City of Glasgow Council is determined to progress their idea to build a cafe in George Square, in the north-west corner of the city's main central open space. It would be directly in front of the Millennium Hotel, blocking the view of the square from the windows of the restaurant. The Council claims that "two out of three people who took part in the survey were in favour of a café in George Square". But anyone wanting to see the plans for the six shortlisted designs had just three days at the end of June to view the drawings. And although there is a web page inviting comments on the proposals, there are no illustrations there. The Scottish quality press and the Evening Times did manage to publish architects impressions and these drew adverse comments, including "None of these" and "George Square is the only true open space in the heart of Glasgow, and as such offers welcome respite, in all weathers, from the claustrophobic streets of the bustling city. So what does the city council decide to do? Yes that's right, stick a needless cafe in this very important space". One of the designs has water cascading down the cafe windows and this is seen as innovative - but it was suggested that in Glasgow's wet climate most Glasgow cafes already have that feature. It's not as if Glasgow is short of cafes - there's a Starbucks or Costa Coffee on just about every corner.
Scotland Fails to Attract East European Workers
Figures published recently by the Home Office in London show that 176,000 Eastern Europeans have arrived in the UK to work, following the expansion of the European Union to that part of the continent. That figure is considerably higher than earlier government forecasts. Most of the immigrant workers are young and single - 82% are aged between 18 and 34. But despite Scotland's "Fresh Talent" initiative, which is actively encouraging qualified skilled people from other parts of the world to come to work here, only 10,000 have arrived in Scotland from Eastern Europe in the last year in Scotland looking for work. Since Scotland's population is roughly 10% of the UK, that is far fewer than it should be. The Scottish Executive is about to launch a recruitment campaign in the new European Union countries, aimed at coping with a shortage of school teachers.
Holiday Chalets and Hotel for Strathclyde Park
North Lanarkshire Council is encouraging developers to make proposals for a new hotel, loch-side holiday lodges, a garden centre and a water-skiing centre in Strathclyde Park. This is 1,500 acres of woodland and wildlife reserve built round a man-made loch between Motherwell and Hamilton. Watersport facilities already operating in the park range from pedalos to windsurfing and the loch also provide's Scotland's only Olympic-standard rowing course. The aim is to attract more tourists to North Lanarkshire.
New Regional Park South of Edinburgh
Edinburgh City Council is considering the creation of a new regional park on 1,700 acres of greenbelt land south of the city, from Blackford Hill to the city by-pass, including the Braid Hills. Regional parks are large areas of protected countryside that lie close to Scotland's larger towns and cities, meaning they are popular for outdoor recreation. There are only three such designated areas in Scotland, so far: Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park in Inverclyde, Fife Regional Park and the Pentland Hills Regional Park (also south of Edinburgh). The council owns 385 acres of the proposed regional park, with the rest made up mainly of golf courses and agricultural land. The park would also incorporate Craigmillar Castle Jubilee Park - a maze of paths running through 148 acres of woodland and meadow to the south and east of Craigmillar Castle. Before it can be formally created, however, a public local inquiry would have to be set up and the project may take ten years to come to fruition.
Scottish Parliament Building Wins Design Award
The taxpayers may have reservations about the £431 million cost of the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh, but the building has won a clutch of awards from the architectural community. This week, it was the prestigious Scottish Design Awards, where it won the prize for the best publicly funded building. It has already been presented with the centenary medal from the Edinburgh Architectural Association and a prestigious Spanish design award. Not everyone agrees that it is a fine building - in a TV programme on Channel 4 it was branded by viewers as "a monument to everything that is wrong with politics" and "a cheap 70s Spanish hotel".
Scottish House Prices Falling
According to figures issued by Registers of Scotland, the Scottish Executive agency responsible for land and property records, the average price of homes sold in the first three months of this year fell by 2.4% to £115,283. The fall was the first dip in prices in over four years. Even so, the figure is 7.8% higher than the same period a year ago as prices were continuing to rise during 2004. Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre (GSPC) suggested that the figures were being distorted by Edinburgh house prices, as Glasgow is continuing to show an increase.
Twelve tourist businesses, including hotels, historic houses, golf clubs, visitor attractions and retailers have joined together to encourage visitors to come to Tayside and Fife under the umbrella of "Great Scotland". Members include Glamis Castle, St Andrews Bay Golf Club, Blair Castle (illustrated here) and Discovery Point in Dundee. The members aim to provide added-value offers and easy-to-book facilities to help visitors get the most out of their time in that part of Scotland. They have produced an information leaflet and there is a new Web site at www.greatscotland.co.uk.
New Train Timetable Adds to Journey Times
In an effort to achieve better punctuality levels, Scotrail have introduced a new timetable on the Fife circle line which adds two minutes to the arrival times of many trains. Recent figures have shown that 20% of trains on this network, which is used by 4,500 commuters a day, arrive late by five minutes or more. Despite the poor punctuality record, passenger numbers on the trains from Fife to Edinburgh have increased by 18% in the last year. It is claimed by Scotrail that this means that trains are having to stop longer at stations - thus increasing journey times - and the new timetable reflects this.
Plan to Expand Glasgow's Subway
It was the Victorians who had the vision to create an underground transport system in Glasgow. It was originally cable-driven and was electrified in 1935. The route is one complete circle with two lines of tracks in two separate tunnels - one going clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. It covers a distance of 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometres) on four feet gauge track around the city - a complete circuit takes just 25 minutes, stopping at 15 stations. Now Strathclyde Passenger Transport, which runs the subway, is to explore an expansion of the system with new stations, possibly utilising disused mainline railway track. Glasgow's underground system is the third oldest metro system in the world - but it is also the only one which has never been extended - so far.
Beating Smoking Ban With Rooftop Bar
The owner of the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant and bar has responded to complaints from some customers about the ban on smoking from next year in all public premises under laws passed by the Scottish Parliament. Ronnie Clydesdale (a lifelong non-smoker) wants to create an open-air terrace on the roof of his premises, where customers can drink and smoke legally. Subject to planning approval, he hopes to have the new area operational before the ban comes into force. But if smokers are prepared to brave the rigours of Glasgow weather on an open rooftop, it is an illustration of just how addictive nicotine can be...
Ferry is Ship Shape
Ever since it began operating in May 2002, there has been concern that the Superfast ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in Belgium would not be profitable enough to ensure its long-term future. This is the only direct ferry link between Scotland and the continent of Europe and it carries both passengers and trucks. The latest annual report from the Greek parent company operating the service does show a slight fall in passenger numbers last year, but freight traffic was up significantly - and that's where the profits are made. The slight decline was attributed to the fact that some ferries were taken out of service for a total of four weeks to allow an expansion of passenger accommodation. The freight traffic carried by the ferry results in a significant reduction in the volume of commercial vehicles on the roads.
No Room in Inverness?
Although many parts of the Highlands are continuing to experience a decline in population, Inverness (often referred to as the "Capital of the Highlands") is continuing to expand and Highland Council is predicting that 10,000 new homes will be needed in the Inverness and Nairn areas by 2017. The A96 road between the two conurbations is seen as the likely location for such expansion, as the city is surrounded in other directions by the sea, mountains and Loch Ness. A local landowner in the area suggested this week that a new town - named Castle Stuart after a local castle - would be the ideal location. Highland Council have not made any decisions on that one, but have recommended a new railway station at Inverness Airport which would be handy for those living in the proposed "Castle Stuart". A new access road to the airport is already under construction.
Blue Flags for Seven Scottish Beaches
The European Union "Blue Flag" is the gold standard and international benchmark for water quality, environmental and facility management on beaches across the continent. Seven Scottish beaches have been awarded a Blue Flag this year - two more than last year. The new beaches are in Tayside at Montrose and Broughty Ferry. The existing Blue Flag winners are all in Fife, at Aberdour Silversands (pictured here), Burntisland, Elie and St Andrews East and West Sands. Of course, many remote beaches, particularly on the west coast, do not have the "facility management" that this award requires. However, last year 93% of Scottish beaches met European bathing water standards.
Seabirds Failing to Raise Young
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust for Scotland are reporting that global warming and a decline in the traditional food sources is having a negative impact on seabirds that breed at sites along the Scottish coasts. They have observed delays in nesting by birds such as kittiwakes, Arctic skuas, guillemots and puffins and another disastrous breeding season is being predicted. North Sea temperatures have risen by 2C in the last 25 years and sand eels, a major source of food for sea birds, are at a dangerously low level. While fishing has had an impact, it is also thought that the eels have moved further north, out of easy reach of the nesting seabirds. 2004 was the worst year on record for birds on Orkney and Shetland.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures in central Scotland this week were around 15/16C (59/61F) in the early part of the week but fell to a somewhat chillier 12/13C (54/55F) on Wednesday before recovering and reaching 17/19C (63/66F) on Thursday and Friday. Aberdeen, in the north-esat of the country had even greater fluctuations in the maximum daily temperatures, recording 13C (55F) in the early part of the week before dipping to 9C (48F) in Wednesday. But by Friday Aberdeen was recording 20C (68F). There was a good amount of sunshine in the first half of the week (Aberdeen had over 18 hours of sun on Monday/Tuesday but there was more shower activity and heavier rain on Wednesday/Thursday across Scotland before the sun broke through again on Friday.
The pictures taken this week to illustrate the current season in Scotland show first of all (above left) a Small Copper butterfly. This one, with a number of others, was spotted at Vane Farm wildlife reserve beside Loch Leven near Kinross. This was my first sighting of a Small Copper this year.
This Mecanopsis was photographed in the garden of Bolfracks House near Aberfeldy in Perthshire. The rain was pouring down at the time - but that just makes for a more attractive picture with the raindrops gathered on the flowers!
These fluffy cygnets look as though they have hatched fairly recently. Although other lochs have had cygnets for a number of weeks (pictures of cygnets on Kilmardinny Loch appeared in this Newsletter on 19th May), these are the first to show themselves on the water at Drumpellier Country Park in North Lanarkshire.
It's not just water birds on show at Drumpellier Country Park - the gardens are showing off their finery with tulips, pansies, aquilegia and azaleas.
This Great Crested Grebe had just caught a fish in the loch at Drumpellier and was carrying it off in triumph to its mate. The grebe has a courtship display and will often perform what looks like a synchronised dance involving the presentation of food, usually weeds.