G8 Protestors Demand a March to Gleneagles
There has been a lot of shadow-boxing between the authorities and the protestors who want to take their demonstrations as near as possible to the G8 conference of world leaders at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. The main event, with possibly 100,000 people, was being organised in Edinburgh with a "Make Poverty History" march. Then Bob Geldof came along with his suggestion of a million people going to Edinburgh on 6 July (the day the heads of state are meeting at Gleneagles and a Live 8 Concert is being staged at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium). But many demonstrators want to go to Gleneagles to make their point. Initially, the authorities would only allow them to get as far as the little town of Auchterarder, saying that public safety would be put at risk if they got any closer. Bearing in mind that the public park in Auchterarder has a maximum capacity of 4,500 and that organisers say that 20,000 people could turn up, that didn't sound very sensible. So now the police officer in charge of security has said that a march along the perimeter fence would be allowed, "provided that they did not break the law". The steel fence, which encircles the hotel a mile away, has been erected at a cost of £1 million. While peaceful demonstrations are being encouraged by all those involved, past experience of G8 conference protests show that they attract a fringe element that is prepared to resort to breaking the law to make their point. It could be argued that the protestors have already achieved a great deal. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown appear to have brokered a deal to wipe out the borrowing of £30 billion by 18 of the world's poorest countries.
Green Light for New Forth Bridge
Every time it is suggested that the problems of the overcrowded Forth Road bridge should be alleviated by building a second crossing, there is an outcry from those who argue that more users of the over 24 million vehicles who use the bridge each year (up from 18 million in 1993) should turn to public transport, thus removing the need for a second bridge. So it is surprising that plans for a second crossing at Kincardine Bridge, fifteen miles further up the river, have been given the go-ahead. Work is to start next year and completion is scheduled by the end of 2008. Combined with the recently opened eastern Link Road, it means that through traffic will no longer pass through the town of Kincardine. The route was selected with particular care to minimise any impacts on the saltmarsh and mudflats at Kincardine that form part of the internationally important bird feeding grounds in the Forth Estuary. The new crossing will start with a flyover at Bowtrees roundabout at the end of the M876 and pass through the coal yards of a disused power station.
The illustration shows the existing Kincardine Bridge.
Mixed Picture for Scottish Manufacturers
The latest quarterly Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) from the Royal Bank of Scotland suggests that employment in the sector has fallen at the sharpest rate for two years and that export orders have fallen slightly for the first time since August 2003. Even so, Scotland was the third fastest growing area of the 12 in the UK since output at least continued to grow - unlike the UK as a whole. Despite the decline in manufacturing work force, a faster expansion of employment in the service sector meant that there was an overall increase in private sector employment. That contrasts with the situation in many other parts of the UK where employment levels are in decline.
Scottish Retail Sales Growth Still Ahead
Figures published by the Scottish Retail Consortium this week show that Scottish High Street sales grew by more than the rest of the UK last month. Like-for-like sales grew by 1.8% and total sales rose by 5.5% in Scotland; the equivalent figures for the UK showed a 2.4% decline in like-for-like sales and a 1.4% rise in total sales. A major factor has been that the slowdown in the Scottish housing market has been less severe.
Increase in Smokers Seeking Help to Quit
The ban on smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants, seems to have led to a 50% increase in the number of smokers contacting a help-line looking for help to give up cigarettes. Scottish doctors have also noticed that the ban (which comes into effect in April next year) is given as a reason by many patients seeking help. Sales of anti-smoking prescriptions and nicotine patches have also soared.
World Class Centre for Cancer Research
The Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow's West End is to be developed with a £100 million makeover to become a world-class centre for cancer research. A Cancer Clinical Trials Unit Scotland is to be created there and is expected to attract top cancer specialists. A new world-class leukemia research laboratory at the same site was announced earlier this month.
GNER Bans Smoking on Inter-City Trains
The rail company operating trains from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow is to ban smoking throughout its trains from this summer. Research showed that 90% of GNER passengers do not smoke and most wanted smoking abolished. Customer complaints about smoking have increased significantly and GNER say that passenger tolerance about smoking being allowed even in restricted areas is at a low ebb.
Edinburgh Motorists Now Need a Tape Measure
Proposals from Edinburgh City Council will mean that any cars parked more than twelve inches from the kerb would be liable for a parking fine. There have been recent cases in the city where fire engines have not been able to get through streets where cars are double parked (though this was outside the meter zone) and cars parked sloppily have caused obstructions too. The new rules would apply on roads within the capital. It is estimated that almost a third of cars are parked more than a foot from the pavement. Motoring organisations agreed that irresponsible parking could not be condoned, but they pointed out that there is a chronic lack of parking spaces in Edinburgh. That can often lead to drivers attempting to park in restricted spaces.
Fall in Death Toll on Scottish Roads
There was a 7% reduction in the number of people killed on Scotland's roads - down from 331 in 2003 to 307 last year. Child deaths and serious injuries were also down by 55% compared with the average for 1994 to 1998. The number of serious injuries is now at the lowest level since records began more than 50 years ago. The Scottish Executive claims that their Road Safety Campaign was a major factor in the decrease in fatalities and injuries, with money pumped into cycling, walking and safer streets projects. Motor cars themselves are getting better able to reduce injuries and death and improved assisted braking systems are also helping them stop more quickly in an emergency.
Royal Highland Showground Fights Back
The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) which operates the show ground at Ingliston, where Scotland's largest agricultural event, the Royal Highland Show, is staged each year, has been on the site for 50 years. It is understandably unhappy at the plans of Edinburgh airport next door to take over their site to build a second runway. The society claims that moving the ground to another site would lose Edinburgh and its environs £100 million a year and relocation would cost the society £400 million. In addition to the Royal Highland Show, there are around 150 events each year at Ingliston and the site attracts 1.2 million visitors. The society fears that any new site would have poorer transport links and would reduce the number of visitors to the events. The airport is forecasting a 300% increase in its current eight million passengers a year by 2030 and needs the extra runway to cope. The showground managers want it to continue to exist alongside an expanded airport.
Rail Viaduct Saves Playing Fields in Airport Link
Although it is the more expensive option, Strathclyde Passenger Transport has buckled under public pressure and has agreed to build a viaduct across the football pitches at St James in Paisley as part of a new rail link to Glasgow airport This will mean that only four of the 22 pitches will be lost. Local people had mounted a campaign to save the sports ground as the transport company tried to push through an embankment instead of a viaduct. That option would have led to the loss of more pitches and, more importantly, would have split the recreation ground in two.The £140 million rail link will allow trains to run from Glasgow direct to the airport, using a spur from Paisley St James Station.
Eden of the North
Scotland has a wealth of gardens which are open to visitors but the planned Calyx centre outside Perth will be a stupendous addition. The £30 million project will be built on a 60-acre site beside the existing 6 acre Cherrybank Garden and will have 30 themed gardens, 20 competition gardens and a sky walk through the treetops. And with Scotland's unreliable weather in mind and to create a year-round attraction, much of it will be covered by huge transparent domes. The Eden project in Cornwall showed how popular such a facility could be and the Calyx centre aims to be twice as large. A number of celebrity gardeners have voiced their support for the centre and there is political support too. But the project has been in the planning stage for many years and the all important funding has yet to be put in place. Even so, the Scotland's Garden Trust, who are progressing the project, hope to have the Calyx centre open by 2008. See also www.thecalyx.co.uk.
Scotland's First Marine Park
The coastline of mainland Scotland is 6,200 miles long so it is surprising that the idea of a marine park has not surfaced before. Now, however, the Scottish Executive has asked Scottish Natural Heritage to draw up a report on such a proposal - and identify where it should be. Pilot projects have been launched in Shetland, on the Clyde and at St Abbs Head in Berwickshire but the site of a national marine park could cover both land and sea and may come under the same legislation that covers the Cairngorm and Loch Lomond parks. The announcement came in the same week as a report was published by the Marine Conservation society which says that the sightings of basking sharks in Scottish waters has increased by 65% over the last four years. This is due to plankton on which they feed spreading northwards with rising sea temperatures resulting from global warming. Basking sharks can reach 11 metres in length and weigh up to seven tonnes.
Degree of Success for Prince William
Prince William, second in line to the throne, will graduate from St Andrews University later this month after achieving an upper-second class degree in geography, the highest result achieved by any member of the royal family in recent times. He had been hoping for this result as his grades indicated that this was likely, but a lot depended on his final year dissertation - on the coral reefs of Rodriguez in the Indian Ocean. The prince will be 23 next week and the Queen and Prince Philip will be attending the graduation ceremony at St Andrews.
The illustration shows St Salvator college where Prince William first lodged when he went to St Andrews University.
TV Chef Whets Appetites for Inverness Restaurant
TV celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (who began his working life as a footballer, playing for Rangers at one stage before injury forced him out of the game) is known for his sharp words and explosive outbursts. So it was a gamble for the multi-millaire owner of the restaurant in the Glenmoriston Hotel in Inverness to invite Ramsay to turn round a restaurant which appeared to be in crisis and losing money - and do it in front of a TV camera crew. The team of French chefs were using the best of local ingredients but there was a lack of customers. Ramsay had a week to turn the restaurant around. He identified that the chefs were creating dishes that were too complicated and he added a Scottish flavour to a revamped menu. He even got the chefs to wear kilts in the kitchen to emphasise the Scottish element. The restaurant was renamed Abstract and after the Ramsay makeover it won a Scottish "best hotel restaurant" award. Then, as soon as the programme was televised this week, bookings began to flood in from all over the UK, some of them for months ahead. Loic Lefebvre, the head chef, is aiming to win a Michelin star.
North Sea Oil Companies Could Lose Licences
A report published this week is threatening tough action on oil companies who are sitting on licences to drill in UK waters in the North Sea but have yet to commence operations, many years after being granted the licence. Under the plans, the UK energy minister could order companies to give up or sell on assets that are not being drilled. There is concern that the North Sea could stop producing oil by 2035 - with billions of barrels of oil amounting to 50% of the reserves left under the seabed. It is thought that at least 20/30 blocks of the North Sea which have been allocated to oil companies remain unexplored. Oil production from the North Sea declined by 10% last year, one of the largest drops by any oil-producing nation in 2004.
Memories of Red Clydeside
In the 1920s, Glasgow had a reputation as a hotbed of radical socialism and was nicknamed "Red Clydeside". Now the river Clyde is to be turned red - literally. Scottish Water is to release a fluorescent red dye into the river and will then track it downstream to allow the engineers to calculate how long it takes for water from a sewer overflow and water treatment works to mix into the river. The experts insist that the red dye will not harm the fish or wildlife in any way - though they may get a bit of a surprise.
Five Stars for City Hotel
The Radisson Hotel in Glasgow's Argyle Street has won a string of awards for its striking architecture, but no doubt the management were even more pleased this week when VisitScotland, the country's tourism agency, awarded it a five-star rating. The Radisson is only the third hotel in Glasgow to be given this top rating - the others are the Hilton and One Devonshire Gardens. The hotel opened in 2002 and has 250 luxury rooms, a hi-tech gym and a 15-metre swimming pool. It was named Glasgow Hotel of the Year in 2004.
Artist Put on the Map - Literally
Jack Vettriano, Scotland's most popular and successful contemporary artist, has been honoured by his home town of Leven in Fife by having a street named after him - 300 yards from the local authority rented house where he was born. His parents looked on as Vettriano Vale was unveiled and the artist recalled the enjoyment of growing up in the town. He jokingly suggested that "Jack Street might have been less fuss, but that's the local council for you." A Vettriano painting, the "Singing Butler" sold for £744,800 last year but it is the sales of large numbers of reproductions of his works which has made the artist so well known.
Slaying Tourists, Not Mice
During his 24-year career at the Glenturret Distillery near Crieff, Towser the resident cat (pictured here) caught a staggering 28,899 mice - an average of three a day. He now has a place in the Guinness Book of Records for his feat. He eventually went to the great feline cat basket in the sky in 1988 and a new cat, named Amber, took his place. Either Towser had done too good a job or Amber was made of different stuff, because during her 16 year career at Glenturret she never produced a single mouse - though she did injure herself cornering one mouse, which escaped. Maybe she was just put off by the statue to Towser in the forecourt - or the large number of souvenirs bearing Towser's portrait on sale in the distillery shop. When she passed on earlier this year, the distillery went looking for another replacement, but by this time the job description had changed. The distillery decided that vermin were no longer a problem (Towser must have been spinning in his grave at this concept) and decided to recruit a cat which (like Towser, after all) would capture the hearts of the many tourists who come to the distillery, home of the Famous Grouse brand. In the end, after "interviewing" nine applicants, they decided that no one cat could fill Towser's pawprints and have appointed two cats instead. So Dylan, a ginger and white male from Forfar and Brooke, a semi-long-haired black and white female from Glasgow were selected. Any cat named Brooke must be a feisty feline to survive in Glasgow.
Shelling Out for a Big Breakfast
Shoppers in Forfar in Angus will be the first in Scotland to be able to buy eggs which are six times the size of ordinary eggs, measuring eight inches by four inches. At £3 each, the eggs from the South American rhea will also be 20 times the price of a hen's egg. The birds are similar to ostriches and emus and lay eggs for only three months in the year. The owner of the Kookaburra restaurant outside Forfar owns six of the birds and a supply of eggs are being sold at the farmer's market in the town.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures hovered around 15/16C (59/61F) for much of the week but on Friday the thermometer rose and reached a pleasant 21C (70F) in Edinburgh and nearly that in other parts of the country. Sunshine was in short supply again this week, though Aberdeen recorded 6.7 hours on Friday. 18 hours of heavy rain in Moray on Monday raised the spectre of flooding, similar to that in 1997 and 2003 but fortunately the rain eased off and the rivers subsided.
The pictures taken this week to illustrate the current season in Scotland show first of all a Common Spotted Orchid growing in the nature reserve at Aberlady Bay in East Lothian, east of Edinburgh.
This multi-coloured broom, growing in the gardens of Megginch Castle in Perthshire, between Perth and Dundee, looks more like a painting than a photograph.
The Cistus or Sun Rose is quite a delicate plant but is becoming more popular as the milder winters are not creating too much frost damage. This example was growing outside the Butterfly and Insect World at Lasswade in Midlothian.
This large Poppy was growing in the walled garden at Megginch Castle. Unfortunately, much of the garden has become overgrown with weeds but strong plants such as the poppy are still putting on a brave show.
The cute chicks of the Coots are growing up fast at Drumpellier Country Park. This one is nearly are large as its parent and is perfectly capable of looking after itself, but still demands food.