Return to Former Glory?
To the citizens of Edinburgh, Princes Street is the jewel in the crown of shopping in the capital, if not the whole of Scotland. If the fine, classical shops had remained intact, however, retailers would have been fighting for a presence there. But over the years, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, a good number of buildings were "redeveloped" with standard, modern, tasteless units, which destroyed the character of the street. Gradually, the shine has gone off the crown jewels - and rental values, once amongst the highest in the UK, have fallen. Princes Street is now 12th in the UK rental value league table (with Croydon, part of the London sprawl commanding higher rents than Princes Street). Recently, plans were announced for an adult gaming centre with bingo and a tanning studio on the famous street, which will not exactly enhance its reputation! Of course, some retailers blame the traffic mismanagement schemes of the city council over the years, driving shoppers to out-of-town malls. Now, however, city leaders have announced a major facelift over the next ten years for the venerable street, under the title of "Inspiring Action", with some of the most unattractive buildings being torn down. A Dutch company, which specialises in the regeneration of sensitive city areas, has been engaged to research the options, after discussing the viability of redevelopment with owners.
Death Knell of Edinburgh Eyesore?
St James Centre (originally New St Andrew House) and the adjoining St James Centre were built in the 1960s, using concrete instead of stone. The building dominates the skyline of Edinburgh from many view-points and its brutal, modern, angular design is regarded by many as a monstrosity. It certainly stands out like a sore thumb amongst Edinburgh's historic and elegant buildings. Some years ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland was on ther point of taking over the ugly building, with a view to demolishing it to create a new world HQ but that deal fell through. Now, the St James Shopping Centre, the former Scottish Office building, the Thistle Hotel and the huge John Lewis department store have all been put up for sale by its pension fund owners. This has raised the hopes that the eyesore will be redeveloped and a new world-class building will be created instead. Already there is talk of a adding another 250,000 square feet of retail space and building a major new residential development on top of an overhauled shopping mall - though how that would produce an enhanced skyline remains to be seen. Many of the retailers in the shopping centre have long-term leases and may well be unwilling to move out, even temporarily, when building works are launched.
Co-ordinating Edinburgh and Glasgow
The rivalry between Edinburgh (Scotland's capital) and Glasgow (the country's largest city) has been going on for centuries. There is even a book which gathers together the jokes and insults which each city has thrown at the other. But the two cities are the twin engines of the Scottish economy and there have been times when competition between the two locations has been counter-productive. So the city councils in the two cities and Scottish Enterprise are to fund a "Collaboration Tsar" who will try to get them to work more closely together for such things as joint hosting of major conferences, exhibitions and sporting events. The role will also involve lobbying for better transport links between the two cities and promoting the cities around the world as the two main gateways for tourists visiting Scotland. The news post is being funded for a three year period. While the aims are laudable, hopefully the competitive element is not lost - and the humour at each other's expense continues.
Castle Arena Plans
Plans have been unveiled which would replace the aging temporary seating structures for the Military Tattoo. These are put up each year on Edinburgh Castle esplanade for the 220,000 visitors who pack the seating during the three weeks of the performances. Currently, it takes two months to build the structures and another six weeks to take them down. During that time, the view of the castle, on the approach from the Royal Mile, is obstructed. Historic Scotland, who administer Scotland's most popular tourist attraction for which an entry fee is charged, is to commission a feasibility study to produce plans for new stands. These could be set up and taken down more quickly - and would provide an awning to provide some protection from the rain. The hope is that these would allow them to be erected at other times of the year to allow the staging of concerts and historical re-enactments, but without ruining the look of the area.
Free Eye Tests in Sight for All
The Scottish Executive may be struggling to organise dental care under the National Health Service, but they have this week managed to reach an agreement with Optometry Scotland which will mean that everyone in Scotland will become entitled to a free eye check from 2007 onwards. This will not just be a basic eye tes,t but will involve an appropriate health assessment of their whole visual system. The aim is to identify problems at an early stage, so that treatment can be started before they become more serious.
First Minister Visits North America
Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell was in New York all this week trying to highlight the "vibrancy and energy" of modern Scotland. Meetings were arranged with businessman Donald Trump (whose mother was born on the Isle of Lewis). He also met Hugh Boyle, the Scots-born founder of Zoom Airways whose budget flights between Scotland and Canada have transformed travel between the two countries. McConnell also met the Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin. While talking to a group of schoolchildren in the South Bronx, former teacher McConnell revealed that he would "rather be a maths teacher than First Minister." During the visit, he announced that a tour by a dead sheep in North America would be a symbol of the new dynamic Scotland. Admittedly, the sheep in question is the stuff of legend, namely the stuffed remains of Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep, currently on display on the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The animal will be part of a touring exhibition which will call at Canada's ten provinces before moving on to the US.
First Minister Heads New Financial Services Board
At least officially, the financial services industry in Scotland say that they welcome the decision of First Minister Jack McConnell to chair the new Financial Services Advisory Board (FiSAB). The new organisation is a joint venture between government and Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE). It aims to tackle issues such as transport links and infrastructure, skills shortages and lobby London and Brussels to make business more attractive in Scotland. Financial services in Scotland have been highly successful and have been a major contributor to economic growth. The sector has been expanding four times faster than the overall Scottish economy. Cynics might suggest that the First Minister is looking to garner some of the credit for future success in the industry, but if the leaders of the banks, insurance companies and fund managers play their cards right, they will at least have the ear of the First Minister on a regular basis - a situation which has not always been the case. But the involvement of the First Minister has also raised concerns about the independence of the new Financial Services Advisory Board.
Massive New Shopping Centre Underway
Motorists who get snarled up in the roadworks beside the redevelopment of the Pollok shopping centre in the south of Glasgow, had better get used to it, as traffic in the area is just going to get heavier. Once the work has been completed on the £350 million centre, there will be over a million square feet of shopping and leisure space, attracting customers from all over Glasgow and beyond. It will be one of the largest retail centres in Scotland. City centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen have more retail space, but not all under one roof. It will be as large as Braehead near Renfrew but East Kilbride is larger with 1.2 million square feet. The Tesco supermarket there will be the biggest in Scotland and other big names such as Debenhams and Marks & Spencer have already taken space. More than 100 cranes will be needed to create the structure which is to be called "Silverburn." Pollok is a large local authority housing area, but the new centre is being aimed at more affluent shoppers. The developers claim it will provide "the very best of high street shopping but with the convenience of having it under one roof." it will open in the autumn of 2007.
Air Canada Leaving Scotland
There was disappointment this week when Air Canada announced that it is to drop its flights from Glasgow to Toronto, after being part of the aviation scene in Scotland for 60 years. Air Canada flew daily flights in the summer months from May to October. But citing "schedule changes" it has said that the flights will not be coming back next year. Air Canada has faced fierce competition from budget airlines such as Zoom and charter flights organised by Air Transat, a Canadian-based travel company. Traffic on the route increased by 10% last year and Toronto is the second most popular long-haul destination from Glasgow after Dubai. Ironically, Air Canada lobbied hard to get permission to fly the Canada to Glasgow routes after 45 years of being forced to use Prestwick airport in Ayrshire. They achieved their objective 15 years ago. Within days of the announcement, however, budget airline Canadian Affair had announced that they would start daily flights between the two cities next summer. And after talks between First Minister Jack McConnell and the Scottish-born chief executive of Canadian low-cost airline Zoom, it was announced that Zoom would increase its frequency of flights from two to three a week next summer.
Design of New "National Arena" Unveiled
Architect's drawings and plans for the new £62 million national arena to be built on the banks of the river Clyde, beside the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, were unveiled this week. The architectural firm involved is led by Sir Norman Foster, who designed the adjacent Clyde Auditorium (more often referred to as the Armadillo because of its unusual shape). The 12,500-seat venue, described as reminiscent of a Roman amphitheatre, will be the largest of its kind in Scotland and the third largest indoor venue in the UK. Views from all of the 12,500 seats will be superb, with acoustics of the highest standard. Its main focus will be hosting entertainment shows, but it will also accommodate concerts, children's shows, ice shows and sporting events. It will rise to 148 feet (45 metres) and have a dome measuring 394 feet (120 metres) across. The front of the building is to be clad in a translucent material which can be lit at night and change its appearance to suit individual events. Even though the designs were only revealed this week, the Glaswegian proclivity to apply a nickname to structures (from the Doge's Palace at Glasgow Green to the new Squinty Bridge over the Clyde) is in full flight. The front-runners appear to be Starship Enterprise, the Chameleon and the Oyster. The building is part of a major masterplan to develop the 64-acre site beside the SECC.
Whisky Exports Break Billion Pound Barrier
Booming exports to South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela and South Africa helped the Scottish whisky industry to sell more than a billion pounds worth of spirit for the first time in the six months from January to June this year. The top export market remains USA, where sales grew by a bumper 7%. Sales to France, Spain, Greece and Germany declined during those six months, due to Europe's continuing economic problems, but other countries more than made up for that. Emerging markets such as China performed well too - sales in China soared by 124% in the first six months of 2005.
Kirk's New Moderator
The Church of Scotland rules require that the post of Moderator to lead the organisation has to rotate every year. It will be up to the church's General Assembly next year to confirm the appointment for the following twelve months, but the Rev Alan D McDonald, a parish minister in Fife, has been chosen as moderator designate. He initially studied law and worked as a solicitor before returning to university to study divinity. Aged 54, he has served as a minister in Edinburgh and Aberdeen before moving to his present post as minister for the parishes of Cameron and St Leonards, in St Andrews.
Bus Group Wins Planning Permission
Despite strong opposition from nearby residents, Aberdeen-based transport company FirstGroup, the UKís largest surface transportation company, has won approval from the city council for their plans to create a new £10 million global HQ on a greenfield site at Woodside in the Don valley. The decision was contrary to the council's own planning committee's recommendation and sidelined the signatures of 10,000 objectors. But the city planning committee convener said that refusal would be "foolhardy and an economic tragedy". He argued that blocking the development would have a serious negative impact on inward investment to the city and Aberdeen City Council would be seen as a "pretendie wee council" with no backbone. But objectors pointed out that it was located near a notorious traffic bottleneck and that the site was totally inappropriate. The inclusion of facilities to garage buses in the plans was particularly objectionable. FirstGroup, which grew from a few local buses to a major international transport firm, with operations in North America as well as the UK, had hinted in recent months that it would consider leaving Aberdeen or even Scotland if no suitable site for their project was found. In the end, after three hours of heated debate, the full city council approved the development by 25 votes to 15.
Baxters New Retail Outlet Officially Opens - At Last
Audrey Baxter, the boss of the Fochabers-based food company that carries her family name, was on hand this week to open a new 28,000 square feet flagship retail outlet at Tullibardine in Blackford, Perthshire. It's just off the busy A9 trunk road between Stirling and Perth. Baxters is the anchor tenant - but other companies, including the Tullibardine "1488" whisky distillery with its tours and fine restaurant, have been open for over a year. Baxters was supposed to open then too, but as time went on, with the building looking complete from the outside, there was no sign of the jams to soup company. It eventually opened its doors last month, with the "official" launch this week. The chief executive suggested that other retail outlets might appear in the future. Baxters has been a family business for 137 years and is looking to expand its operations in Canada as the company works hard at increasing turnover.
Apple iPods a Core Business
Scottish electronics company Wolfson Microelectronics has seen its profits rise as a result of supplying a key component for the Apple iPod. The number of the portable music players sold has increased by 220% compared to a year ago and that has been music to the ears of Wolfson. They also make chips for the new hand-held Sony PlayStation and TomTom satellite navigation systems.
Exhibition of Scottish Books in Washington DC
A Scottish Writing Exhibition is to take place at the Modern Language Association convention in Washington DC, from 27-30 December 2005. Most exhibitions show books from one publisher, but this one will be showing books from 21 publishers, 17 of which are Scottish, and all are dedicated to Scottish writing. It will give visitors to the exhibition a sample of what fantastic books are being written in Scotland today as well as world classics like Barbour's Bruce and Blind Harry's Wallace - as well as everything in between, such as books on the Scottish Enlightenment and Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song. There will be books in English, Scots and Gaelic, poetry and fiction, children's books, music, history and literary analysis. The aim is to encourage and support university lecturers to teach Scottish Studies using Scottish books. For more information, see www.scottishwriting.org.uk.
Road to the Isles No Longer Single Track
Parts of the trunk road between Fort William and Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland in Argyll - known as the "Road to the Isles" - is still single track, with passing places. While that might have been acceptable in years gone by, the increasing volume of traffic (including fish lorries and tourist buses) means that there are long delays at busy times, especially in the summer. At last, the remaining four-mile stretch is to be converted to two lanes (one in each direction). This will mean that the last section of single-track "A" road in the UK will be upgraded to modern standards.
One Cobblestone at a Time
The Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is actually one mile and 107 yards long. Once the main thoroughfare of the capital, it lost its pre-eminence once Edinburgh "New Town" was built to the north of the castle. It has to be said that these days, although there are still plenty of attractive, historic buildings along its length (including St Giles Cathedral and the John Knox House), many of the small shops have become outlets for tourist souvenirs - although there are a few honourable exceptions. A stretch of the cobblestones on the street, between North Bridge and George IV bridge, is to cleaned up by the city council. There was a storm of protest when the last such exercise took place, because contractors used imported granite from China. This time, the existing stones will be lifted - one by one - cleaned, and returned to their place on the road. This will be more expensive than replacement, but is being done in order to preserve the character of the High Street. Work will not start, however, until the council gets the result of a public enquiry on plans to totally pedestrianise the area.
25 Miles of Lard
When staff in the west of Scotland turned up for work two hours late on Tuesday and gave as the excuse that there had been 25 miles of lard on the busy M74 motorway, their managers might have been tempted to disbelieve them. But it was true. A lorry leaking lard along the busy trunk road from Lesmahagow and in other roads in the east end of Glasgow, caused traffic chaos. There were at least three crashes early in the morning as a result of skidding on the slippery substance. Motorists were held up in miles-long queues as the road authorities closed some stretches of the M74 and in the city as they tried to clear up the mess. On the same day, the M8 motorway link between Edinburgh and Glasgow also ground to a halt after a lorry went out of control, smashed through the crash barrier and spilt its load of fizzy drinks and snacks across the carriageway going in the opposite direction. Both the east and westbound traffic was brought to a halt, causing huge tail-backs there too. Some unlucky travellers were reported to have been caught up in both incidents.
West Highland Way Celebrates 25th Birthday
The town of Milngavie, a few miles north of Glasgow, this week hosted the silver jubilee celebrations of the West Highland Way. Some of the original founders - including entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and broadcaster Jimmie McGregor - came together with representatives of the route's managing authorities to unveil a new landscaped area in Milngavie. The 95-mile walkway runs from Milngavie to Fort William. It is used by an estimated 95,000 walkers and serious hikers each year, many coming from abroad.
Landmark Clock Running an Hour Late
The "running legs" clock outside Glasgow's Buchanan Bus Station was supposed to keep travellers right as they rushed for their transport. But passers-by have been perplexed this week as the clock has been exactly one hour slow. Apparently, due to a technical hitch, the clock automatically went back an hour to mark the end of British Summer Time (BST) - a week before it was supposed to. Clocks go back one hour to register Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on Saturday 29 October. Hopefully, the clock (which sits on top of two metal "running legs") will not hop back by another hour this weekend.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Once again, rain and cloud were the main feature of this week's weather. Heavy rain at the start of the week caused some localised flooding and strong winds resulted in the cancellation of some west coast ferries. Edinburgh had more than an inch of rain on Monday - and Glasgow wasn't far behind. Maximum daytime temperatures gradually rose during the week (from around 7C/45F on Sunday) as strong southerly winds began to blow. By Thursday, the winds had pushed the clouds away at last and there was welcome sunshine for many parts. The maximum temperature reached 21.4C (72.3F) in Kinlochewe Wester Ross. Edinburgh wasn't far behind either. The sunshine didn't last, however, and clouds and showers returned on Friday and Saturday
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of a Peacock butterfly, enjoying the one sunny day of the week. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current weather and the flora and fauna, illustrate low clouds settling on the Lomond Hills and Loch Leven near Kinross, a grey heron, a Red Admiral butterfly, and the flowers of Nerine, Clematis and a rambling rose. See Colour Supplement