Forth Road Bridge Closure Threat
An urgent independent assessment of the reports of corrosion on the cables supporting the Forth Road Bridge between Edinburgh and Fife has been launched by Transport Minister Tavish Scott. The reports say that, unless action is taken, the 41-year-old bridge could close to heavy goods vehicles by 2013. Later reports in the "Scotsman" newspaper suggested that the bridge could be closed to all traffic by 2019 unless repairs are carried out. The bridge carries over 22 million vehicles a year, twice its designed capacity. There have been assurances that the bridge is safe at the moment, but a full engineering study is to be carried out. That will not be completed until the summer of 2007. Restrictions on traffic would have to be imposed on the bridge while repairs were being implemented. If the cables have to be replaced, the bridge would probably have to be closed while the work was carried out. Repair work on the Kingston Bridge, across the river Clyde, also resulted in years of lane closures and periods when the bridge was totally closed. The next crossing over the river Forth is 18 miles further upstream at Kincardine - which is already a bottleneck, with a second bridge being built there over the next few years. Despite its long queues of traffic, many thousands of people who live in Fife commute across the Forth bridge every day, as they travel to work in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh's U-Turn on "Traffic Management"
After howls of protests from motorists, taxi drivers, motoring organisations and even the police, Edinburgh City Council has climbed down on a number of aspects of its controversial traffic management scheme. Retractable bollards, for example, installed at the junction of George Street and Frederick Street less than a month ago, at a cost of £150,000, are to be scrapped. When the bollards were brought in on George Street some traders found there was no longer a legal delivery route to their shops. A number of roads in the New Town are to be reopened to traffic after complaints from residents in other roads, being used as alternative routes, experienced huge increases in traffic levels. New traffic lights at the George Street/Hanover Street junction and returning to the previous system of pedestrian crossings. Retailers say that the confusion which the scheme has created is also driving customers away from the centre of Edinburgh and that as a result they are losing business. Traders on Rose Street (which was pedestrianised many years ago) say that they lost around £1 million last month. Taxi drivers complain that they are having to make long detours and so having to charge customers far more than before the new arrangements were introduced. And the police have refused to prosecute motorists who drive along roads restricted to buses and taxis- because they say that the signage is too confusing.
Liver Transplant First for Scotland
The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI) is to become the first hospital in the UK to perform living donor transplant operations for seriously ill patients. Patients across Scotland and their families will have the option of considering this form of transplantation instead of waiting for a donor match with someone who has died (and given consent for such life-saving operations). The ERI transplant unit has carried out 500 liver transplant procedures since 1992. The unit has 12-month survival figures which are better than many other transplant programmes in the UK. The most important element of the new programme is to ensure the donor fully understands the risks involved in the procedure, before any further steps are taken. They will need to go through a rigorous process of independent assessment before they will be able to agree to the operation. But the liver can regenerate and so part can be transplanted and both patients have the potential to grow a full-size liver. But there are risks - and donors must be given all the facts. Other countries have reduced the number of patients dying on liver transplant waiting lists following the introduction of living liver donation transplants. Now patients in Scotland will be able to benefit from the techniques. Theoretically, patients in England could come to Scotland for the operation - until a unit is set up south of the border in the future.
Scottish Power's Electrifying Profits
Energy company Scottish Power increased its profits by 45% to £273 million in the six months to September 30. The company is currently rumoured to be a take-over target of German utility firm E.ON which declared an "interest" in September. The company supplies energy to 5.2 million customers in the UK. Shares in the company have risen over the last six months from £4.25 to £5.78.
Hewlett Packard Cuts Scottish Workforce by 10%
Electronics company Hewlett Packard announced this week that it was to cut the number of staff employed at its manufacturing plant at Erskine by 200 - about 10% of the workforce. The jobs are being relocated in May 2006 to Pardubice in the Czech Republic, where wages are lower. Erskine is one of the main HP sites in the UK and there is a sales and customer service support centre there as well as manufacturing.
Free Podcast Guide to Edinburgh
VisitScotland has created a free "insiders' guide" with information on Edinburgh's history, culture and historical landmarks which can be downloaded onto MP3 players with the appropriate software or simply played on your PC . While it is aimed at the younger generation who have adopted the ubiquitous iPod to play music, it can be a useful verbal introduction on a PC to Scotland's capital city. It is claimed that VisitScotland is the first tourist agency in the UK to produce a Podcast. See VisitScotlan's Podcasts. Note that some of the files are quite large - around 6 to 8 megabytes.
£25 Million Regeneration Plan for Dunoon
The seaside town of Dunoon on the Firth of Clyde used to be a popular destination for Glasgow residents, who sailed there for their annual holidays and at weekends. As low-cost travel to Mediterranean sunshine took off, so places like Dunoon declined in popularity. Looking a bit run-down now also contributes further to its lack of visitors. Now Argyll and Bute Council are to make an application to the Lottery Fund's "Living Landmark" initiative, with a view to regenerating the once thriving resort with a £25 million upgrade to facilities. The 105-year-old pier, for example, could do with a revamp and the Queen's Hall arts venue needs to be replaced. The aim would be to give a boost to tourism in the town and the Cowal peninsula in general.
Over 20 Million Air Passengers in October
The number of passengers passing through Scotland's three largest airports (at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen) in a year exceeded 20 million for the first time in October, an annual increase of 5.1% and double the number handled just ten years ago. October alone saw 1.9 million travellers, a growth of 3.1% on the same month last year. Scotland's busiest airport in October was Glasgow, handling 868,417 passengers. But that was a rise of only 1.2%, compared with Edinburgh, which recorded even stronger growth of 5.1% (to 765,534). Edinburgh's international traffic grew by 11%, with Prague, Barcelona, Nice and Copenhagen among the busiest routes. Edinburgh Airport, where a brand new control tower has become operational, is expected to overtake Glasgow's passenger numbers in the near future. Aberdeen Airport, however, produced the fastest growth in October with 262,928 passengers, 7.1% up on October 2004.
More Budget Air Services
Scottish based airline FlyGlobespan has announced that it is adding yet more low-cost services to its network. Although there are lots of charter flights to the Mediterranean holiday resort of Ibiza, the airline is to launch the first scheduled service from Glasgow, with fares at around £50 return. Ibiza is a popular destination for young folk looking for a lively night life. And the airline is also introducing a daily service from Edinburgh to Bournemouth in the south of England next spring. Single fares will be as low as £19.99. Not quite in the budget category, is a new air service by Faroese airline Atlantic Airways, which is to begin the first direct air route between Sumburgh on Shetland and London Stansted. Fares will be in the region of £154 return. And this week Monarch Airlines began a scheduled service from Aberdeen to Malaga on the Costa del Sol in Spain. Fares can be as low as £30.
Rural Airports to Help "Highland Renaissance"
The Scottish Executive is contributing to a funding package of £6 million to create a new regional air hub in Oban and new licensed airfields on the islands of Coll and Colonsay. Creating the new island airfields will mean islanders and tourists have an alternative to the existing ferry service - opening up some of the most spectacular scenery in the world to more tourists. They will also make sure that businesses can remain connected. The new air service will integrate with the existing scheduled air services between Tiree/Glasgow and allow the Argyll Island air network to link with the pan-Highland and national services. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is providing support of nearly half of the £6 million package.
The Scottish Executive has also announced that the air service between Barra and the mainland is to be continued, at least for another three years. There had been concerns that because of investment in a new ferry service, the subsidy on the air route was vulnerable. Barra is famous for having its landing strip on the beach and the timetable for flights is always "subject to weather and tide."
Norwegians Protest at Edinburgh Christmas Tree
For 22 years, the Norwegian city of Hordaland has donated a Christmas tree to Edinburgh in gratitude for the Scottish help and friendship during the Second World War. This year, however, instead of generating friendship and goodwill, local folk in the town near Bergen are protesting at the decision to use a tree which has grown for 32 years to a height of 66 feet, beside a block of council houses. However, the mayor of Hordaland said it was too late to find another one and that it will have to be cut down. He says "nothing lasts forever and any tree has to go the same way as all of nature." Edinburgh's Capital Christmas celebrations start on 24 November with the switching on of the lights on the tree. There is also a Norwegian Advent concert in St Giles' Cathedral, in recognition of the gift from the people of Norway.
New Mobile Banking Service
A few months ago, the Clydesdale Bank announced that it was to close 60 branches across Scotland - many of them in small, rural communities where the Glasgow-based financial services company is the "last bank in town." Since then, the Royal Bank of Scotland's advertising has trumpeted that it is not closing any branches - and that customers can telephone their own branch instead if being dealt with by an anonymous "Customer Services Desk". Now the Royal Bank is going a stage further. It is extending its mobile banking service in the north-east of Scotland - where Clydesdale are in the process of closing 18 outlets. The new service will be based at Inverurie and will service some 20 rural communities from January next year, including locations where Clydesdale bank is closing down. The mobile unit is operated from a Ford Transit van, which has the bank's coat of arms on it. Royal Bank already has fourteen other mobile units operating in remote areas, serving more than 300 rural communities.
"Crisis" for Paisley Town Centre Retailers
Renfrewshire Council are to hold what are described as "crisis" talks as a result of a major slump in retail trade in the centre of Paisley. Two major retailers - Littlewoods and a Co-op store - have announced that they are closing down as customers desert the town for the nearby Braehead shopping centre. This huge development, which was promoted by Glasgow City Council, was initially resisted by Renfrew County Council. Even though Braehead is now part of Renfrewshire, after a dispute over where the boundary between the two authorities lay, there seems too be little that they can do to reverse the trend. Quite apart from the many customers travelling by car, there is a frequent bus service between the centre of Paisley and Braehead.
Mother Nature Stop Trains
Once again, train services in the west of Scotland were disrupted by the age-old problem of "leaves on the line". Strong winds had blown autumn leaves onto the track and although "leaf-blasting gangs" had been out trying to remove them and the oily deposits they leave on the railway lines, 40 locations were affected by "poor adhesion". Some services were suspended by First ScotRail and others operated on a reduced timetable. The company claims that each year it is getting better, but that they can never entirely beat Mother Nature. The problem costs the industry an estimated £50 million a year - and unmeasured frustration among passengers. Over the years, customers have also heard such excuses as "Driver abandoned train to collect his kids from school" to "Exploding pigeon on overhead electric wires."
Buzzard Success Story
In the past, many buzzards in Scotland were shot or poisoned by farmers and gamekeepers. After years of decline, the bird which has been described as a "miniature eagle" has made a remarkable recovery, especially in the central lowlands. It is the raptor now most commonly seen in the Scottish countryside and they can even be seen above towns and cities. Of course, that is not good news for small mammals.
Concrete Blocks To Become Lobster Farms?
An experiment by scientists in Loch Linhe near Oban, which created artificial reefs by dropping blocks of concrete, has increased the amount of sealife in the area by six times. 10,000 tonnes of the blocks were placed on the seabed in 2002 and now lobsters, cod and shellfish have colonised the new habitat. The success has led to plans for a similar reef off Aberdeen and Scotland's hard-pressed fishing industry is looking at the technique as a way of farming lobsters. UK lobster sales have grown by 25% since 2001 and supermarket chains are now introducing the expensive crustacean into their stores as prices fall. Artificial reefs are already well established in places such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Texas. The reefs are regarded as more environmentally friendly than fish farms as the residents are allowed to roam freely. The comparison is drawn between battery hens and free-range birds.
Something to Chew Over
While gorse, with its bright yellow flowers can create a splash of colour, in the right conditions it can spread rapidly, particularly as its sharp spikes mean that it is not eaten by sheep or cows. That was the problem facing the National Trust in the south-west of England, at their scenic property at Baggy Point in north Devon. But they appear to have found a solution - thanks to a rare breed of Scottish Hebridean sheep. With poor grazing in the Hebrides, the sheep have become adept at coping with gorse and bracken as part of their diet. So when a flock of the sheep were brought into the area by a farmer, it looked like a good opportunity to provide them with the diet they were used to - and make inroads into the gorse. Within two weeks, the National Trust reported that they could see improvements - and the sheep are fattening up nicely!
Weather in Scotland This Week
At the start of the week, temperatures were around 12/13C (54/55F) but by Tuesday maximum daytime temperatures were only 10C (50F). Weather fronts from the Atlantic brought in winds which gusted to nearly 100mph on the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles on Tuesday. The gales brought down powerlines, leaving 5,000 homes without electricity. Argyll was the worst affected area but the West Highlands, Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney were also badly hit. The high winds then returned on Friday, sweeping across central parts of the country this time. Gusts in excess of 120mph were reported in high mountain areas. The Erskine Bridge over the river Clyde was closed to all traffic on Friday afternoon and night and the northbound lane of the Forth Bridge was closed after road signs were swept onto the carriageway. There were restrictions on the Tay, Kessock and Skye bridges. Thousands of homes were again blacked out in various parts of the country. The high winds were also accompanied by heavy rain in many parts - Glasgow recorded 1.3 inches of rain over Thursday/Friday.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of a Blue Tit looking very proprietorial about the peanut block it is feeding on! For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week, to show the current weather scene and flora and fauna, illustrate South Uist from Benbecula, eucryphia, buzzard, pernettya, mute and whooper swans.
See this week's Colour Supplement.