Latest Plans for Glasgow Harbour Unveiled
The developers behind the Glasgow Harbour project unveiled their latest revised proposals for the retail and leisure district which will be situated next to the new transport museum and the sailing ship Glenlee at the junction of the rivers Clyde and Kelvin. 74 acres of the original 128-acre plan have now been redesigned to include a two-tier retail mall, five-star hotel, 30-storey skyscraper and 10-screen cinema complex. A key element of the plan is winning a licence for a massive regional casino - with competition from other UK locations such as Blackpool as well as other locations in Glasgow. The latest phase will bring the total cost of the project to £1.2 billion. It is claimed that the new masterplan for the site could turn it into "a national waterfront tourist destination, rivaling cities such as Sydney" attracting an extra two million visitors a year to the area. But Glasgow City Council had previously rejected a major retail component for Glasgow Harbour nearly four years ago, fearing that it could take business away from the city centre. Developers are now proposing 295,000sq ft of retail space in a two-level shopping district, a family leisure area, including a children's world learning centre, a multiplex cinema, a massive casino and an entertainment venue with a 200-bedroom hotel.
Dundee Just Avoids Highest Council Tax in Scotland
Householders who pay local council tax may have naively thought that the elected officials in the city and county councils worked hard to establish the lowest possible rate of tax, commensurate with providing a good level of service. So they may have been surprised when Dundee City Council, on the point of announcing an increase in the local council tax of over 4%, suddenly avoided making a decision when they heard that Glasgow had announced a zero increase this year. If Dundee had gone ahead with their original plans, the city would have become the highest-rated in Scotland. So the councillors did their sums again and a few days later came up with an increase of 2.63% - which produced a figure just £2 less than Glasgow. They had achieved a saving of £1.1 million, which included the simple expedient of transferring the sheltered housing warden service from social work to housing management - which does not impact on council tax. Other savings involved transferring five leisure centres to a leisure trust. If it was that easy, maybe there is more that the councillors in Dundee (and elsewhere) can do with smoke and mirrors?
Lowest Unemployment Figures for 30 Years
Government figures published this week show that unemployment in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level since the summer of 1975. The numbers claiming the Jobseeker's Allowance fell by 1,200 in January to 83,900. This was the third consecutive monthly fall and was 2,400 down on last January. Under the alternative International Labour Office method of calculating unemployment, there was a fall of 5,000 to 135,000 (12,000 fewer than a year ago). The number of people in work reached 2.468 million - 10,000 higher than in the previous three months and 14,000 higher than the same period in 2004. By contrast, the UK unemployment figures are heading upwards. The number of unemployed people in the UK rose by 108,000 to 1.54 million between October and December using the ILO method, a jobless rate of 5.1%, which was the highest figure for three years.
Bullet Trains for Edinburgh/Glasgow Line?
Plans to cut journey times in half for rail travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow inched forward this week. A feasibility study is expected to be launched later this year, with the support of civic and business leaders in Scotland's two largest cities. The present journey time is 50 minutes - which is slightly longer than the scheduled time 20 years ago. Edinburgh City Council published a report this week spelling out the advantages of a high-speed link, including encouraging more drivers to use the train instead of clogging up the motorway. But it is likely to be more than a decade before any such link could be set up, due to the need to upgrade the track across the densely populated central belt. More than 9,000 people commute between the two cities.
Lower Air Fares for Highlands and Islands
While there may be many advantages in living in the remoter areas of Scotland such as the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, it does add considerably to the cost of living. Air fares in particular are high - there are no budget airlines providing a service to Kirkwall. Flights from Orkney or Shetland to the central belt of Scotland can cost over £300 - trans-Atlantic flights can be obtained for around the same price. This can make it expensive for a family travelling by air to the mainland and reduces the opportunities for travel. However, the Scottish Executive has announced a scheme which will allocate a budget of £11.2 million over the next two years which will reduce air fares by 40% to and from remote and peripheral regions. Needless to say, the finance had to be approved by the European Commission in Brussels, under regulations designed to improve access for remote communities. It will mean that people whose main residence is in one of the defined eligible geographical areas (Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Islay and Jura, Caithness) will be able to get discounts on any scheduled air service to and from any airport within the eligible area to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness. It is hoped to have the scheme in operation by this summer.
First Air Service Between Highlands and Ireland
The Scottish Executive's Route Development Fund has once again provided the incentive for an airline to start a new air service from a Scottish airport. This time, it is Irish airline Aer Arann which will operate a year-round service, four times a week, between Inverness and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. Their 70-seater ATR72 aircraft will arrive in the Highland capital at mid-day and depart 45 minutes later. The service has already been dubbed "The Celtic Connection". The Route Development Fund now supports the start-up of 22 routes from Scottish airports to European destinations as well as the USA and Dubai. Another ten direct air services are in the pipeline.
New Air Routes to Berlin and Spain Take Off
Budget airline easyJet announced this week that it was to start a daily direct air service from Glasgow to Berlin in Germany and Alicante and Malaga in Spain. Tickets to Berlin will cost from £36.98, including taxes and charges while the Spanish service will have a return fare starting from £56.98. The airline is predicting that 300,000 passengers will fly on the new routes over the next twelve months.
Queen to Open Refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery?
Glasgow City Council has invited the Queen to officially reopen the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum later this year, after its £28 million renovation has been completed. It looks as though 13 September would be "a possibility" according to the Queen's private secretary. Royal protocol means that an official announcement is not made more than two months in advance. The city councillors cannot say anything about the event - but how did the details get into the newspapers? Hopefully, the life-size papier maché artwork representing the Queen (in a dressing gown, complete with cigarette drooping from her lips, slippers and a copy of Sporting Life) will be out of sight during her tour of the building. When Kelvingrove re-opens, it will have six additional public galleries and public space which is 35% larger and double the previous number of objects on display.
First Dip in Scottish Retail Sales for Five Years
The Scottish Retail Consortium announced that like-for-like sales in Scotland's High Streets in January had dipped by 0.6% compared to a year ago. This was the first time for five and a half years that growth was negative. Total sales (which includes new retail outlets) grew by only 2.6%, the weakest rise since March 2000. The downturn is being blamed on recent rising fuel costs and consumers over-spending in November and December (when retailers were offering heavy discounts to encourage shoppers). The colder weather has also meant that spring clothing lines have not been required. These January sales data were also the first time in over a year that the UK-wide figures out-performed those in Scotland. The British Retail Consortium announced earlier in the week that like-for-like sales had climbed by 0.2% in January across the UK. Even so, that was the worst January performance since 1995.
More English Students Choose Scottish Universities
Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), show that the number of applicants from Scotland have fallen this year, while the number of applications form English residents went up. A total of 26,804 applications were received from people in Scotland, a decrease of 2.2% compared to 2005. But the Universities Scotland organisation says that the percentage of young Scots going to university has increased. However, as the population declines, so too does the number of applicants and forecasts show that this will continue. There is currently a decline in the number of students in Scotland in the final years of secondary education and that will feed through to university applicant numbers in the near future. Furthermore, there was a 16% increase in the number of applications from England a year ago. This year, the rise has only been 1.9%. Even so, the number of English applicants seeking a place at English universities and colleges fell by 4.5% as the impact of the introduction of up-front fees has an impact.
St Andrews Attracts Students
While the national trend in the number of applications to Scottish universities from Scots may be down this year (see previous item), St Andrews University has bucked the trend with an increase of 12% compared to last year. Applicants who are living in England are also up - by 9% - but that is the smallest increase for a number of years. Overseas applications to study at St Andrews have grown by a massive 24%. Of course, not all those wanting a place will be successful - there are 11 applicants for every available place at St Andrews, making it one of the most competitive of all UK universities. As a result, they are able to select the most highly qualified prospective students.
Climbers Survive 900ft Fall
Five climbers escaped this week with only minor injuries after being swept by an avalanche 900 feet down Ben Nevis. They were close to the summit of the UK's highest mountain, when the snow on a cornice above them gave way. The climbers plunged back down the face they had been climbing. As experienced climbers they used a swimming motion to try to stay on top of the falling snow. They came to rest just short of a frozen lochain (small Highland loch). Amazingly, they were all able to dig themselves out of the snow and walk away with only bruises and torn hands and lost equipment. They then walked five miles to their cars, where they reported the incident to warn other climbers of the danger.
Aberdeen's Tartan Day
Aberdeen city Council has fixed the date of this year's Tartan Day celebrations for Saturday, 5 August. This is the third year that the city has organised a celebration of this nature and in previous years it took place on the same day as the highly popular International Market, so that both events could benefit from increased city centre visitor numbers. However, it was now believed that Tartan Day should stand alone, on a different weekend. So Tartan Day 2006 is being held a week earlier. Research has shown that there was wide local support for the event - though better publicity is needed beforehand. Consideration is being given to a pipe band parade down Union Street, musical events in Union Terrace Gardens on the Friday night before Tartan Day and a genealogy event, held in the Town House, together with a complementary exhibition focusing on Aberdeen's culture, heritage and history.
George Street Beats Own Record for Parking Tickets
More parking tickets were issued in George Street in Edinburgh in 2004 than any other road in Scotland. But in 2005 the "Enforcers" slapped 21,027 parking tickets on vehicles in the street, which was 1,000 more than the previous year. That meant the city council raked in £630,000 in fines on that one street alone. Four other Edinburgh parking ticket hotspots (St Andrew Square, Chambers Street, Melville Street and the Grassmarket) between them could only muster 20,000 tickets. George Street is popular not only with shoppers but is also used by those making business calls to nearby offices.
Argyll Islands Held Back by Lack of Water
The island of Coll off the west coast of Scotland sends volunteers to help impoverished third world countries. But many of the island residents do not have mains drinking water. Coll has a resident population of 150 and is included in a Scottish Executive programme to promote sustainable development in remote communities. Yet there is a blanket ban on new building on the island because of the lack of mains water supplies. Scottish Water say that because of the island's sparse population, costs would be prohibitively high to connect more of them to the mains water supply. Other remote areas such as Tiree and parts of Islay face the same problem.
Spirit of Spey Fishing Season
The new fishing season on the river Spey got under way last weekend - with a bottle of Glenfarclas, one of the region's famous malt whiskies - being poured into the fast-flowing water. This was not to make the fish tipsy and so easier to catch, but is a traditional way of marking the start of a productive new season. The honour of pouring the whisky went to the winner of last season's Spey Quaich for being the first angler to catch a salmon on the first day of the season. Last year, 9,700 fish were caught - though many of the fish would have been caught more than once, as anglers are only allowed to keep every alternate salmon they catch before the end of June. After that date, they return every fish to the water to conserve stocks.
Pink Taxis for Pink Ladies
Late night revellers in Glasgow may shortly be forgiven for thinking they are seeing pink elephants. However, it will be a new women-only Pink Lady private hire taxi service which uses vehicles painted shocking pink. The company uses Barbie-pink Renault Kangoo cars and the women drivers wear pink outfits. The drivers are trained in first-aid and self-defence to make their female passengers feel extra safe. The cabs will be pre-booked and drivers will text or call the passenger when they arrive to pick them up. In order to get round discrimination laws, members sign up for the service online for a £1 fee (10% of which goes to charity) and so it operates like a private club. In a separate initiative, all private hire taxi firms in Glasgow will automatically send a text message to the mobile phone of female customers informing them of the vehicle's type, colour and registration number.
Dundonian Shaking Things Up in Cairo
A dance teacher from Dundee has out-shimmied local Egyptian talent at recent auditions to win a dance residency in a Cairo hotel next month. Lorna Gow has been belly-dancing for the last eleven years. She teaches her skills at dance classes all over Scotland - but particularly in Dundee, where she has helped a number of people become instructors. These former pupils will take over her classes while she is wowing them in the home of belly-dancing.
Forecast of Freezing Winter Melts Away
Although maximum daytime temperatures over the next few ten days or so may hover around 2/6C (36/43F), it is clear that the meteorologists dire predictions last autumn for a colder than average winter has failed to materialise. Last year, as the weather forecasters looked into their crystal ball, they said that Scotland could expect heavy falls of snow. The government was being ticked off for not doing enough to avoid paralysis across the country as the supply of gas and coal would not be enough to cope with the expected increased demand. While continental Europe did indeed have a colder than average winter, the British Isles escaped. In December, the average temperature was 0.7°C higher than the long-term average and in January average temperatures were 1°C higher than normal. Rainfall was half the usual level in both December and January and apart from a short spell of snow in late December. A cold snap at the end of January froze some of the smaller lochs, but we have not had the predicted freezing conditions. While that has been a relief to many of us, it has spelt near-disaster for Scotland's ski resorts. The Lecht and Glenshee had some natural snow for a short time before Christmas, but otherwise they have had to rely on snow-making machines. Other ski slopes do not employ such devices - and they were saying earlier this week that "the season has not started yet". However, snow falls at the end of the week produced some good ski runs and lifted the spirits, particularly in the west. However, while there were snowfalls on the higher ground, most of the country was unaffected.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures this week have ben mainly in the range 7/9C (45/48F) and even reached 11C (52F) in Edinburgh on Monday. Clear skies on Friday night brought a heavy overnight frost and lower temperatures on Saturday. Temperatures over the next few days are expected to be no higher than 6C (43F) and may be even lower. Aberdeen and Edinburgh had several hours of sunshine on Wednesday and the central lowlands had spells of sunshine on Friday. There was an appreciable amount of rain in the middle of the week, especially in the west.
Crocus bulbs are now flowering in profusion, as the illustration here shows.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include a female goosander, pair of goldeneye, a carpet of snowdrops, feral pigeon, a tufted duck - and a surprise visitor to my garden. See Colour Supplement.