£96 Million "Housing Revolution"
Glasgow's skyline is to be transformed over the next few years, as tower blocks and unpopular buildings are demolished and replaced with new community housing projects, with residents having a big say in how their area will look. The £96 million project is already underway, but this week it was announced that the city council is planning to accelerate the programme and build 2,400 new homes over the next five years. This is on top of the existing £24 million project to create 600 new homes in the east end of the city. Many of the new houses completed so far, would not be out of place in the expensive suburbs of Glasgow. And all of this is in addition to that of Glasgow Housing Association, which announced last September it was to build 2000 new flats and houses. During the 1960s and 1970s, Glasgow built more and larger estates than any other city outside of London. The architects and planners thought that what became known as "filing cabinets for people" were the answer to the old, sub-standard building. The city has nearly 50% of all 20-storey tower blocks in the UK as a result. It also built Europe's tallest residential buildings at Red Road (illustrated here), comprising six, 31-storeyed tower blocks containing 720 flats, two 27-storeyed slab blocks and one three-storeyed block. Now providing accommodation for students and asylum seekers, these are a prime candidate for demolition.
No Enthusiasm for Paisley Retail Development
A massive 160,000 square feet regeneration scheme in the centre of Paisley is under threat due to a lack of interest from retailers. A new shopping area on the site of the former Arnotts department store has produced virtually no response. Arnotts closed because of a drop in business following the opening of the Breahed Shopping Centre a few miles from Paisley. When it opened, it was the largest under-cover shopping mall in Scotland and it has had a major impact on retailers in the surrounding area. The development company says that it is likely to build houses instead. Paisley retailers fear that the major new shopping centre nearing completion at Pollok will also be detrimental to their business. Meantime, however, across the river Clyde (via the now toll-free Erskine Bridge), a £75million development has been announced in Dumbarton, which will create up to 1600 jobs at the site of the former J&B whisky bottling plant, which closed in 2000.
Standard Life Members Vote to Demutualise
Five years ago, the board of Edinburgh-based Standard Life, Europe's largest mutual assurance company, successfully fought off an attempt by what they called "carpetbaggers" to float the company on the Stock Exchange. They argued that it was in the "best interests" of the company and the policy holders for it to remain mutual. But times - and senior personnel - change. The board and senior management recommended that Standard Life should be floated on the Stock Exchange and put the proposal to the vote. Despite the decline in the stock market and the average windfall now being substantially smaller, 98% of those voting said "yes". Once the flotation has been completed, later this year, the insurer is expected to have a stock market value of between £4.8 billion and £5.5 million, making it the fifth biggest insurance company on the UK stock market.
The illustration shows Standard Life's headquarters in Edinburgh.
Glasgow's Office Market Exceeds Capital
The expansion of white collar jobs in Edinburgh in the last ten years has meant that the amount of space let each year has exceed that of Glasgow. But it is being claimed that the loss of 3,000 civil servant jobs in the Capital as a result of the Scottish Executive policy of relocating jobs to other parts of the country, has led to a reversal of that dominant position. Property experts have reported that, in the last year, nearly 1.3 million square feet of office space has been let in Glasgow, compared with 850,000 square feet in Edinburgh. Letting agents have reported that Glasgow's office market has been performing at record levels - while Edinburgh has been "marking time." Cost per square foot is still higher in the Capital - that may also be a factor. The Executive's new transport agency Transport Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Learning and Teaching Scotland had all taken major office space. And Sportscotland is set to move from Edinburgh to new premises in the east end of Glasgow in 2009.
North Sea Oil Problem - Helicopter Shortage
The high price of oil and an upsurge in exploration and production activity by the world's oil companies, has created a shortage of helicopters and, in particular, the pilots to fly them. Bristow Helicopters, based in Aberdeen, is part of the Offshore Logistics Group, one of the foremost helicopter operators in the world today. The company is reported to be training new recruits as well as scouring the world for machines and crew. The shortage is already having a negative impact on the oil offshore oil industry in the North Sea. Bristow says that oil companies do not plan far enough ahead for helicopter requirements - new aircraft take two years to be delivered and training personnel takes between five to seven years. Aberdeen's heliport is one of the busiest in the world.
Pensioners Grab Free Bus Passes
Just over a million people in Scotland aged over 60 are eligible for a free travel pass on buses across the country. 864,000 have already applied for the concession, which was launched earlier this year. Previously, local authorities ran their own schemes (which meant that travel across regional boundaries was inhibited). There are now more cards issued for the national scheme than the total of all the local arrangements. There has been a large take-up in cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow and it appears that much of the travel has been inter-city, with pensioners taking the opportunity for a day trip to another town or city. Coach operators are said to be having to put on extra services to meet the demand. The total cost to the taxpayer depends on the take-up and the number of journeys, but is forecast to be in the region of £160 million. But other free schemes have shown that initial cost estimates are often too low.
No Joy on Scrapping Bridge Tolls
Following the removal a few months ago of tolls on the Erskine Bridge over the river Clyde, between West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, there was an outcry in Angus and Fife about the continuation of charges on the Tay and Forth Bridges. It is very unlikely that the tolls will be removed from the Forth Bridge which is already well over its design limit. The last thing even the Scottish Executive would do, is encourage more traffic. But in Dundee, there is a vociferous campaign to have the toll on the bridge across the Tay to Fife scrapped. The local Dundee Courier newspaper is encouraging politicians and business leaders to lobby for the removal of the charge. This week, the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Mid-Scotland and Fife tried to persuade the parliament's transport committee that yet another "consultation" process was a waste of taxpayers' money. He argued that earlier consultations had dug into all the necessary aspects to reach a conclusion. The most recent exercise had been carried out from April 2005 to March 2006. As a result of that report, the toll had been removed from the Erskine Bridge - but not elsewhere. It was argued by the Scottish Executive transport minister that lifting the Tay tolls could aggravate congestion and air pollution in Dundee. Why stopping lines of cars waiting to pay a toll would aggravate congestion and increase pollution was not explained. On this occasion, the Labour and Liberal-Democrat members of the committee toed the party line and out-voted the proposal. There is a strong feeling that for some reason the Scottish Executive does not want a decision on this issue until after the next election - in May 2007.
Scotland's Skin Cancer Timebomb
Health experts are warning that the boom in sunbed saloons in Scotland, as many Scots try to look throughout the year as though they were just back from a Mediterranean holiday, is storing up a potential skin cancer epidemic. Glasgow is Scotland's "sunbed capital" with 120 saloons, of which 19 are unmanned. In Scotland as a whole, there are thought to be over 800 of these in operation. The Royal Environmental Health Institute is trying to persuade the Scottish Parliament to introduce a nationwide licensing of sunbed parlours. The number of new skin cancer cases has trebled in the last 30 years and there are now 7,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.
Another New Rail Link?
Railway operator Network Rail is to introduce a bill in the Scottish Parliament seeking approval for the re-introduction of a rail link between Bathgate and Glasgow. As there is already a rail service between Bathgate in West Lothian and Edinburgh, it would create another passenger train link between the Capital and Scotland's largest city. The £300 million line could be operational within four years, as it would utilise an existing route which was used by freight trains up until 1982. It would also mean that travellers from Airdrie and north Lanarkshire would benefit from a direct service to Edinburgh, instead of having to go into Glasgow first. Network Rail are forecasting that 13,000 passengers a day would use the new service, compared with 16,000 who use the present Glasgow-Edinburgh shuttle service via Linlithgow - the busiest in Scotland.
Jambuster to Control Roadworks
A new Scottish Road Works Commissioner is to start operating in January 2007. His job will be to put the brakes on utility companies that cause chaos with badly planned road works. The aim will be to stop firms repeatedly digging up the same stretch of road and minimise the impact by insisting that they go ahead only at non-peak times. Companies will be required to notify the roadworks commissioner of every road-digging project in Scotland. Each year, there are 23,000 separate road-digging projects in Glasgow alone. If companies fail to meet the planned completion dates, they can be fined up to £5,000. Drivers who were crawling along the three-mile tail backs on the M8 this month think the new role is long overdue. Scotland's busiest motorway is down to one lane in each direction just now because there are works on both sides of the road. If that had not been the case, two lanes in each direction (using the hard shoulder for traffic, as has been done on many other occasions) would have helped considerably.
Kelvingrove Appeal Raises £13 Million from General Public
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has been undergoing a major refurbishment costing £29.5 million, with funds made available from Glasgow City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund and Historic Scotland and a number of other organisations. Last July, an appeal was launched asking the general public to contribute a total of a further £5 million. As an incentive, every donor, no matter how large or small, will be recorded on donors' boards to be displayed in the main hall. Names are to be listed in alphabetical order and no details of amounts will be given, so that everyone is treated the same. It had always been said that the museum held a special place in the hearts of Glaswegians. Now the appeal has confirmed this, with a staggering £12.75 million flowing in to the fund from 4,000 donors. Of course, there were some large donations from charitable trusts and foundations, including £5 million from Glasgow businessman Tom Hunter, for an education wing to be named after his father. But there were also many thousands of contributions from people who had appreciated the role of the museum and gallery in the life of the city. The extra cash raised will allow museum to carry out a "wish list" of future projects which they had expected would have to wait until cash became available later. The building will reopen on 11th July, with six additional public galleries, a 35% increase in public space and a 100% increase in the number of objects on display.
Dundee Demands Fair Share
A Dundee MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) has written to First Minister Jack McConnell urging him to give Dundee "a fair crack of the whip" on government job relocation. The MSP points out that although Dundee has gained a few quasi governmental organisations, the city lost out when Scottish Water was created by merging the regional organisations. As a result, there are only 185 civil service jobs in Dundee - 0.21% of the working age population. That is well below Edinburgh, where there are 7,750 such posts (accounting for 2.51% of the working age population) or Glasgow, with 2,400 jobs (0.63%) or even Aberdeen with 550 posts (0.41%).
Udderly Colourful Edinburgh Stampede
A herd of brightly painted life-size cows has been stampeding through the centre of Edinburgh recently, as 100 model cows, painted in a variety of designs by local artists, can be seen chewing the cud in streets, parks and landmarks. CowParade is billed as the world's biggest touring public art event and will run in Edinburgh to 23 July. After the event, the cows will be auctioned, with 75% of the proceeds going to charity. The fibreglass sculptures are largely of a set design with different artistic ideas painted on them - there are saltires, a glow-in-the dark "Night Moo on Blair Street" and bus routes to such places as Moorayfield, Morninghide and Portobullo. But there is also a "Three Grazers" by "Antonio Coonova" (see below) outside the Scottish National Gallery, alluding to Canova's sculpture of three women entitled the "The Three Graces" inside the gallery. There is no doubt that the sculptures are proving to be a hit with tourists, especially the kids. Their humour has also produced a lot of smiles! A special moo-mento of CowParade Edinburgh has been produced. See also www.cowparade-edinburgh.co.uk.
Mayor of Islay Travels to Islay
Scottish place names can be found all over the world, even in Peru. That was reinforced this week when the civic leader of a remote Peruvian coastal community called Islay, travelled 7,500 miles to the Scottish Hebridean island of Islay. The visit arose after the director of the Islay distillers Bruichladdich had been researching the kind of rock from which the water used in their whisky emerges. The same kind of Gneiss rock was to be found in the Arequipa region of Peru. On the Peruvian map, was a town called Islay. Like its namesake, it had beautiful beaches, unusual geological features, and produced a strong drink. Not whisky, but a grape brandy called Pisco. The town's mayor was invited to travel to the distillery's open day and so Snr Miguel Roman Valdiva duly arrived last week - and was immediately kitted out in a kilt. It seems that his town was known as Risla in the days of the Incas. The name evolved into Isla - which became Islay after British merchant ships called there. A formal twinning arrangement is to be signed between the two communities.
Protests at Sunday Golf at St Andrews Old Course
Golf has been banned on the Old Course at St Andrews on a Sunday since the famous links were gifted to the town in the 16th century. In recent years, the only exceptions have been for major tournaments such as the Open and the Dunhill Cup. But last weekend the Royal & Ancient Golf Club broke with that tradition and held its Gold Medal tournament on a Sunday for the first time - and have scheduled similar tournaments on the next two Sundays. Local people are angry at the move. Not that they are staunch observers of the Sabbath - with no golf on the course it effectively becomes a public park on a Sunday and locals go for walks there. There were confrontations last Sunday between the golfers and those strolling across the fairway. A spokesman for the St Andrews Links Trust pointed out that it was only in "exceptional circumstances" that any play was permitted on the Old Course on a Sunday. It was argued that the R&A Gold Medal is one of the most important competitions on the club's calendar. But in future there will be more information published to inform local residents of these exceptions.
Moonshine Whisky Goes Legit
Glenlivet Distillery in Banffshire was one of the first Scottish distilleries to become legalised. Now the company is planning to revive the whisky-making technique which was used until the early 19th century by illegal moonshiners in glens across the country. Glenlivet had to negotiate with the government's excisemen to distill using a "sma' still" which was made illegal in 1824. The spirit produced will be one of the most exclusive single malts made in Scotland.
Cormorants Defeat Scottish Anglers
There was dismay this week when it was announced that Loch Leven Fisheries can no longer sustain mounting losses and will cease to stock the loch from its hatchery and rearing ponds. Loch Leven has been at the heart of fly-fishing in Scotland and the final of the Scottish National Fly-fishing Championship, the world’s oldest national fly-fishing event, is also held on the loch. Fishermen have been fighting a losing battle with hundreds of cormorants flying in to feed on the fish in the 3400-acre waters of the loch. Anglers have been getting fewer and fewer fish, despite 100,000 young fish being added to the waters each year. Cormorants are agile swimmers under water and cannot be culled as they are a protected species. But they have been increasingly feeding on inland waters - as fish stocks decline in their traditional feeding grounds off the coast of Scotland. Loch Leven will continue to have a few boats for anglers, catching fish growing naturally, rather than from hatcheries.
Second World Doig Gathering
The Doig Family Society is organising its second gathering of clan members from around the world from 4-6th August 2006. There will be a ceilidh (of course), a tour around Stirling, Thornhill and Bridge of Allan and a special get-together at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games. For more details, see Doig Family Society.
Here Is The Midge Forecast
Tourists and residents in Scotland regularly tune in to the weather forecast for an indication of the temperature, cloud levels, sunshine and rainfall. Now there is a new five-day forecast - on the expected level of midges in different parts of the country. Midges are small, two-winged flying insects (a subgroup of gnats). Female biting midges (also known as no-see-ums in North America) feed on blood for protein to produce eggs. Swarms of these insects can often be found in the west of Scotland in summer. Now a system has been developed by Advanced Pest Solutions, based at Edinburgh University, which collects known densities of midge populations in various locations and combines that with weather forecasts to predict the worst affected places - similar to the pollen index of hay-fever sufferers. The forecast is refined by midge catch data provided by a network of traps at weather stations located from Shetland to the Borders. The forecast is being reported each day in the Aberdeen-based Press and Journal newspaper and is available online at www.midgeforecast.co.uk.
Weather in Scotland This Week
For much of the week, the maximum temperature in Aberdeen was around 10/11C (50/52F). Then on Friday the thermometer shot up to 20C (68F) with lots of sunshine. Although the transformation was not quite so dramatic, much of Scotland followed a similar pattern, with Edinburgh struggling to reach 12/14C (54/57F) earlier in the week and reaching 18C (64F) on Friday and Saturday. There was a fair amount of rain at the start of the week too, but bright intervals started to make an appearance by mid-week and then that sunshine broke through. While central Scotland continued to enjoy the better weather on Saturday, the north of Scotland became cloud covered again with lower temperatures. The outlook is for bright intervals for much of Scotland, but with the Western Isles affected by showers.
The illustration shows newly hatched cygnets snuggling up to their mother on their nest at Drumpellier Country Park. Mum has been sitting on the eggs for around five weeks and will be glad when the cygnets are all hatched and she can go with them to feed. The male swan does not sit on the eggs, but is usually around, guarding the nest.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna concentrates on newly hatched birds - cygnets, coot chicks and mallard ducklings.
See Colour Supplement - 3 June.