Winners and Losers in Rail Network Shake-Up
Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, including the 335 stations in Scotland, has published its plans for the biggest shake-up of the rail network in a generation. There would a huge investment over the next ten years, concentrating on improvements to commuter services in the main centres of population, particularly in the commuter trains serving Edinburgh and Glasgow. Trains would be run more frequently and platforms will be extended to allow more longer trains at peak times. Services to Aberdeen and the South-west of Scotland would also be much improved along with the completion of new rail links already in hand. Traffic projections in Scotland suggest a growth of 3% a year for the next ten years plus a 10% growth in freight traffic over the same period. But the strategy also focuses on the future of a number of rural stations which generate fewer than 1000 journeys each year. Although a reduced service to these is possible, closure is also a distinct option. The Scottish Executive is likely to join these local communities in resisting station closures, but 23 stations have been targeted by the consultation document. Most are in villages the north and west of the country, at places such as Kildonan, Attadale and Falls of Cruachan, plus a few on the east coast such as Barry Links.
Anger at Another Accident and Emergency Unit Closure
Despite a noisy local campaign opposing the plan, the Scottish Executive has approved the major shake-up of health care in Lanarkshire. This will result in the downgrading of the Accident and Emergency service at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie so that it will only deal with minor injuries. Patients who need specialist care will have to travel to Wishaw or Hairmyres. Wishaw is eight miles from Monklands. Health Minister Andy Kerr is certainly well aware of the local issues - he represents the East Kilbride constituency in which Hairmyres Hospital is located. And First Minister Jack McConnell is elected by the voters in Wishaw and must have approved the decision. However, the Member of the UK Parliament in the area - John Reid, who is Home Secretary in Tony Blair's cabinet - criticised the decision, saying that he was "extremely disappointed" at the plans to shut the A&E department at Monklands. However, the Scottish Executive argue that £100 million is to be spent on improving Monklands Hospital's remaining services to turn it into what they describe as a "first-class example of modern healthcare". Discussions are also ongoing into creating a new cancer care centre at Monklands. The facilities at Hairmyres and Wishaw are also to be expanded and new community casualty units are to be created at Cumbernauld and Lanark. The ambulance services in Lanarkshire are also to be enlarged, with 43 new paramedics and ambulance technicians and a number of new vehicles.
"Smoking Ban Hits Public Bar Trade"
Before the ban on smoking in public buildings took effect on 26 March this year, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) representing Scottish bars and hotels fought hard to obtain exemptions for their members. They predicted that the ban would lead to a loss of business and that some bars would go out of business. Early indications after the ban came into force suggested instead that there had been a return of non-smokers, especially in those establishments where food was being served. But this week the SLTA said that a survey of its members had shown that sales of alcohol had fallen by over 10% since March. Overall, 46% of those responding reported a drop in visits by regulars since the ban came into effect, while only 5% reported an increase. They predicted that "worse is to come" as colder weather makes smoking outside premises less acceptable. But critics pointed out that only 365 responses had come back from the 17,000 members of the SLTA. A number of large chains - who had clearly not responded to the questionnaire - claimed that the ban had either not affected sales or had increased takings on food. And even smokers have commented on the improved atmosphere inside bars and restaurants.
Human Rights for Criminals
The chief inspector of prisons in Scotland has launched a consultation document which sets out fundamental rights for the nearly 7,000 prisoners serving time in Scotland's jails. It recommends that they should enjoy a range of rights, including staff addressing them by their first names, fresh air in cells, clean sheets, daily exercise, frequent provision of clean underwear and daily fruit and vegetables. The document aims to spell out the legally binding responsibilities of the Scottish Executive towards those in prison. The chief inspector cannot enforce the proposals, but it would be embarrassing for ministers not to adopt them as they are based on national and international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights. And Article 10 of the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person." The number of inmates in Scotland's jails has been growing in recent years and there is often overcrowding. Two new prisons are being built to cope with growing numbers, but the prison service predicts these will not be sufficient if numbers continue to rise at their present rate.
New Owner for Cairngorm Estate
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) currently owns the 3,000-acre Cairngorm Estate within the Cairngorms National Park. It includes the ski area and funicular mountain railway to the ski slopes and visitor centre. But HIE announced last year that it wanted to sell the property and invest the money in new development projects. Now it is being formally proposed that the area should be taken over by the Forestry Commission Scotland and a consultation process is now underway. The CairnGorm Mountain organisation operate the funicular and they have a long term lease, so any change in ownership would not affect skiing. The Forestry Commission has experience managing other sensitive mountain environments and indeed has owned the Cairngorm estate before - from the 1920s until 1971.
New Gaelic School Opens in Glasgow
A new school has opened in Glasgow which will teach pupils aged 3 to 18 in all subjects in Gaelic. It is the first of its kind to be opened in Scotland for over 100 years. It has been established at a cost of £4 million at the former Woodside Secondary School, close to the city centre. Around 320 pupils, a number of whom attended a Gaelic unit in another school in the city, will move to the school. This year's Primary One intake has 50 children. There have been growing efforts to promote the Gaelic language and a "National Plan" was launched earlier this month.
Cost of National Indoor Sports Arena Race Ahead
Not for the first time, the cost of a major new public building is soaring above its original estimate. As with the Scottish Parliament building, an initial figure is given which is undoubtedly too low - and then the costs escalate once the project is underway. The new National Indoor Arena to be built in the east end of Glasgow, on derelict land near the home of Celtic Football Club at Parkhead, was originally to have cost £24 million. It will be the centrepiece of Glasgow's bid to win the 2014 Commonwealth Games and will have an indoor athletic arena, with a capacity for 5000 spectators, three court halls, and training facilities. Since the plans were initially approved, however, the site is being required to house the HQ for sportscotland, the national sport agency (assuming that the existing staff in Edinburgh are unable to stop the move 45 miles west). A velodrome has also been added to the plans but the major upwards revision is due to officials failing to estimate correctly the cost of cleaning up the derelict site. A new "ball park" figure of £70 million is now being suggested, three times the original figure. The arena is due to be completed by 2008 and will be built regardless of whether Glasgow is awarded the 20012 Commonwealth games.
Windfarm Support and Opposition Balanced
A market research exercise to measure opinions of the residents of the Western Isles on the plan to create a massive windfarm on the Isle of lewis found that 41% of the respondents said they strongly supported or tended to support such developments, while 40% strongly opposed or tended to oppose. But the survey also found that 80% of those questioned backed proposals to create a centre for the study, research and development of renewable energy in the Western Isles. And 75% supported upgrading the link between the Western Isles and the National Grid - even though the main reason for any upgrade would be to send the power generated from windfarms to the mainland and would not be required otherwise.
House of Fraser Sold to Icelandic Group
The House of Fraser retail group, which was founded in Glasgow in 1849, has agreed to recommend a takeover bid worth £351.4 million from the Highland Consortium, which is led by the Icelandic investment group Baugur. The consortium includes Scots entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter, who will take an 11% interest in House of Fraser, amounting to £38.6 million. It was only in March last year that House of Fraser took over the famous Edinburgh department store Jenners (pictured here), which had been in private hands until then. The Baugur investment group has been taking over quite a number of UK High Street retailers - turnover of these companies is heading towards £10 billion a year. The Icelandic economy has been booming for some time, although it is now overheating and the Central Bank of Iceland recently raised interest rates there to 13.5%.
More Broadband Connections
Attractive price offers, which include "free" broadband from some of the telecommunication companies, has resulted in the number of the higher speed connections soaring in the last year. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in June 73% of homes with online connections were using broadband - up from 54.4% in June last year. Dial-up now accounts for just 27% of the market. 48% of households in Scotland now have some form of Internet connection, but that is somewhat lower than the south-east of England, where 66% of homes are now online.
Development Plans for BBC Scotland Building
BBC Scotland is moving from its present HQ building in Glasgow, which it set up in an existing building in 1936, to a new world-class broadcasting centre at Pacific Quay, on the south side of the river Clyde, adjacent to the Glasgow Science Centre. That building is currently being fitted out. There has been speculation about what would happen to the current BBC HQ which sits on a 5.3 acre site in the west end of the city, beside the Botanic Gardens and in an established residential area. There are two major buildings on the site; the earliest is North Park House, designed by JT Rochead and built in 1869 as a country mansion and private gallery. The house was acquired 1884 by Queen Margaret College, the first college for women in Scotland. The college built Britain's first women's medical school on the site, designed by architects Honeyman and Keppie, and an associate, none other than Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This week, the BBC announced that it had chosen its preferred developers for the listed buildings on Queen Margaret Drive. The majority of the site is earmarked for a new residential development while the listed buildings will undergo "sensitive" conversion to a hotel. That could quite a challenge, as it has become a complicated rabbit warren of corridors and studios over the years.
National Photography Centre Back in Focus
For some years, Edinburgh City Council has being trying to raise the finance to create a Scottish National Photographic Centre (SNPC) in the city. Currently, much of Scotland's national photographic collection is stored in the basement the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Photography goes back a long way in Scotland's Capital - in the 1840s the partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson produced some of the finest examples of early photography. And art promoter Richard Demarco has been trying to raise the funds to create a permanent home for his photographic record of the Edinburgh International Festival covering half a century of Scottish cultural life. The A-listed empty building of the former Royal High School of Edinburgh (at one time proposed as the site for the Scottish Parliament) has been suggested as an ideal location (see illustration). But the Scottish Executive has insisted that other sites across Scotland needed to be assessed before it would consider committing cash. Some sponsorship has been provided by media conglomerate Sony, but the Heritage Lottery Fund has been lukewarm so far. Now the City Council and the board of volunteers trying to push the project forward, have produced a scaled-down version of the original £21 million project. That would make it more affordable to potential backers and might be enough to get the project rolling forward.
Plugging into the Planning System
People across Scotland will be able to plug into the local planning system with the click of a mouse, thanks to £12 million Executive funding announced this week. The investment will be made over the next two years to allow the public instant online and round the clock access to the development plans shaping their areas, websites for submitting planning applications and monitoring their progress through the system. There will also be clear and simple guides around the whole planning process, with answers to the most common questions. Some local authorities in Scotland are already pioneering this approach. Edinburgh City Council came top in a recent survey of online planning information provided by Scottish local authorities. Each month more than 23,000 people visit the council's planning website. Today's announcement will mean other local authorities will have the resources to provide the same level of online service.
Plan to Convert Historic Church into a Restaurant
There have been over 300 letters of protest from residents, tourists and historians objecting to plans by Edinburgh City Council to convert part of the historic Tron Kirk into a restaurant. It is currently leased by the Old Town Information Centre. The manager of the centre argues that the proposal would damage the historic fabric of the building, which includes the remnants of Edinburgh's oldest paved street, Martin's Wynd, which was uncovered underneath the church. The council claims that the restaurant would "revitalise" the Old Town - despite the High Street being full of cafes and restaurants, many of which change hands frequently because they find it hard to survive with so much competition. The information centre has 300,000 visitors a year, who come to find out more about the city's historic Old Town.
Sweet Deal Saves Highland Toffee
Many of the 150 workers made redundant at the factories which make McCowan's Highland Toffee and Miller's Pan Drops may get their jobs back as a result of a deal with Principal Capital Management, a specialist investment company. Production of the sweet company's famous brands could resume within ten days.
Street Lights Powered by the Sun
Even in the middle of a dark Scottish winter, there is enough sunlight which can be converted to provide electricity to run all sorts of devices. Parking meters have been fitted with solar power for a number of years and 100 bus shelters in Edinburgh are being lit by the sun's energy. Now experiments have begun at Edinburgh airport to run street lighting which stores energy during the day. They turn on the lights automatically at dusk and then switch off again at dawn. If the new lights are a success, they will be installed in country lanes and remote bus stops where mains electricity is sometimes not readily available.
Silvery Tay Turns Muddy Brown
"Behold the Tiber!" the vain Roman cried,
When Sir Walter Scott wrote those boastful lines in "The Fair Maid of Perth", the river was already well known as the "silvery Tay". Of course, that could refer as much to the silver salmon and trout as the colour of the water. But after a heavy rainfall last weekend and possibly a landslide some way up-river, the residents of Perth found that the water had turned a muddy brown. Some locals had never seen such a brown colour before. But anglers said that when the river and its tributaries have been at a low level for a long time, a heavy fall of rain washes down a lot of silt and other rubbish. Peat also makes a contribution in tributaries such as the rivers Isla and Ericht.
Viewing the ample Tay from Baiglie's side;
But where's the Scot that would vaunt repay,
And hail the puny Tiber for the Tay?"
Meteor Sparks Aircraft Crash Alert
There were dozens of phone call s to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Stornoway in the Western Isles last Friday. Locals had seen a fireball falling from the sky and thought that it was a plane crashing to the ground. Emergency services and the local lifeboat crews were alerted to prepare for a large scale disaster - until it was realised that the Kappa Cygnid meteor shower was responsible. Although most meteors are seen as just streaks of light in the sky, occasional larger objects can produce bright yellow-blue fireballs. These would be seen even more vividly in the clear skies of the Western Isles, away from street lights.
Lost at the Hilton
The five-star Hilton Glasgow hotel is frequented by celebrities and business men and women and guests have included former American President Bill Clinton, former US Secretary Colin Powell and film star Sean Connery. This week, the hotel revealed a list of bizarre items which have been left behind by guests - though without saying who may have parted company with them. Items included a Zimmer frame, wigs, a sailor suit, a crate of noodles, the keys to a £200,000 Bentley, a £3000 Rolex Oyster watch, a quantity of insulin - and cash totalling £15,000. Toffs are careless, it seems, though many of the more expensive items were rapidly reunited with their owners. But several sets of false teeth - and a large chunk of cheddar cheese - have still not been claimed by guests who pay over £200 a night to sleep there.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Another week of "changeable" weather, with sun, cloud and rain. The north and northwest again had much of the cloud with best of the sunshine in the central belt and the south-west. Edinburgh and Glasgow reached 20C (68F) on Monday and Edinburgh and Aberdeen reached the same level on Wednesday. Otherwise, 18C (64F) was a typical maximum daytime temperature, though Stornoway in the Western Isles managed only 14C (57F) on a damp Monday. The outlook? Continuing changeable.
The illustration here is of a Eucryphia tree, covered in its white flowers at this time of year. The photo was taken earlier this week at Finlaystone Country Estate in Renfrewshire.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include a Sparrowhawk, Gourock and Firth of Clyde from Lyle Hill (see smaller image here), Globe Artichoke, Fuschia and Hydrangea flowers and a Painted Lady butterfly. See this week's Colour Supplement.