Vision and leadership are what’s needed to keep Edinburgh on right track, says Daniel Johnson
Last week saw the passing of the Planning Bill. A bill that failed to deal with one of the biggest problems facing housing in Edinburgh – the rise of short-term lets. As disappointing as the watered-down amendment tabled by the Tories and backed by the SNP was, what was more alarming was some of the rhetoric around it. Various speakers labelling Airbnb an “Edinburgh problem” before voting for a legislative shrug of the shoulders.
My concern is that Edinburgh’s needs are being ignored and issues overlooked. Our status as Scotland’s Capital and apparent economic success means no further attention is required. But as we see inequality rise, people priced out of our city, sprawling suburbs, student housing rather than residential, Edinburgh clearly has its own issues and problems.
Some of these are, in a sense, good issues to have. They are a symptom of people wanting to live here and the growing economy in this city. But left unchecked and unaddressed, these issues can grow into problems and problems into crises. People in recent months have been questioning what kind of city Edinburgh is becoming. Residents feel squeezed out in favour of tourists – the so-called Disneyfication. This calls into question the direction and strategy for the city.
It’s not just residents that feel the need for a clearer plan and strategy for the city. I have met with businesses, heritage groups and transport bosses all saying the same thing- we need a vision backed by investment in infrastructure and development that the city can sustain. The problem is, our city council has a poor track record on this – from stuttering tram projects, endless visions for Princes Street that never materialise and development plans that get overruled by government, to schools built short of spaces before they even open.
This is not a criticism of individuals. I know officials and politicians e have the best of intentions when it comes to the city. I think the institutions may no longer be fit for purpose.
Budgets and resources do, of course, come into play, and the constant erosion of local authority budgets by the SNP Government is a huge issue across Scotland. But I think Edinburgh’s strategic problems predate this. Moreover, I worry that the line between councillors and officials is too blurred. This leads to poor scrutiny and muddled direction.
I think the time has come to ask whether Edinburgh needs a directly elected mayor. Andy Burnham has given fresh direction and impetus to Manchester’s status as a major city. Sadiq Khan, pictured, has not only stood up to Donald Trump, his leadership has seen London take air pollution more seriously than any other city in the UK. Critics argue that mayors can lead to personality, presidential-style politics.
But what strikes me is two things. One, accountability – mayors stand or fall on their record. Two – mayors need to provide vision and leadership for their cities.
These are both things that Edinburgh needs. Otherwise it will continue to be ignored and taken for granted.
It is time for a mayor for Edinburgh.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.