Stephen Jardine: Goodbye venue, hello superpub

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane BarlowStephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
WHY would anyone want to become a local authority councillor? It can’t be for the money and following the scrapping of slap-up three-course lunches a few years ago, it’s probably not for a free feed.

You have to hope that most of those who commit their time to representing the people in a city like Edinburgh do so because they believe in public service and doing the best for their community.

If that is the case, what on earth happened to six members of the city’s Development Management Sub Committee this week? Sadly, we don’t know who they were because according to the Council, “how each councilor voted wasn’t recorded”.

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What we do know is that they chose to ignore the views of more than 13,000 people who had campaigned to save an iconic music venue in the city and instead approved an application to turn it into a superpub.

In the 1970s the Caley Palais played host to bands such as Queen and Genesis and in recent years it received a new lease of live performance life as the Picture House. Its closure last year was a bitter blow for music fans in a city already poorly served by venues. But it’s the decision to turn the site into a monster Wetherspoon’s pub that has sparked the greatest controversy.

Many will remember the days when Lothian Road was shorthand for trouble in Edinburgh. Fights regularly spilled outs of pubs and walking up the street required a heady mix of bravery and ignorance.

All that has changed in recent years. But that shouldn’t leave room for complacency. According to Alcohol Focus Scotland, within easy walking distance of the Picture House there are 285 alcohol outlets.

The new superpub doesn’t just add to that list, it will provide space for more than 700 drinkers under one roof. On a busy weekend, that has the potential to plunge Lothian Road back into the drinking dark ages.

The local area has already been branded an area of “serious, special concern” by the Licensing Board and last year Police Scotland tried, but failed, to halt the opening of two new local off licences on the basis of the link between over-provision of booze and disorder.

So what led councillors to ignore the public petitions and the warnings from health campaigners? Giving the decision his support, Edinburgh’s planning leader Councillor Ian Perry claimed they had no other option.

“If there’s no legitimate reason for refusing it then we leave ourselves open to a challenge, “ he told reporters.

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Isn’t a challenge a small price to pay for standing up for what is best for the city? After all, this is the same Council who managed to waste millions in legal fees over the tram project.

Legal costs associated with standing up for what is best for the city seem like a small price to pay.