If the festive season has taught us anything it is that Edinburgh is desperately in need of a new catchphrase.
Before Christmas, “Everybody Hates a Tourist” and “Disneyfication Is No Bad Thing” were among the suggestions to emerge from an ill-advised speech from Marketing Edinburgh’s chairman, Gordon Robertson.
The silly season between Christmas and Hogmanay lived up to its name when Edinburgh City Council’s deputy leader, Cammy Day, found himself under fire for a dig at “Bloody Dundee” for managing to secure a V&A museum for its waterfront regeneration.
Offering another intriguing insight into the mindset of those who inhabit the corridors of power and influence in the city, he declared: “Dundee is not the capital city, Edinburgh is.”
At least Mr Day has had the good grace to apologise to the council leadership in Dundee, who understandably lapped up his festive gift as “high dudgeon” over the success of the city’s £1 billion waterfront regeneration. I suspect Edinburgh World Heritage, the principal target in Mr Robertson’s speech, will be waiting until next Christmas to get an apology from Edinburgh Airport’s director of communications.
Dundee’s political leaders have, perhaps somewhat cheekily, offered to advise Mr Day and his colleagues on Edinburgh’s stalled waterfront dreams. Without delay, they should take Dundee up on its offer, ask serious questions about the failed progress in the capital and come up with a compelling vision for the future, instead of bleating about what has been done elsewhere. The capital’s councillors have long blamed the economic downturn for the lack of progress in regenerating areas like Granton, Newhaven and Leith over the last decade – the same economic downturn Dundee faced down by pressing ahead with its V&A museum and wider waterfront improvements, such as a new public park capable of hosting major outdoor concerts and events. You will search in vain for anything similar on Edinburgh’s waterfront.
The ironic thing about Mr Day’s intervention is he was actually trying, albeit clumsily, to set out ambitious cultural aspirations for Granton, which he also happens to represent as a local councillor. He has suggested that what remains of Granton’s historic gasworks – a towering former gas holder last used in 1987 – could become the city’s equivalent of V&A Dundee.
If developers behind previous prolonged efforts to regenerate Granton had their way the gas holder would have been demolished to make way for flats years ago. But they were thwarted after it was given listed building status. We will never know what could have been achieved in Granton over the last decade if they had instead worked with the city council to turn it into something special. One need only look at how similar structures in Vienna, Athens and Oberhausen, in Germany, have been turned into galleries, museums, concert halls and exhibition centres, and creating the economic ripple effect seen in Glasgow since its Hydro arena was completed five years ago.
Crucially, the fate of the Granton tower is now in the council’s hands, after the entire former gasworks site was acquired last March.
Maybe Mr Day and his colleagues could turn a negative into a positive by launching an international design contest to come up with a bold new use for the Granton gas tower. After all, it was exactly that kind of process that led to Dundee securing the V&A and all the extra visitors, jobs and investment that have come with it.