Edinburgh city region deal just reinforces the status quo

Written by Tom Freeman on 20 July 2017 in Comment

Will Edinburgh’s excluded communities and the wider area feel the benefit of its city region deal?

Edinburgh street dancer - credit rumpelstiltskin on Flickr

As Edinburgh gears up for its international festival, how many of its own residents will be dancing in the streets?

They should be, according to Scotland office minister Ian Duncan.

The city region deals, kicked off by a hurried announcement of development funding for Glasgow in the final days of the independence referendum campaign, are designed to produce “new collaborative regional partnerships, focused on long-term strategic approaches to improving regional economies”.

The city deals were the brainchild of former Chancellor George Osborne, who said the investments would restore civic pride and balance the economy as part of his “devolution revolution” across the UK.


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In practice investments have been focused on the central city in the hope the economic growth will spill outwards.

Inverness, for example, sees investment in nearby roads and on a new university campus, but what benefits there will be for a wider area the size of Belgium remain to be seen.

The new £600m for Edinburgh is shared by the UK and Scottish Governments, but how will the surrounding communities from Roxburgh to Rosyth benefit?

“The Edinburgh deal will focus on the capital’s strengths of new technology, innovation and culture,” said Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

This will include innovation hubs to boost economic growth through the city’s successful Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Queen Margaret universities and a new concert hall in St Andrew’s Square.

A new fund will support extensive housebuilding in Granton and outwith the city, where many families have relocated as house prices in the capital continue to rise.

Attracting inward investment is the aim, and politicians of all colours say an impressive 21,000 new jobs will be created.

Duncan said Edinburgh residents “should be dancing in the street about this”, while Scotland’s Economy Secretary Keith Brown said the proposals would help the region “to be one of the fairest and most inclusive areas in the country”.

But while the city’s successful universities and booming digital technology industry are well placed to attract further investment, how much of that can realistically be expected to focus on fairness and inclusion?

One in five households in Edinburgh live below the poverty threshold and are largely hidden away in the suburbs, already marginalised from its great festivals and New Year party.

Brown confirmed the Scottish Government is investing nearly half of its contribution – £120m – on roads.

But the city’s mediaeval town centre is already congested with traffic, despite attempts previous council administrations to tackle the issue.

Air pollution, which the Institute for Public Policy Research this week called “the tobacco of the 21st century” is a serious health problem in a historic town centre which if located in any other northern European country would have been pedestrianised decades ago.

Early plans for the road system by the new St James Centre Growth Accelerator project show five or six lanes of traffic passing by the currently pedestrian-heavy Omni centre, where a cinema and the Playhouse offer what could be a cultural hub.

Investing in more roads, an already booming digital sector and a great big concert hall all boost the status quo, but the status quo currently offers little to many of Edinburgh’s communities, let alone those outside the city.

The new concert hall could have been located in another town, rather than another one in a city which already boasts the UK’s largest non-sporting theatre in the Playhouse, with a capacity of 3,059, the 1,915 capacity Festival Theatre, and a concert hall in the Usher Hall which holds 2,200.

What is there in this city "region" deal for Midlothian? Or for Rosyth? How will another concert hall and ring road benefit the Borders?

The Scottish Government has committed to do an equality impact assessment on the Aberdeen city region deal. Perhaps it would be wise to do the same to the Edinburgh deal too.

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