Archive for March, 2010
I left a message on Tom’s mobile suggesting we might take a rain check. Or even a snow check. But the Guardian’s new beatblogger is made of strong stuff and how could I refuse? He wanted to follow up my blog about Tesco by interviewing real shopkeepers in Broughton Street and he wasn’t going to let horizontal rain put him off.
Or, to be honest, he says, he didn’t know how bad it was until he was on his bike and heading for Broughton.
This is Tom Allan’s first month as the Guardian’s first Edinburgh beatblogger setting out to cover the stories that other parts of the media too often do not reach.
Take a look at his blog. It’s a promising mix of community activism, politics, poetry and personal whims (I particularly like the piece on the young film makers at Pilton Video, including the nerdy comment from a reader correcting Tom’s spelling: for goodness sake this is the Grauniad!).
And of course I like the fact that he wanted to follow up my story even if it does mean traipsing up and down Broughton Street in rain that feels very much like snow. Over quick lunch in the Broughton Delicatessen Tom speaks to someone at Tesco who confirms they are indeed committed to opening an Express Store in Picardy Place.
Outside in the street, shopkeepers are welcoming and surprisingly ready to talk to a man with a microphone. I haven’t had so much fun for a long time – takes me back 35 years, when St Cuthberts Co0perative was the closest you could get to a supermarket, and my first freelance story for the Scotsman (those were the days when it was a real newspaper) involved being photographed among fish heads (don’t ask!) in a friendly fishmongers.
Some things don’t change. The fish shop puts on a star performance: “They’re gutted,” says the newish owner of Something Fishy, pointing to the pile of filleted fish on the slab. “That comment is going in the podcast,” says a grinning Tom alternating between mic, camera and mobile phone.
I leave him editing the podcast in the warmth of Nom de Plum cafe. He hopes to get the story, just one of his three or four posts a day, up on the Guardian’s new Edinburgh website by tonight or first thing tomorrow. That’s new media for you (with just a little old media assistance).
March 30th, 2010
Welcome to Broughton Street, open for business despite the tramworks. It’s the place to come whether you want a leisurely meal or a quick coffee, whether you are looking for upmarket sausages or good wines, second hand books or frilly knickers, organic fruit, vegetables or ( ahem) erotica. On a wet March morning there is a buzz in the air but a big cloud on the horizon. Tesco Express is coming.
Despite letters of protest from local MSPs, city councillors, businesses, heritage groups and residents such as myself, the city council planning committee has approved Tesco Express Group plans for Picardy Place.
On paper the plans look harmless: a new shop front in Picardy Place and ‘plant louvres’ at the back in Broughton Street Lane. My objection (as I wrote for the excellent Broughton Spurtle) was based on evidence of what happens to an area once Tesco moves in – when local shops close a sense of community often dies with them.
There’s plenty of good evidence for this and it is worth looking at the Tescopoly and Tesco Town websites Across the UK, communities (not least Paisley, Portobello, Inverness and Milngavie ) are rebelling against the relentless spread of supermarkets which destroy local character and sense of community. More than that, a New Economics Foundation study, The New Economics: A Bigger Picture, found a connection between the presence of Wal-Mart and low voting turn-out in communities.
Even so, the planning committee could find no reason to reject Tesco’s plans because they were deemed no threat to the fabric and appearance of a listed building in the World Heritage Site (those ‘plant louvres’ being the huge metal sheets that disguise stuff like ventilation). There is currently nothing in planning regulations that permits the committee to consider measurable damage to local businesses or less easily measured quality of life.
In fact, it did not even go to committee despite cross-party opposition. As Angela Blacklock a local Labour councillor explains:
“Every Councillor from the Central and
Leith Walk ward put out a joint statement opposing Tesco’s planning
application but our comments were not ‘material’ to the application
which was very straight forward and with Council policy and so it went
through without going to committee.”
Where does that leave local traders? Thanks to Tesco there is now a Broughton Street Traders Association but they are resigned to the inevitable. “Tesco is off the agenda”, says Patrick Crawshaw of the Bakehouse, an active founding member along with Lucy Tanat-Jones of Organic Pleasures (which does not sell fruit and veg as my pal Celia innocently supposed).
The traders association is now concentrating on creating a website to promote every shop in the street – raising awareness of the wonderful diversity of the ‘village’ – so they can take advantage of council plans for Picardy Place developments, whatever and whenever that may be.
Open for business? Quirky independent shops and quality traders like Crombie’s are likely to survive the numbing blandness of cut-price ‘convenience’ shopping. But small corner shops near the top of Broughton Street are vulnerable. I hope we can mobilise public support for a campaign to change Scottish planning regulations (click here for the Friends of the Earth campaign in England and Wales) and monitor the effects of Tesco on the local shops.
After all Tesco would not be coming here at all if small shops had not proved there is money to be made in the area. As they say: ‘every little helps’.
March 26th, 2010
There was sparkling water for the MSPs and glasses of wine for the rest of us. A book launch in Edinburgh is a nice night out, especially when the book has been written by a friend. Even when that book is a serious and sobering deconstruction of Glasgow.
The Tears that Made the Clyde by Carol Craig has the subtitle Well-Being in Glasgow but no-one is in any doubt what that really means. I haven’t read it yet but judging from last night’s speeches this is a devastating look at the causes and effects of generations of chronic ill health – and the chronic inequality at the root of it all. But there is no room for any Edinburgh complacency. As Carol points out, while Glasgow’s health statistics are the worst in Europe, there are parts of Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee Stirling and even Perth which are no better. This is a story for the whole of Scotland.
Which of course is why there were MSPs at the launch in the very elegant Birlinn building in Newington Road. I should point out that the MSPs were allowed to have wine if they wanted. It was Birlinn publisher, Hugh Andrew, who noted that politicians opt for sparkling water when they are working next day, while the rest of us are free to fill our glasses (which most of us did). And I should also add that Tears that Made the Clyde is published by Argyll Publishing. It just so happens Hugh Andrew is a pal of Argyll publisher Derek Rodger so he offered his house (which is also the Birlinn office) for the Edinburgh launch.
The point is worth making because both publishers seem to share not just a passion for books but a mission to save Scotland’s soul by publishing them. Given the title and subject matter of Carol’s book there was a fair amount of serious discussion about the state Glasgow is in. But everyone was looking for a message of hope.
For Carol, hope is only possible if we accept we must reduce inequality by investing in the future’s of Scotland’s children. For Harry Reid, former editor of the Herald and proudly Glaswegian (if living in Edinburgh) there is a nice natural justice in the fact that the Necropolis cemetery – the last resting place of Glasgow’s wealthiest merchant princes – is now the happy drinking ground of the city’s dispossessed.
For Hugh Andrew and Derek Rodger salvation lies in publishing books that enlighten. I drank to that last night. Now I will read the book.
March 17th, 2010