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Edinburgh World Heritage/Events/Politicians agree on need to build a greener, more equal Edinburgh post-Covid

Politicians agree on need to build a greener, more equal Edinburgh post-Covid


5th June 2020

Rebecca Leary

How can we build a better Edinburgh? This was the big question posed to four leading Scottish politicians at Edinburgh World Heritage’s ‘In conversation with…’ online event Thursday evening, the second in a series of digital events programmed in response to the lockdown. Joined by a large audience from many parts of the world, politicians were asked to consider what the future of Edinburgh might be post-Covid-19.

“For me that would be an Edinburgh that is a truly liveable city, and one that prioritises the people who live here.” said Alison Johnstone, MSP for the Scottish Greens. Councillor Adam McVey wanted to see “fair work, sustainable environmental goals” enshrined in the economy. Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack recognised how difficult the pandemic had been for some and called for the continued support of Edinburgh’s homeless population and the “people on the edge.”

There was, however, a strong sense of the need for partnership across parties and industries. Jeremy Balfour, the Scottish Conservative MSP, commented that there was an “opportunity for universities, for local authorities, for the Scottish government, for wider civic society to say what type of Edinburgh do I want to live in.” Focusing on the exacerbation of inequalities caused by the impact of Covid-19, Sarah Boyack, Scottish Labour MSP, echoed the idea of getting more people involved in conversations: “in terms of opportunities we’ve got the mobility plan, the local plan. These are conversations we can all get involved in about how we build a better city.”

Several solutions were proposed as ways to address the financial fall-out of the epidemic. A range of barriers which now face the city were identified by the panelists, from the consequences of a growth-for-growth’s sake tourism policy to the economic fall-out of the pandemic and job losses affecting the most vulnerable in the city. Alison Johnstone and Adam McVey highlighted the need for more fiscal autonomy: “how we rebuild our economy has to be built on a different model. The economic crisis is yet to hit us.” He went on to say that “land value capture could be part of the solution” which would see a tax levied on land that had increased in value due to public infrastructure investment.

The future of tourism in the city post-Covid was also discussed, with Sarah Boyack highlighting the role that local people can play in the recovery of the city: “we need to rediscover our own city”. Panelists were united in agreeing with calls to accelerate the stricter regulation of short-term lets: “residential properties moving into short-term lets need to move back to being residential properties” commented Adam McVey, with a caveat from Jeremy Balfour that we do need to “be able to offer people a variety of places to stay. We’ve got to get these regulations right”.

Panelists were mostly in agreement that the Transient Visitor Levy, or tourist tax, should not be delayed, which would allow the City Council to potentially have access to this funding stream from next summer, 2021. “We have been long-term supporters of a transient visitor levy and I’m not convinced there is a need to hesitate, but there is a need to work cross-party together” said Alison Johnstone. Jeremy Balfour though raised concerns over the ability of the tourism industry to be able to recover if the TVL was imposed too soon: “I think we need to give our hotels, our restaurants, our tourist trade as much help as we can, but to introduce this at this moment would not be the right time. We need to get our tourists back into the city and let’s not do anything to put them off.”

There were some signs that the tide might be turning in favour of an elected Lord Provost for Edinburgh. Sarah Boyack commented that she had “been struck by them in Manchester and Birmingham” and that it had been a positive shift of power away from London. “I’m not convinced” was the response from the Green MSP, “decisions are better made by communities.”

Bringing the evening to a close, panelists universally agreed that one of the bright spots of the lockdown had been the increase in people walking and cycling, and the positivity from local communities. Adam McVey added that he’d “never seen organisations bring the barriers down in the way that they have now” and “to see the level of ‘one-city-ness’ has been hugely heartening.”

You can watch the whole event in full for free on our YouTube page.

Over the coming weeks, we will be hosting a series of on-line conversations with leading local and national figures to discuss some of the issues we face as a city, both during and after the coronavirus lockdown.

Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to hear about our next online event, or visit our events page for more details.

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