Edinburgh Council is playing Monopoly with your money by getting into the hotel business in a financially and environmentally mindless way – Susan Rae


Edinburgh Council may think it built a hotel on Park Lane, but the world has changed (Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

Edinburgh is committed to radically changing transport, energy use, waste and everything in between. But change in a way that tackles poverty, closing the gap between rich and poor.

Past economic decisions do not always measure up. Take the Gyle Mall in the early 1990s, a joint venture involving the then District Council. The ultimate model of an out-of-town shopping park, widely accessible by private car, is very poorly suited to the future direction Edinburgh needs now.

Has a lot changed? Not necessarily, considering the involvement of City Council in two of Edinburgh’s biggest projects: the St James Quarter to the east of the city center and Haymarket to the west.

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Granted, the old St James Mall was an eyesore (although not everyone thinks there is a change now). And, perhaps, if there are to be shopping centers, it is better that they be in the city center rather than on the outskirts; better to be in Edinburgh rather than going to Glasgow or Newcastle. But, in truth, St James, like all large retailers, is part of the problem – fast food, fast fashion, growth for growth, and a generic retail “offering” that could be anywhere in the world.

So why is the council spending over £ 60million in public money on it?

The argument is that this money pays for improvements to the public domain in and around the St James area and, anyway, will be reimbursed to the council through increases in non-domestic tariffs.

But, all over Edinburgh, developers are required to improve the public domain through planning agreements, none of them with the magnitude of direct funding seen at St James’s. And the revenues from non-domestic tariffs are needed for many purposes – to fund schools to train staff at St James, to provide transport links to get customers there and also for social care, parks, cleaning of the grounds. streets – all the other things that make civilized cities.

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So it’s unclear why the global investors behind the St James center really needed that extra £ 60million sweetener.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the city center, the city council’s decision to long-lease the city’s largest hotel (currently under construction by Quartermile in Haymarket) is even more astonishing.

The hotel will then be sublet to the Edinburgh International Conference Center consulting firm who will use the profits (if any) to invest in upgrading the Morrison Street conference center.

This at a time when a Code Red climate crisis casts huge skepticism over a business tourism model involving thousands of people flying around the world to meet for a few days, and where a global pandemic has sparked new creativity. to maintain the flow of ideas internationally. without so much unnecessary business travel.

The board, playing Monopoly, may think it has built a hotel on Park Lane and may see the profits pouring in. But the world has changed, and the council’s decision to tie up with the hospitality industry may prove to be as reckless financially as it is for the environment.

And if greener and fairer mean anything, more difficult choices will have to be made in the future.

Susan Rae is a Scottish Green Advisor for Leith Walk

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