Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas and Very Best Wishes for 2016 :-)

My very last day in the Office for this year ...

... and I am planning to have a bit of a complete break from 'the blog/twitter/facebook/blipfoto' over the next couple of weeks.

Normal service will resume on Tuesday 5th January 2016  ;-)

I am in-and-around Edinburgh over the holiday-period, but seriously hoping to reacquaint myself with the family!

My work e-mails are though being read by staff, so if you need to get in touch urgently, then that's the best way to do so:

I am also available on the mobile if its a real emergency ...

... hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Very Best Wishes for 2016 :-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Forth Road Bridge given green light to reopen (from 6am tomorrow, Wednesday 23rd December)

Very welcome news this morning ... the Forth Road Bridge will re-open to all vehicles (except HGVs) from 6am tomorrow morning :-)

More details via the Scottish Government News Release, which I'll also re-produce below ...

... and *huge thanks* to all those who have worked round-the-clock to make this happen.

Forth Road Bridge given green light to reopen

22/12/2015 10:30
Operating company Amey confirms that temporary repairs have been completed.
The Forth Road Bridge will be open to vehicles except HGVs from tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.
Operating company Amey today confirmed that temporary repairs had been completed. Transport Minister Derek Mackay praised the team involved in the repair work who have worked around the clock to get the bridge reopened.
The main points from the update on Forth Road Bridge repairs are as follows:

• Bridge to reopen to all vehicles bar HGVs and abnormal loads from 6am tomorrow (Weds)
• Installation of steel splint to repair the cracked member is complete
• Detailed load testing of the bridge is complete
• HGVs account for 32 per cent of the weight the bridge normally carries despite making up approx 9 per cent of overall traffic
• Splints continue to be installed at other seven truss end links as a precautionary measure – this work can be safely completed with the bridge open
• Full inspection of FRB is 90% complete with no material defects detected – remaining inspection will continue until early January and can be safely completed with the bridge open

Work has been completed to repair the cracked member through the installation of a steel splint, as planned. As previously announced, this splint repair was always intended to be interim in order to allow the bridge to be safely re-open to traffic pending a permanent repair being carried out. Since completion of the interim repair, the member in question has been thoroughly load tested, monitored, and results gathered through the use of strain gauges. These sophisticated devices have been installed for the first time on the bridge and provide live and accurate data on strains, stresses and rotations within this area of the bridge.

The results from this monitoring show the bridge can now be safely reopened to all traffic, except HGVs and abnormal loads. This means that the bridge will be open to over 90 per cent of the traffic that uses it. Independent engineering experts have analysed the findings and agree with Amey’s assessment that loading the bridge with HGVs could result in stress to the truss end link. They agree the best way to mitigate against this risk is to exclude HGVs from using the bridge until the permanent repair is in place. This will take around six weeks to complete and, subject to favourable weather conditions and no further defects being identified, the bridge should reopen to HGVs in mid-February. Ministers and officials will now discuss with hauliers the operational support that can be offered to them during the period when they cannot access the bridge.
Transport Minister Derek Mackay said:

"I am pleased that we are now able to reopen the bridge to 90 per cent of traffic, well ahead of schedule. Following rigorous testing and inspection of the temporary repair, experts have recommended the bridge is now ready to open to all traffic except HGVs. With the temporary solution now in place, the remaining work to install the long term repair can safely proceed without the need for a full closure. The repairs will be carried out with overnight lane restrictions on the bridge.

"For the complex and detailed interim repair to have been completed in this timeframe is a tribute to the highly skilled and dedicated staff who have worked 24/7 since December 3rd. Since the closure was put in place, weather conditions have been mainly favourable and the team have been able to complete the repair work in good time.

"This has been an unprecedented challenge. We can't lose sight of the fact that many people have been inconvenienced by the closure. While that is deeply regrettable, I would like to thank the transport operators who pulled out all of the stops to put on extra services. In fact, I am pleased to announce that ScotRail have decided to continue the additional 05:52 Fife train given the popularity of the service, for as long as demand is evident.
“We have said all along our focus was on reopening the bridge as soon as possible and so today’s news is very welcome. However we understand that there will be considerable disappointment that the bridge will require to remain closed to HGVs for a few more weeks. While HGVs account for 9 per cent of overall traffic on the bridge, they represent 32 per cent of the weight the bridge carries. We therefore have no choice but to accept the recommendation of the engineers. However, we will now work with hauliers to discuss what operational support will be available to them during the period when they cannot access the bridge. Engineers predict that following the permanent repair at the failed north east tower location, and subject to favourable weather and no further defects being identified, the bridge should reopen to HGVs by mid-February.
“In addition to the interim repair on the cracked member, splints are being installed on the other seven members as a precaution. Of these, work is already complete at four and the remaining three will be completed, subject to weather, by the end of December. There is no reason for the bridge to remain closed while this work is completed. The other seven members have also been inspected and load tested and no issues have been discovered. However strain gauges will also be attached to these members to gather accurate data on their performance.
“Since closure of the bridge was put in place it has also undergone a thorough health check. A painstaking inspection has been carried out involving over 65 rope access inspectors and drone footage to identify any other defects. The inspection is 90 per cent complete and no material defects have been identified. It will be concluded by early January and there is no reason to keep the bridge closed while this is completed.”

Chartered Engineer Mark Arndt, Amey's Account Director responsible for the bridge said:
"Better than expected weather conditions and round the clock work by our teams allowed us to progress with the detailed inspection, scaffolding construction and actual repairs quicker than originally anticipated. While we are pleased to have finished ahead of schedule for non HGV traffic to use the bridge, we are very aware of the on-going inconvenience for HGVs not having access. Public safety has been at the heart of everything we've been doing and work will be progressing over the coming weeks on the additional strengthening works required to enable HGVs to start safely using the bridge.”
Superintendent Fraser Candlish of the Road Policing Unit said:
“Keeping traffic moving safely in the East of Scotland and minimising disruption to road users continues to be our priority, along with our traffic management partners. We are supporting getting the key route open again as many thousands of people head on their Christmas and New Year journeys.
“To ensure the Bridge opens to all other traffic, we will be enforcing the closure to HGVs. Officers will be on patrol on both sides of the Forth, maintaining a visible presence and stopping heavy goods vehicles on the approach. There will also be enforcement through static and mobile cameras.
“The restrictions are in place for the safety of all bridge users, and I would continue to urge all HGV drivers to leave extra time for their journeys and use the divisions which are being widely signposted and publicised. Extra officers will continue to patrol these diversion routes also, to respond to any incidents which may occur and keep traffic flowing.”

Notes To Editors

The temporary repair work involves strengthening the truss end links through the application of splints to the members, due to the crack which occurred in the bottom of one of the truss end links. It is important that the pin which links to two parts of the joint is moving sufficiently to allow movement in the joint. The results from the load testing show that the movement in the pin located at the lower section of the truss end link is not sufficient to support HGV traffic.

Transport Scotland Communications : 0141 272 7195

Sunday, December 20, 2015

near-midwinter, Allotment Update ;-)

Literally just a few days before "midwinter's day", and less than a week to Christmas ...

... and at our Saughton Mains Allotment this morning it was unbelievably mild with --- as the snap shows --- several crops still growing:

- spinach
- chard
- fennel


Friday, December 18, 2015

Severity of local government settlement may delay Council budget

Severity of local government settlement may delay Council budget

The City of Edinburgh Council may need to consider delaying the finalisation of the city’s 2016/17 Budget due to the severity of the local government settlement announced earlier this week.

Edinburgh’s proposed settlement figure sees a headline revenue reduction of some 4.5%, which is double that which was anticipated prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

Council Leader, Andrew Burns, said:
“A reduction in revenue funding of the scale now being proposed, will undoubtedly have a negative impact on a whole range of vital services that local government is responsible for delivering: the children in our care, the elderly struggling with dementia whom we look after, and vulnerable adults whom we assist daily; all these individuals rely on the support that only a council can provide.

"Of course we will continue to work with our colleagues in COSLA, to try and reach an improved negotiated settlement, but given the Scottish Government has confirmed their final Budget will not be approved by Parliament until the end of February, we may now have to seriously consider delaying the finalisation of the city’s own budget for 2016/17.”

Council Deputy Leader, Sandy Howat, added:
“A revenue cut of this scale would be very damaging for jobs and services within Scottish local government generally, and here in Edinburgh specifically – the harsh reality is that this will translate to real job cuts that hit real families, in real communities throughout our capital city. Everyone will be hurt by this.

"The City of Edinburgh Council is already facing significant workforce reductions, and very challenging budget decisions – Wednesday’s announcement makes all of that even more difficult, and we may well need to consider delaying the finalisation of our own budget for the city.”

  1. The Scottish Government announced its 2016/17 Budget settlement on Wednesday 16th December 2015
  2. As part of that announcement, it was confirmed that the final Budget will not be approved by Parliament until the end of February 2016
  3. The City of Edinburgh Council is currently scheduled to set its 2016/17 Budget on Thursday 21st January 2016
  4. The Council could now delay its own budget-finalisation, whilst negotiations at COSLA continue and the Scottish Parliament reaches a conclusion on the overall settlement

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

COSLA President slams package of measures as totally unacceptable

Spent the afternoon at COSLA today, which coincided with the Scottish Government funding-settlement being announced - some detail via the BBC here ...

... just no question that Local Government are the big losers in this years announcement. I've been a Councillor since the onset of devolution (in May 1999) and I've never seen so many genuinely angry Council Leaders (of all political persuasions) - it is the worst settlement for Local Government since 1999; sadly, of that, I've absolutely no doubt :-(

COSLA's related News Release follows:


Job losses will equate to 50 Tata Steelworks

COSLA got a very clear steer from Council Leaders this afternoon (Wednesday) that the package of measures being put forward for Scottish local government is totally unacceptable.

Speaking following a special Council Leaders meeting in Edinburgh today COSLA President Councillor David O’Neill said:  “Whatever way they spin it, this is an “austerity” budget of straight political choice – how else could you describe a low spend, low tax budget that will cost 15,000 council jobs equivalent to 50 Tata Steelworks to put that into some context. 
“COSLA got a very clear steer from Council Leaders this afternoon that the package of measures for local government is totally unacceptable.
“This is a budget that hits the council workforce in terms of job losses, it hits the child in care, it hits the elderly struggling with dementia and the vulnerable adults, all of whom solely rely on the support that only a council can provide.
“Make no mistake this is a budget that has been made in Scotland and imposed on Scottish Local Government.  The 3.5 per cent cut (£350 Million) coming to us next year cannot be laid at Westminster’s door this time around as we all know that the Scottish Government got a cash increase.  
“A cut of 3.5 per cent is catastrophic for jobs and services within Scottish Local Government – because the harsh reality is that it actually translates to real job cuts that hit real families, in real communities throughout Scotland.  Everyone will be hurt by this.
“This budget could only have been constructed by someone who has no responsibility for service delivery and  who clearly does not understand the reality on the ground or the impact it will have on those struggling in Scotland.”
Article published: 
Wed, 16/12/2015 - 16:21


Monday, December 14, 2015

Get Festive in South Queensferry

... for fairly obvious reasons, South Queensferry could do with a little, additional patronage over the coming few weeks - here are some reasons to go:

"Edinburgh is a truly magical at this time of year, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the hustle and bustle for a while to enjoy a slightly slower pace and the stunning scenery of Edinburgh’s outer lying areas. South Queensferry, located on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth is just a hop, skip and a jump from the capital, offering a great option to escape the city for an afternoon of fun with the family or friends.

Equally, for those people living in Fife, the ‘Festive Ferry’ has loads to offer and provides a closer alternative to get some Christmas shopping done or a chance to enjoy a festive tipple or two without travelling into the city. And, despite the closure of the Forth Road Bridge, it’s still very accessible, with ScotRail services running regularly from Inverkeithing.

Whether it’s a relaxing day of shopping in South Queensferry’s independent shops and boutiques, ranging from jewellers to kiltmakers and chocolatiers; a leisurely stroll, catching some fresh air on coastal walk through Dalmeny Estate to Cramond Beach; or a lunch and cocktails with friends at a restaurant and bar with a riverside view, there is something for all discerning tastes."

Much more detail via this link ...

... and don't forget, there's even a free, weekday shuttle-bus ;-)

Monday, December 07, 2015

Council keeping city moving through Forth Road Bridge closure

Further important local information, and links therein, regarding the ongoing closure of the Forth Road Bridge are contained within this News Release ...

Council keeping city moving through Forth Road Bridge closure

The City of Edinburgh Council is taking action to ensure the capital keeps moving during the closure of the Forth Road Bridge.
Plans are in place to minimise traffic impact and disruption resulting from the closure, which is scheduled to last until the New Year.
Council leaders have assembled a team of transport and resilience staff who are meeting daily to monitor the ongoing situation.
Under contingency plans, all major roadworks have been suspended to minimise disruption. The Council has also contacted utility companies to request they suspend all planned works except emergencies.
Waiting restrictions have been introduced where necessary to reduce congestion. The Council has recognised issues arising from commuters leaving cars in the vicinity of Dalmeny Rail Station, and has put parking suspensions in place in the surrounding roads and streets. Neighbourhood teams will continue to monitor the situation and will introduce parking attendants to assist. Those travelling north are being encouraged to consider alternative modes of transport, such as the Park and Ride service.
Council Leader, Councillor Andrew Burns, said: “The Council’s priority is to keep the city moving throughout this period and we have a number of measures in place to help achieve this, including the cancellation of roadworks and managing restrictions around busy public transport hubs.
“Existing infrastructure will also support our efforts, such as our Park and Ride system, and we would encourage commuters to make use of this. In addition, we will continue to work with partners to explore alternative means of transport and to minimise disruption.
“While we are making every effort to manage travel to and from Edinburgh, we would encourage commuters to allow extra journey time and to check regularly for travel updates online.
“As one of the city’s majors employers, the Council has committed to offering flexible working to staff while maintaining frontline services.”
The Council is working closely with public transport providers to assess demand and capacity, while the Traffic Signals team is currently monitoring the impact of changed traffic flows in the city, making dynamic improvements to signal timings where possible.
As part of the management of strategic routes in the west of the city, in order to minimise disruption, a number of additional measures have been put in place, including:
  • Traffic signals on key arterial routes
  • Waiting restrictions and parking management, particularly around the Dalmeny Station area
  • Monitoring of waiting restrictions near other public transport hubs
As part of this commitment to frontline services, the Council’s Education department is liaising with Fife Council to explore ways in which teaching can be shared across both Councils, where teachers live on the opposite side of the bridge from their schools.
The Government has prepared a full travel plan(external link) for the duration of the closure – including further additional bus and rail services and a dedicated bus/HGV lane between Cairneyhill and Longannet. 
Travellers should check Traffic Scotland(external link) for updates and follow @edintravel(external link) on Twitter for live traffic news for Edinburgh.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Allotment Update

Managed to snatch an hour at our Allotment - down at Saughton Mains - earlier this morning ...

... all looking in reasonable order, as you can hopefully see from the first snap :-)

--- but the Water of Leith, which runs very nearby, was looking pretty high; as clearly evidenced in the second snap below :-(

Saturday, December 05, 2015

December Leader's Report

December 2015

Are you ready for winter?

Andrew Burns

It's safe to say that winter is officially upon us. Here at the Council we've been preparing for months, stocking up on salt and testing gritting routes. Our teams are already regularly out treating roads, pavements and cycle routes to minimise icy conditions.

But are you ready for winter? It's important that residents make their own plans too to make sure they stay warm over the chillier months, ensuring that their homes are weather-proofed and that there are arrangements in place should wintry weather cause disruption to travel, schools or any other services.

We've got lots of tips and information on our web pages to help the public prepare, and you can find the Scottish Government's advice on their Ready Scotland website.

What's more, you can save time, do it online this winter by using our web forms to request a new grit bin, report an empty one or find out about our priority gritting routes.
Councillor Andrew Burns
Leader of the City of Edinburgh


Tram project update 


At next week's council meeting, we will be considering the potential next steps for extending the tram in Edinburgh.

I'm satisfied that the latest recommendations offer a viable way forward for the project, which we are confident is set to offer a range of benefits for the city.

Obviously we want to provide best value to the citizens of Edinburgh, and by re-phasing the first stages of project development we will be able to deliver this within financial constraints, and ensure as much preparation as possible is carried out before any physical work gets underway.


Small Business Saturday 


This weekend is the annual Small Business Saturday which encourages residents to shop locally. In support of this, there are a number of events taking place in town centres across the city, including Christmas light switch-ons in Stockbridge and Portobello.

Edinburgh is home to numerous independent retailers and small enterprises across our nine town centres and beyond. Over 200,000 people live within 1km of our town centres and they support 25,000 jobs.

I would encourage everyone to support their local shops and other businesses every Saturday but particularly on Small Business Saturday - strong and vibrant town centres play a crucial role in a successful city economy.


Still time to have your say 


There's only two weeks left of this year's budget consultation and I would like to thank the 2,000 of you who have already taken the time to have your say.

Last week, attention turned to our Question Time event, giving members of the public the opportunity to quiz our panel of senior councilors (including me!) on the budget proposals that mattered to them. It was a lively debate with the Chair, Scotsman and Evening News editor Frank O'Donnell, taking contributions from the floor and from those watching at home. Archive footage of the event is available to view on our website.

Please take the time to have your say on the proposals, if you haven't already. The consultation period runs until 17 December, and we will consider all feedback prior to setting the final budget on 21 January 2016.


The missing link 


As you know I'm a keen cyclist and walker and so it's always of great interest when I read reports on how we can help to make Edinburgh even more bike and pedestrian friendly.

Our latest proposals for a 'family-friendly' cycle link between Roseburn and Leith Walk will plug a gap in the city's extensive cycle network, providing a new European-style cycle route connecting the west to the east, running through the city centre via George Street. By creating a cycle lane that's mostly segregated from traffic we want to encourage people who aren't confident to get on their bike.

We now want to hear your views on our proposals for the route, which it has been estimated would increase cycling along the corridor by 90%. Our public consultation closes on 5 January 2016.


Cooperative Capital - continued 


Our Communities & Neighbourhoods committee recently learned of further good progress against the Council's Cooperative Capital Framework, which has now reached the end of its third year.

Ten schools have earned the 'schools of cooperation' award; tenant-led inspections are now taking place in housing; two new care cooperatives have been established - the Encompass Cooperative and the Care at Home Collaborative; and, as I mentioned last month, the hugely successful launch of the Edinburgh Community Solar Cooperative's £1.4m share offer has just taken place.

In total, 16 coops have been developed in the first three years of the framework, with six receiving business development support from the Council.


Farewell Alastair Maclean 


Our Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Corporate Governance, Alastair Maclean, is moving to pastures new in the New Year; returning to the private sector to become Baillie Gifford's Head of Legal.

Alastair joined us as Head of Legal in 2009, becoming Director two years later. Since then, he has been instrumental in solving some of our most high-profile challenges, from tram settlement negotiations to resolving the large number of complaints from the former property conservation service, to name just two.

He has also made a huge contribution to service improvement, transforming critical services, such as procurement, audit and risk and ICT, and leading the Council-wide transformation programme. His drive, energy and commitment will be greatly missed and we wish him every success for the future.


Season's greetings 


Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a merry Christmas and all the very best for 2016. I can think of nowhere better to enjoy Christmas or bring in the New Year than right here in Scotland's great capital city.


Stay in the picture 


Keep yourself in the picture with our news section online. Watch live full Council and some committee meetings on our webcast. Join the debate on Twitter #edinwebcast

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The City of Edinburgh Council

Friday, December 04, 2015

Forth Road Bridge closed until New Year

Not good news (to say the least) about the Forth Road Bridge ...

... lots more information here and here; and brief response from Edinburgh here (and below).

PLEASE do follow the various links therein, if you need alternative travel information.

Forth Road Bridge closed until New Year

Council Leader Andrew Burns responds to today's announcement by the Scottish Government that the Forth Road Bridge is to shut until the New Year for repairs following the discovery of defective steelwork.

Cllr Burns said: “I spoke this morning with the Transport Minister, Derek MacKay, to offer the Council’s full support during the closure of the Forth Road Bridge.

“Plans will be put in place in Edinburgh to ease impact on people travelling into and getting out of our city, and we will take all possible measures to ensure the Capital keeps moving in the coming weeks.

“Flexibility from all sides will be needed and we encourage commuters and employers to allow for plenty of extra travel time and to check regularly for travel updates online and in the media.

“While we plan to take a flexible approach with affected Council staff, our focus will remain firmly on ensuring frontline services continue to run smoothly.”

The Government is preparing a full travel plan for the duration of the closure – including further additional rail services. All other options are being explored including a dedicated bus corridor with park and ride facilities and passenger ferry services across the Forth.

Travellers should check Traffic Scotland for updates and follow @edintravel on Twitter for live traffic news for Edinburgh.


December Full Council Meeting

December's Full Council Meeting now coming up fast - takes place at 10am next Thursday (10th) ...

... all the reports are up on Committee Papers On-Line (CPOL) and you can access the main agenda directly here; and each of the individual reports separately via this link.

Of course - as ever, if you're so minded, you can watch all the proceedings live here ... or the meeting will be archived a few hours after it finishes for viewing at your leisure!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Sustainable energy action plan is given the green light

I was very pleased, alongside my colleague Lesley Hinds, to participate in this "joint-signing event" of Edinburgh's Sustainable Energy Action Plan ... details in the News Release below:

Largest organisations in Edinburgh pledge support for the city's Sustainable Energy Action Plan

A sustainable energy action plan for Edinburgh is given the green light.
Sustainable Energy Action Plan - 369x260
As world leaders gather in Paris to discuss global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming, some of Edinburgh’s largest organisations met earlier this week (Tuesday 1 December) to pledge their commitment to the City of Edinburgh Council led Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP). 
It is the first energy action plan for Edinburgh, aiming to transform the capital’s energy use by reducing demand and encouraging local generation. 
As a signatory to the Covenant of Mayors, Edinburgh joins thousands of European towns and cities in a commitment to reducing carbon. But the capital is going beyond the required 20% target with the most ambitious pledge in the UK, to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020. Edinburgh is already on track to meet this and can already account for a 34% reduction and is still working on further actions. 

This meeting of eight of the city’s largest organisations (NHS Lothian, RBS, Standard Life, BT Scotland, University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University and Edinburgh College) is the first step in creating a collaborative partnership to find solutions to individual and shared energy challenges across the city. 

The size of the organisations involved in this pioneer partnership means: 
- The sphere of influence is over 50% of Edinburgh’s population – and the Council reaches all residents. 
- The number of staff employed by the organisations and the Council amounts to 14% of the Capital’s population
- The number of students enrolled by the educational institutions would amount to 15% of Edinburgh’s population.

Environment Convener, Lesley Hinds said : “The SEAP is a city wide plan, not just a Council initiative. Everyone who lives and works in the city can play their part in reducing carbon emissions and the SEAP target is only achievable with city wide support. The SEAP will seek to develop that and therefore be constantly evolving to reflect this involvement with as many stakeholders as possible.

“The eight organisations who pledged today have a large sphere of influence throughout the city and our combined efforts to find innovative solutions to energy requirements and to reduce our carbon emissions, has the potential to make a much larger impact through this partnership. 

“The Council will provide the leadership and commit resources for this to happen, but it will need all of us in Edinburgh to come together and work in partnership. It will encourage our new partners to play their part and it will need citizens and businesses looking at how they use energy in the home, at work and throughout the day.”

Representatives from over 50 local businesses, active in the energy/low carbon sector also attended the breakfast to hear more about the plan and it offered them the opportunity to contribute towards Edinburgh’s ambitious energy plans. 

Professor Gill Hogg, Deputy Principal (External Relations) at Heriot-Watt University, said she hoped the development of a collaborative partnership which would include the Council and key partners would offer benefits and opportunities all round, especially to the environment.

“This is a practical step towards an ambitious goal. Heriot-Watt can offer the knowledge and expertise of our Energy Academy, which works to improve the understanding all elements of energy in transport, buildings, industry and the wider economy. 

“The proposed partnership would allow our staff and students to share that expertise and hopefully offer them practical opportunities to contribute towards the wider aims of the project.”