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19th August – 25th August, 2023

19/08/23 – 25/08/23

Soaring Rents, Transport Woes and ….

Ghost Towns

            The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) has called on the Scottish government to reinvigorate the high street, with many of Scotland’s cities turning into ghost towns as the number of abandoned empty shop units rose to a rate of 15.9%.  Only out of town retail parks saw a slight improvement.  The SRC is calling for business rates to be lowered, and for no new levies or taxes.

            Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness have already started repurposing vacant retail centres post-Covid to create new communities combining retail, residential and small-scale business ventures.

Private Rents Soar for New Lets

            Despite Scottish government legislation curbing rent rises, new tenancies are exempt and have risen 11.4% on average.  Renfrewshire saw a 17.7% increase, Dundee 16.2%, Edinburgh 15.1%, Glasgow 14.4% and Aberdeen 13.1%.

            Continuing tenancies have seen private rents rise by an average 5.7%, just within the 6% limit allowed under some conditions.  Two years ago, the rise was just 1.3%.  The Scottish Tenants’ Organisation says the government must close loopholes which exempt new tenancies and social landlords.  Living Rent says the cap stops people needing to move.

            Maybe only building more houses and reusing empty or derelict properties will end the nightmare faced by those needing to rent.

St Andrews University

            Ludicrous rents are forcing St Andrews University students to live outside the town.  One property in the town attracts £900 a month rent, while an identical one next door demands £4,500 a month for an ex-council property.  The loophole exempting new lets is the cause.  First year students are guaranteed a place in hall at St Andrews, but even there rents are up by 8.3% this year.

            The university has just managed to source more accommodation in ….. Dundee.

Girls Still Missing Out

            After no girls were accepted last year to any of the SFA’s 7 performance schools (while 48 boys took all 48 places), it appears girls are faring little better this year.  Three girls were awarded places this year. Parents are complaining of a ‘tick box’ exercise, with lack of experience of coaching girls possibly a factor, plus no funding for girls.

            The SFA says it will be introducing a new bespoke pathway for girls but it does not say when, although details will emerge in the coming months.  That is no consolation to girls who are missing out now. Scotland needs to take women and girls’ football seriously if it is to catch up with the success of England’s Lionesses this summer.


A96 commitment abandoned

            Although Humza Yousaf gave a ‘cast iron commitment’ to dual the whole A9 between Perth and Inverness, he was less certain about the A96, saying ‘difficult decisions’ need to be made.  He would only commit to the Inverness-Nairn bypass.  Disgracefully, the rest is subject to ‘climate compatibility’.  Perhaps the A96 does not matter so much to someone who doesn’t use it, or doesn’t live or travel in the North-East.

Ports and Ferries

            Many of Scotland’s ferry ports are crumbling and desperately need upgraded, including Oban, which provides connections to Mull, Barra and South Uist.  CMAL owns infrastructure at 26 ports and leases 32 ferries to CalMac, but ferries regularly break down and the problems with the MV Hebridean Isles have led to the Ardrossan to Campeltown service being cancelled for the rest of the year.

Holiday Lets

            North Berwick says it has so many holiday lets that it is at a tipping point.  A study last year by the North Berwick Environment and Heritage Trust (NBEHT) showed that 50% of housing in the town centre was holiday lets or second homes, with some streets having hardly any permanent residents.  Government housing minister Paul McLennan met with representatives but could only console them with reporting anti-social behaviour, and using Freedom of Information legislation to make council decision-making transparent.

            As the trust points out, communities need more than tourists parachuting in for a couple of weeks a year.  Tourism should be a boost, not take the heart out of communities.

Neglected Land

            Only two communities have applied to take neglected land into public ownership since the scheme opened over 5 years ago.  Ministers can now force landowners to sell even against their will.  The two who applied were unsuccessful.  Inaccurate local maps led to the falling of Helensburgh Community Woodlands Group’s in 2019, as it created two lots rather than one.

            The process appears designed to fail, weighted in favour of landowners who can let land fall into disrepair. Land ownership can be opaque, and the process is cumbersome and expensive.

            Community Land Scotland says the Right to Buy Neglected Land and the Right to Force the Sale of Land for sustainable development are too cumbersome and expensive.


Off-grid Properties

            Regulations from 2025 requiring those in properties not connected to gas to switch from using oil, LPG and other solid mineral fuels have upset enough MSPs to get cross-party support against the plan.  SNP Rural Economy secretary Fergus Ewing said the government drive for electrification will overwhelm rural off-grid properties in particular.

Rural properties are also liable to weather-induced power outages and less efficient service.

Dunoon Larch Cull

            If you are in Dunoon this year, you may be surprised by large bare patches in Benmore Botanic Gardens, where over 350 larch trees will be culled due to the fungal pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, which kills its targets like a ‘black death’.

            The larches were often planted as a deliberate ‘wind break’ to protect other growing plants.  Rhododendron, viburnum, camellia and pieris can also be affected by this pathogen.  Work has also been ongoing at other sites including the Trossachs, and all larches in the south-west of Scotland will be culled by 2032.

Foreign Applicants

            have access to 84 Glasgow University courses via Clearing compared to only 7 available to British students.  Clearing marries up courses with students who do not get the grades for their chosen university or who later change their minds.

            The university has denied this means students from Scotland and the rest of the UK miss out, saying the number of places for Scottish students is capped by the Scottish Funding Council, but there is no limit to the number of students who can be accepted from the rest of the UK.

            Glasgow’s numbers have increased by 40% between 2017 and 2022, but this has led to problems obtaining accommodation.  Last year Glasgow University no longer guaranteed a place in halls to new students, and later said students without accommodation should just not turn up, ignoring that it would be almost impossible to arrange reliable accommodation from overseas or even from elsewhere in the UK.


Rickets making a comeback

            Scotland recorded 442 cases of rickets last year, similar to the 482 recorded for the whole of England. But of course Scotland’s number was from a population of 5.45 million, rather than England’s 66 million.   Most cases were in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. Caused by a sustained lack of Vitamin D (obtained from sunlight or food like oily fish and eggs) it has been described as a disease of poverty leading to softened bones, bone pain and skeletal deformities like bowed legs.  Glasgow has 32% of its children living in poverty, but another factor there may be greater ethnic diversity, with especially women exposing less skin to the sun, and even spending less time outside. Greater skin pigmentation reduces Vitamin D production.

            Despite this, it is a worrying sign of a return of one of the ‘diseases of poverty’ thought eradicated.

Heart patients

            suffering dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Scotland are being recruited for an Edinburgh clinical trial of defibrillator implants.  The condition can cause the heart to beat out of control and can cause sudden cardiac death.  Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are already given to those who have suffered life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia, but the new trial is examining the possibility of implanting them as a precaution to give an electric shock to the heart when it goes into a very fast rhythm.

Is Police Scotland Data Insecure?

            Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Dr Brian Plastow has served a written notice on Police Scotland regarding a pilot scheme where CCTV, mobile phone footage and digital images which may be used in court cases are stored on a cloud-based server with an American company which also holds the encryption keys to the data. 

            Dr Plastow fears the legality of the scheme and whether the US Government could access the data via federal law, or that foreign states may access it.

Bute Crime Wave

            It is reported that crime rose by 55% when police trialled putting nightshift police on call rather than on duty from midnight to 8am during the week and from 2am to 8 am at weekends. 

            An angry backlash ensued, leading to the plan being hastily abandoned.  The previous service has now been restored, as has sending a weekly police report to the local paper.  The model depended on officers volunteering to be on call and only half of them did.  All forms of crime rose – ten disturbances instead of four; 2 housebreakings instead of none; and more assaults, noise nuisances and vandalism overnight.

Glasgow’s LEZ

            has caused its own council quite a few problems.  Despite raking in a huge amount in fines for those infringing the LEZ, the city council has been forced to pay £100,000 in a month to hire LEZ-compliant vans, trucks and cars. Glasgow and Edinburgh both cited nitrogen dioxide as the main reason for introducing LEZs, but both have amounts within the legal limits, as do Dundee and Aberdeen.


           A baby squirrel caused some consternation when he was adopted by a hen at a farm in Tayport, Fife, after somehow becoming separated from his mother.  He had spent several days sleeping under the chicken before being claimed by the SSPCA when he appeared dehydrated and thin.  He is now at home in their National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross, Clackmannanshire, where he will spend a time rehabilitating before being eventually released back into the wild.

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