Posted on 16 Nov 2016 by Marion
Cliff Hague, Chair of the Cockburn Association, gave this year's Annual Lecture on 27 October 2016.
The Annual Lecture is held in memory of our namesake, Lord Henry Cockburn, born 26 October 1779.
As might be expected from a product of Edinburgh's Age of Enlightenment, Lord Cockburn had a strong sense of what was right and good for the city: to keep distinctive features and traditions and to ensure that continuing development is consistent with these.
Cockburn advised the Lord Provost on how to spoil Edinburgh. There is no need to do that today. Such advice appears to be superfluous, as ever more ingenious ways to deface the city are being proposed and put into practice. Instead, I want to present my ideas on how to make Edinburgh an even better place. To do that, I need to follow the path that Lord Cockburn marked out, and which the Association named after him has successfully followed for so long.
However, these are turbulent times, and we need to recognise the kind of factors that are shaping decisions about the future of our city. The international, UK and Scottish economies are plagued by uncertainties; they have been since the financial crash of 2007-8, and the fall in oil prices since 2014 and the outcome of the 2016 referendum on the EU have exacerbated the problems. Quantitative easing and the financialisation of companies means there is no shortage of funds for investment, but after the way that property triggered the crash, financial institutions are shunning sites and forms of development unless they are risk-free and can offer secure and attractive returns. This brings parts of Edinburgh, and some types of development, into play. The fall in oil prices has hit the economy of the north east of Scotland, leaving the Edinburgh region as the key driver of the Scottish economy. Today, any Scottish government, and especially one that has an existential need to demonstrate the economic viability of Scotland, is going to be tempted by the siren calls of investment and jobs in and around Edinburgh. Local government, heavily dependent on the Scottish government for its finance, constrained from raising revenue from local taxation, but in receipt of unfunded mandates, scrabbles for short-term financial fixes.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh continues to attract people who want to live here, or visit the city, or do business here. In the three months to September 2016, 1557 new businesses were set up, hotel occupancy was on an improving trend, and unemployment rates show a performance notably better than the Scottish average (City of Edinburgh Council, 2016a). The population increased by 9% over the past decade (http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/our-region/edinburgh/population-boom-sees-edinburgh-set-to-overtake-glasgow-1-4199972), a quite exceptional rate.
A Cunning Plan