A Resident’s View of the Council’s Legal Action against Homeless Occupiers.
 
Following the decision by City of Edinburgh Council to approve plans for yet another  hotel in Grassmarket there has been an occupy  protest on the land at 56 Cowgate. Around 10 activists currently camp there and they’ve now been served with a Notice Of Legal Proceedings.
 The contents of the “notice to quit” make interesting reading. And if you are a resident of the area, you may also be amused and possibly heartened since, if the contents are legally binding, we could justify shutting down every pub, club and business in the area!
 
‘The presence of motor vehicles’
The letter states: Your presence in the car park is restricting its use for its primary purpose and your continued occupation potentially endangers your own health and safety in terms of the presence of motor vehicles therein.
 Grassmarket has no shortage of potential risk to health and safety from motor vehicles. We have tour guide buses which park illegally on the zig zag lines of the pedestrian crossing, sit with their engines running, have loud amplified narration, and clog up the street with as many as 4 buses passing through at one time.
Tourist coaches setting and picking up at the Apex Hotels do exactly the same, and often double park.
 The North side of Grassmarket is supposed to be a pedestrian only zone after 12 noon but cars, taxis delivery vans and other fast moving wheeled vehicles travel through at will. Cafes and bars here have outside dining with children and families enjoying what most have assumed to be a pedestrian, car-free zone...
 
‘The volume of litter’
The letter continues: Moreover your presence has increased the volume of litter left in the car park.
 Grassmarket has a major problem with waste management mostly due to the volume generated by the businesses. The increase in alfresco dining and drinking has brought extra amounts of litter such as paper napkins, plates and food blowing onto the streets. The drinkers and drunks pay no attention to the recently installed Neat Streets bins begging them to decide which Scottish food is their favourite: bin the haggis on the right, the shortbread on the left...
 
‘The taking of illegal substances’
The letter of eviction goes on: The taking of illegal substances, evidence of drug use, persons being heavily under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances, illegal occupiers urinating in public areas have been witnessed.
 This bit actually made me laugh out loud! From my window any day or night of the week I can see all of these activities. Booze is BIG business here and, in spite of legislation to protect us from the excesses of alcohol, people are served booze when they should not be. Hell, if they stopped serving drink to these kinds of people the bars would shut early and we’d all get a decent night’s sleep! 
 We have a sizeable number of homeless people in the area and no doubt many of them are pissing in the street – where else can they go? – boozing and taking illegal substances. But the view from my window shows that the worst offenders of all these activities are paying customers from the local businesses. I’ve even seen a staff  member – no pun intended – from a nearby (French) restaurant, pissing in the courtyard behind my home.
 
‘Disruption and distress to our Environmental Health staff’
The letter concludes: This behaviour has resulted in disruption and distress to our Environmental Health staff whose primary place of work until recently was within the Portakabins in the Central Library Car Park.  Following upon a Safety Risk Assessment your continued illegal presence has resulted in Council staff being removed from the Portakabins.
 It’s reassuring that the council take the safety of their staff seriously and I would heartily endorse their decision except that they really don’t give a damn.
 This site at Cowgatehead has been a dumping ground for years. Staff were “temporarily accommodated” in Portakabins around 20 years ago. In all that time the area has been left looking like wasteground. Two years ago a group of locals got together and planted summer flowers to improve the look of the place. The staff who worked there actually thanked us. Recently the same residents cleaned up the entire area around the car park and the Skin Clinic in an effort to make it look better for the people who work there.
 Residents and staff at every business in Grassmarket will tell you that their doorways are a health and safety hazard most days of the week.  People cope in a variety of ways, most clean it up and assume that it’s the price you pay for living in a World Heritage site. That’s not my opinion but after 35 years of campaigning (with very little to show for it), perhaps the way to go is through the Legal and Risk Department of City of Edinburgh Council and insist  that the letter of the law is enforced for EVERYBODY.
Just imagine that!                        
 
 Janet Dick, resident and EOTDT member