A battleship for Leith?

Gavin Corbett is not persuaded by the campaign to bring former battleship HMS Edinburgh to Leith.

My granny always told me to be wary of the sound of a bandwagon starting to roll. Wise words.

But I’m hearing those sounds loudly in the case of HMS Edinburgh, the battleship which bears the capital’s name, and which, it has been mooted, should find a lasting berth in Leith.

As one of my colleagues muttered on first hearing those words: “Just what Edinburgh needs – a battleship”.

That’s just it, isn’t it?  However distinguished the service of the vessel and those women and men who served on it, a retired battleship is just that: a retired battleship.  The idea that it might become a tourist attraction, sitting alongside Britannia, strike me as wishful thinking, at best.  At worst, it could represent a considerable risk, at a time when the Council is cutting services and has a £120 million budget gap to address over the next four years.

The suggested purchase price from the MoD has varied from £200,000 to £2 million.  Add to that refurbishment costs, berthing costs, ongoing management, maintenance and marketing.  And ultimate liability should the scheme fail. It really is asking a lot.

“But, of course”, supporters, will say, “This won’t all, or even mostly, be public money.”  But even a few thousand pounds out of the council budget is a few thousand pounds not spent on other priorities and every hour of officer time allocated to this is an hour not spent developing the acclaimed Edinburgh Guarantee scheme for young workers, or supporting local businesses, or plotting the path towards the kind of low carbon economy which flourishing cities of the 21st century need.

That’s why my Green colleague, Steve Burgess, has written to the Lord Provost signalling his discomfort with any potential expenditure from City Council budgets. It must surely be possible to assess, at a basic level, whether it is viable or not, without having to commit to the expense of a consultants’ feasibility report (which do have the knack of telling the sponsors what they want to hear).  At the very least we should be asking why no other city with a battleship named after it has sought to berth that ship permanently and getting an answer to that before we commit to a feasibility study.

To be honest, if private enterprise wants to take a punt on the tourism potential of an attraction that harks back to the days of Britain’s empire on the high seas, good luck to it.  But I’d struggle to justify allocation of council money at a time when school funds are under pressure, when playing fields need investment, and when older people face another long, cold winter in ill-insulated homes.