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Edinburgh former rugby star says homeless ‘don’t belong in Old Town’

An ex-international rugby player slammed for claiming homeless people “don’t belong in the Old Town” is vying to be elected as a city councilor over frustration at the way the city is being run.

Former Scotland prop and businessman Norrie Rowan, a lifelong Edinburgh resident, came under fire in 2019 for putting up posters protesting the decision to open a homeless support center on South Gray’s Close off the Cowgate which said the council was “bringing 1,100 junkies to a street near you”.

An unapologetic Mr Rowan said this week he stood by those remarks, claiming: “It’s become even more so now that they’ve opened this centre. We’ve had ambulances there every day. These homeless people don’t belong in the Old Town , they don’t come from the Old Town so why bring them into the Old Town which is a tourist area?”

READ MORE: Edinburgh Election 2022: Sighthill/Gorgie candidates pledge to push for affordable housing

He also hit out a decision to ban strip clubs in the city, attacked the Spaces for People measures as “a disaster” and said this was the worst-received council he could remember.

His comments about the homeless were made in opposition to plans for the council’s Access Place service, which serves as a vital city center resource for homeless people seeking support with mental health, drug and alcohol use, behavioral issues and abuse.

Labor councilor Ricky Henderson, chair of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, was also pictured on the controversial poster opposing the homeless support centre, alongside the phrase: “If you want a junkie for a neighbor vote Labour”. Councilors were quick to condemn the wording – depute council leader Cammy Day called it “stupid and childish” whilst Conservative City Center councillor Joanna Mowat said the leaflet was “demonizing people who have a host of problems”.

Mr Rowan, 70, said: “When we actually looked at the proposal it was madness, not just for the Old Town, to put that amount of these sort of people in one place was always going to cause knock-on problems.”

His frustration with the council’s running of the capital in recent years has led him to stand as a candidate in the local elections. He will appear as an independent on the City Center ballot paper this Thursday (May 5).

He said: “The main point of my campaign has been that this shouldn’t be about political parties, this should be about politicians that are going to do something about the local issues that involve us all because it’s local politics, it’s council elections not national elections so we should be looking at local issues.”

He slammed the decision taken recently by councilors to ban strip clubs in Edinburgh, saying: “I just don’t see the point of it at all.”

And he added: “Other things like Spaces for People have been a disaster, whether the idea had any merit to start with I think has been put on the back burner because of the way it’s been implemented, the lack of consultation I think has been shocking.

“It’s upset a lot of people and a lot of people are dissatisfied with the way the council’s acted, they feel like they’re getting bullied by the council.

“There’s no doubt something needs to be done about our traffic situation in Edinburgh and changes are always going to cause problems for some people, but you can’t just force it on people.

“I’ve never heard so much dissatisfaction with the council – in 40 years of me dealing with the council this is the worst-received council I’ve ever heard of and they shouldn’t get themselves going off on silly tangents.”

The former rugby star who played for Scotland between 1980 and 1988 is hoping his celebrity status can increase his electoral chances in his bid to shake-up the City Chambers.

He said: “Maybe these issues, if they’re not going to be addressed by me, they’re going to be addressed by the incoming councilors because every election we seem to go through this process where they promise everything and deliver nothing and then go off on their own agenda.”

Asked if he’s open to working alongside councilors from all parties if elected to the council, he replied: “No, they’re going to have to work alongside me.”

All standing candidates in City Centre:

Bonnie Prince Bob, Independent;

Pete Carson, Independent;

Andy Foxall, Scottish Liberal Democrats;

Margaret Arma Graham, Labor and Co-operative Party;

Kevin Illingworth, Independent;

Finlay McFarlane, Scottish National Party (SNP);

Claire Miller, Scottish Green Party;

Jo Mowat, Scottish Conservative and Unionist;

Marianne Mwiki, Scottish National Party (SNP);

Maria Pakpahan-Campbell, Independent;

Paul R. Penman, Independent;

Norrie Rowan, Independent;

Kevin Shaw, Alba Party for independence;

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