THEY were a notorious gathering place for drunks unwilling to find a toilet and graffiti vandals looking for a concrete canvas.
Now the famous Scotsman Steps have been hailed as one of the safest places in the city centre, having been virtually free of crime since reopening four months ago.
The city council said only one incident of antisocial behaviour had taken place in that time, after the move to close the B-listed walkway at night as part of the £325,000 revamp.
The overhaul saw a different colour of marble used for each of the 104 steps by Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed.
Officials said the iron gates were successfully keeping out rough sleepers, late-night revellers and vandals and made the steps safer and more attractive for responsible commuters.
The steps, named after the Scotsman newspaper which used to be based beside them, were desperately in need of a revamp, with their condition putting people off using them.
Mark Turley, director of the local authority’s services for communities, said: “The purpose of the work was to reverse a negative cycle of decline and abuse fuelled by the perception of the steps as unpleasant, uninviting and dangerous.
“The steps have now been transformed. Daily cleaning is undertaken, with regular environmental warden patrols.
“There has been only one report of antisocial behaviour in the steps since they reopened.”
As well as the installation of safety gates, the steps have been painted by local artists to give them a more attractive feel. Repairs were made to the stonework and the lights, while windows and doorways were also improved.
A report carried out in July by Malcolm Fraser Building Design stated “traversing the steps is now not only a pleasant experience, but a completely joyful one”.
Grants from the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust helped finance the move, while the artwork was funded by the local Fruitmarket Gallery.
The council added that ongoing maintenance was required, including measures that would reduce the risk of slipping on the steps during wet weather.
Bill Cowan, planning secretary for the Old Town Association, said: “Of course we welcome the general improvement, which has been marvellous.
“But we still disagree in principle with closing the gates off at night. We feel it’s the thin end of the wedge and don’t want the council to start closing everything off at night in the city centre. There are towns like Coventry where at night all the steel shutters come down and it’s horrible.”
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