COMMENT: Meaningful dialogue vital to get plan right

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THERE is a common view about city council consultations.

It goes something along these lines. It’s all fake, just window dressing, done for appearances’ sake. They ask us what we think, but they don’t really listen or care. In the end, they just go ahead and do whatever they wanted to do in the first place regardless.

This is not entirely fair.

Take the recent budget consultation carried out by the council. Several key planks of the original proposals, including planned cuts to school crossing patrols and social care, were reversed in the face of public protest. The council has in fact been a pioneer in opening up its budget-setting processes to public participation.

There are, however, other consultation exercises in the recent past that have done little to inspire such confidence. Many people are still scratching their heads about how the city’s official consultation on its plans to roll out 20mph speed limits on most of the Capital’s streets failed to register much public concern.

The city can’t of course force people to take part in its public consultation exercises, but questions should be asked about how representative the returns on this one really were.

It seems clear already that there is significant public concern about the current proposals for a cycle superhighway through the west of the city. There is widespred disquiet among residents, including some keen cyclists, and local busineses, about some elements of the plan. Now Living Streets campaigners have added their voice to the objections.

The level of concern means that the council’s public consultation process will inevitably come under scrutiny again.

There is every hope that it will rise to the challenge and enter into a meaningful dialogue with those who are worried about the impact on their lives, their neighbourhood and their businesses.

There is merit in the idea of a major cycle route through Edinburgh, but the plans need to be right, striking a delicate balance between many competing factors, before they go-ahead.