Take chance to return Edinburgh to former glories

Lesley Hinds. ''Picture: Neil Hanna

Lesley Hinds. ''Picture: Neil Hanna

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The council has major plans aimed at breathing new life into the city centre. Here, Lesley Hinds, Frank Ross and Ian Perry explain why they feel this will bring huge benefits to the city’s transport, boost the local economy and transform Princes Street into a thriving social area.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport and environment convener

Joined-up thinking and joined-up transport – making it as easy as possible for people to come into town and get around the city centre

If we get the go- ahead to start a public consultation on the future of Princes Street, George Street and the surrounding streets, this will mark a huge leap forward towards our goal of creating a truly integrated public transport network for the city.

As the tram event showed earlier this month, the tram project is making progress in line with its revised timescale and budget and we’re now moving towards the operational phase with passenger services due to be up and running as quickly as possible following the anticipated finish of tram construction at the end of this year.

Getting ready to have trams running along Princes Street gives us an unmissable opportunity to look at how we want the city centre to work.

Our goal is to make the city centre, in the words of Gehl Architects, “a place accessible for all”. The pedestrian and cyclist experience needs to be enhanced, we need to reduce the number of buses travelling along Princes Street – both for environmental and for aesthetic reasons – and we want to improve the quality of public spaces.

Integrated transport is about catering to everyone’s needs by giving people a choice of ways to come into the city, whether they prefer to walk, cycle, bring their car or take trams, taxis and buses.

When details of the proposed scheme we’re planning to consult on became public earlier this week, we were delighted with the positive reaction we received. This is merely the start of the conversation – we want to hear feedback from as many people as possible to ensure we get this right for Edinburgh.

Councillor Frank Ross, economy convener

ACROSS the country, city centres have been facing a perfect storm. High street retailers have been hit hard by a two-pronged attack from the effects of the economic downturn and the upsurge in popularity of online shopping.Edinburgh’s city centre has weathered much of this storm, with continuing high levels of interest from top retailers and recent arrivals such as Anthropologie and Kiehl’s. In addition, the plethora of fantastic attractions, bars and restaurants also brings people into town and the Capital’s packed events and festivals draw a staggering 3.5 million visitors a year.

However, we must never become complacent. For businesses to prosper we need to encourage people to visit and spend time in the heart of the city, by maintaining a bustling city centre offering a wide variety of activities, amenities and pleasant public spaces. The successful recent revamp of St Andrew Square shows that when you invest in enhancing a space and do it well, your efforts will be rewarded by high levels of pedestrian usage. We want to replicate the “St Andrew Square effect” for George Street and Princes Street.

The Capital coalition is committed to providing for Edinburgh’s economic growth and prosperity. The proposed scheme demonstrates this commitment and when the consultation starts, we urge everyone to have their say.

Councillor Ian Perry, planning convener

“A city which is truly for the people.” This was the ‘gauntlet’ laid down by the celebrated Danish architect Jan Gehl in 2010 after his firm produced a report setting out a vision for Edinburgh’s future (pictured).

Since that report was published, there has been much discussion about how best to take forward the Gehl vision, which included improving pedestrian space and ensuring the city centre achieves its full potential as a destination.

However, there’s a real sense of missed opportunity, particularly with Princes Street. Unlike George Street, which is thronged day and night thanks to its wealth of high-end shops and popular nightspots, Princes Street is all but deserted once the shops shut in the evening.

This is because at the moment, all of the ground floor units on the street are protected for retail use and converting them into cafes or restaurants is not permitted. Allowing a mix of uses on the street would help encourage people to stay and socialise.

We also need to make more use of the outdoor spaces, such as extending pavements and investing in the streetscape. Doing this would make the area more enticing – look at the success of last summer’s Spiegelterrace in attracting crowds to the New Town.

We’ve got the chance here to really do something for the city centre and we’re determined to find a solution for everyone.