Leith Street car ban bid for St James Quarter

Access to Leith Street would be restricted to buses and cyclist only under the new plans. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Access to Leith Street would be restricted to buses and cyclist only under the new plans. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

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CARS would be banned from a key city route as part of the massive St James Centre revamp, under new proposals by city transport campaigners.

Sustrans Scotland has suggested that access to Leith Street be restricted to buses and cyclists, with drivers trying to get between the city centre and Leith forced to detour around Calton Hill or down Queen Street. Only traffic accessing the car park of the new St James Quarter would be allowed on the street which would be turned into a public transport corridor, with bus stop islands in the middle of the carriageway and bike paths down either side.

Sustrans director John Lauder said the suggestions were meant to start a discussion about transport around the site and across Edinburgh. However, they were quickly branded “completely unworkable” by local businesses.

Mr Lauder said: “The idea is to put this out in the public domain and get people talking about how they’d like to see the street developed. We don’t think there is enough public discussion about what could happen at Picardy Place.

“We’re not going to sit back and wait for other people’s ideas, we’re going to put some ideas out and see what people think of them, and get some debate going.

“Ultimately, what we want is for people not to feel the need to take their car into the city centre.”

Leith Street and the surrounding area are set for a total transformation in the next few years, as the £850 million redevelopment of the St James Quarter gets under way. Picardy Place will be redesigned, with the unloved roundabout dubbbed the “cyclist blender” replaced with light-controlled junctions. Developers eventually hope to build a luxury hotel on the site of the roundabout. The centrepiece of the new junction will be a public transport hub, linking the tram to bus services to Leith, and laying the groundwork for the line’s eventual extension down Leith Walk.

Alex Wilson, vice-chair of the Leith Business Association, said: “Our members would be quite concerned about any move to restrict the flow of traffic through Leith Street. Traffic flow means trade.

“People tend to lose sight of the fact Leith Walk is the A900, and is part of our strategic road network. It just happens to be called Leith Walk. It’s an artery with very, very heavy traffic.”

City transport convener Lesley Hinds said the council valued the input of Sustrans as it looked at redevelopment.

She added: “The council is currently working to develop solutions for improving this whole area for pedestrians and road-users. As development work is at an early stage it is too soon to comment on their ideas for the future of the area.”

A spokesman for St James Quarter developers TIAA Henderson Real Estate said they welcomed “all contributions” to the debate.