Historic cobbled streets in the Capital face being smothered in tarmac under cost-cutting measures aiming at boosting the city’s flagging bank balance.
The controversial move – proposed as part of next year’s budget cuts – could make significant savings to the public purse but has stoked fears that the character of Edinburgh’s famous Georgian streets would be eroded.
Setts on the Royal Mile and the Old Town would be protected from any overhaul, it is understood, but the city would consider phasing out some cobbled roads in other areas of the Capital.
It comes as the city revealed it would cost £1.5 million and take three years to restore Brighton Place – a setted street in Portobello. And it is understood Frederick Street is one of several roads languishing in a repairs backlog, with work shelved amid fears a lengthy overhaul would spark traffic chaos in the heart of central Edinburgh.
Transport leader Councillor Lesley Hinds insisted that by removing selected cobbles and setts the city could make and provide a better environment for cyclists.
She said: “We recognise we’re a historical city and World Heritage Site, but what we are saying is: are there some streets that we could consider that don’t need to have setts and cobbles?”
A review, led by a planning official, will form the bedrock of a new policy to identify which setted streets could be laid with tarmac.
Some may only receive a strip of tarmac to make the bumpy surface more comfortable for cyclists.
But community leaders and heritage groups have railed against the contentious plan which have been branded “an abomination”.
Alex Wilson, chairman of the Leith Business Association, said rather than being concealed with asphalt the cobbles “should be revived”.
“There is a huge historical component in Leith as there is in the centre of Edinburgh and if you take away the cobbles, you take away part of that history,” he said. “You slowly chip away at the city’s character when you remove such simple things as the cobbles. It’s an abomination and not a long-term solution.”
Heritage campaigner Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, insisted many residents were “wedded” to their cobbles and said she feared the roads team could decide to roll out tarmac without consulting the planning department who “have their eye on the bigger picture”.
Edinburgh World Heritage said cobbles were a “very hard-wearing” material and a “key part of the character” of the World Heritage Site, while Alastair Philp, secretary of Marchmont & Sciennes Community Council, said there would be a groundswell of opposition if any attempt was made to remove them in south Edinburgh.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Council said: “Setted streets are an intrinsic part of Edinburgh’s unique heritage, contributing to its World Heritage status and townscape appeal.
“In challenging financial circumstances we need to make sure we’re maintaining them as efficiently and as cost-effectively as we can. The review will give us an opportunity to examine current practices and methodology and evaluate whether there might be smarter ways of doing things in future.”