An asthmatic woman is backing calls for a “people-focused” transformation of the Capital after being shut out of the city centre because she cannot breathe.
The City of Edinburgh Council has launched a widespread consultation, ‘Connecting our city, Transforming our places’ over how people move about the Capital in the future – as well as setting up Low Emission Zones, as required by the Scottish Government.
More than 200 people took part in the consultation within the first 24 hours.
The most radical proposal on the table could see the city centre become a “largely traffic free zone” as one of three suggested approaches to tackling congestion and improving air quality where key streets could be pedestrianised.
Edinburgh resident Anne Hay is supporting the need for a Low Emission Zone after poor air quality means she can’t even risk going into the city centre.
She said: “At busy times I just don’t go into the city.
“Air pollution can make me feel physically tired and that my life is restricted.”
One of three options put forward by the city council says “key streets could be pedestrianised” while hubs could be built for buses to drop off passengers to use “less impactful transport”.
Another ‘prospectus’ option that has been put to the public includes a “business as usual approach” although the council is required to establish a Low Emission Zone. The third option is a “strategic approach” which highlights possible “controls on the levels of general traffic with restrictions on through traffic within certain areas.” None of the three strategies are mutually exclusive.
It adds: “Priority would be for people on foot and bicycle on specific streets including George Street and the Royal Mile. Gaps in the existing walking and cycling networks would be completed.”
Campaign group Friends of the Earth is calling on people to take part in the consultation to help tackle the Capital’s “serious air pollution problem”.
Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner, Emilia Hanna, said: “Edinburgh Council has put game-changing, modern plans on the table, which, if all implemented, could make the air on our streets safe to breathe again and transform the city into one of the best in the world.
“Although you can’t see or smell it, Edinburgh has a serious air pollution problem. Traffic fumes are poisoning the air we breathe, with six pollution zones across the city that have remained in force for years. The pollution levels are so bad they are breaking Scottish and European safety standards. Air pollution can worsen asthma, and increases the risk of cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and children’s lungs not growing properly.
“Edinburgh needs a wide-reaching Low Emission Zone which would ban the most polluting vehicles from parts of the city, and we want to see a Low Emission Zone introduced as soon as possible.”
Conservative Cllr Scott Douglas, welcomed measures to tackle air pollution – but said the consultation faces “a huge uphill challenge”.
He added: “The need to tackle air pollution is undoubted, and Low Emission Zones could be an important tool in doing this.
“However any proposals that are brought forward must have the support of Edinburgh residents and businesses, and that will only be possible if this consultation hears from as many voices as possible. We cannot introduce any measures that will harm our economy, or that will restrict the ability of hard-working people to get around our city.
“With such a tight time-scale this consultation is already facing a huge uphill challenge, and I would encourage as many people as possible to engage with it.”
Green councillors are backing plans to put people at the centre of any changes to how the city centre moves.
Cllr Claire Miller said: “I believe that the future of Edinburgh’s city centre is one where people not traffic come first. These proposals would go a long way to make that a reality, if they are followed through. Our city centre must be easy and pleasant to get around, so that the natural choice is to cycle or walk.
“I’m pleased that here has already been lots of discussion with residents and others who treasure our city centre, and that must continue. If we want a city centre where people come first then, of course, people must shape the final decisions.”
Cllr Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said “the status quo is no longer an option”.
She added: “I would urge everyone with an interest in Edinburgh’s future to take part in this consultation, which has the potential to be a real game-changer. It’s a very powerful opportunity to make some really transformational changes to our city centre and town centres, for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in or visits them.
“Many studies have been carried out over recent years on ways to improve the heart of Edinburgh. The difference in what we’re doing here is that we’re taking a holistic view on how the city is designed, how it functions and how it’s managed. The key to its success will be the fact it’s people-led and data-led, with people absolutely at the centre of everything we’re trying to achieve.
“As a council we are serious about tackling poor air quality, reducing congestion and making it as easy as possible to get around Edinburgh, especially by walking, cycling and public transport.”
The council will also introduce monthly car free days next year and has tabled plans to potentially charge city centre companies for allowing parking.
To take part in the online consultation, which runs until November 12, visit consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/sfc/connecting-our-city-transforming-our-places/