Tour operators have blasted the city council’s Open Street plans – raising safety fears for coach passengers having to climb up to Edinburgh Castle.
The council will hold its first monthly Open Streets event on Sunday, May 4 from 12pm to 5pm. Specific proposals for the first three events are still being drawn up – but the authority has earmarked an “aspirational loop” of the Old Town it would like to open to pedestrians by the end of the 18-month trial.
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The loop includes the Royal Mile, Cowgate and the Grassmarket – but tour operators have called for Johnston Terrace and the Lawnmarket to remain open to one-way traffic during the five -hour period.
Linda Arthur from the Scottish Tourist Guides Association, said: “The castle is the highest point in Edinburgh apart from Arthur’s Seat. I’m really going to have to walk them from Princes Street or the Grassmarket up to the castle?
“I then have a crocodile of 45 people walking behind me. We have a duty of care to the people I am walking with.”
She added: “I’m proposing that you consider keeping Johnston Terrace and the Lawnmarket one-way traffic so they can drop off the passengers at the castle and go back to pick people up.
“My only alternative is to walk people up a great big hill and up another hill once they get into the castle. On an itinerary I usually have one hour to do the entire castle. We’re beginning to adversely affect the visitor experience and then you get negative feedback for your tourism.”
The council has decided to push back the starting time from 10am to 12pm for the first three events in May, June and July after “concerns about potentially restricting access to places of worship” – while assurances have been given that blue badge holders will be given access during the closure.
During the first three Open Streets events, a programme of “demonstrator days’” will be developed in order to “showcase what can be done with the space when it’s not dominated by traffic”. The programme will be reviewed over the summer.
Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Cllr Gillian Gloyer, said: “I’m finding it hard to imagine how you could shepherd 45 people through the closes of Edinburgh.
“It’s almost impossible to herd a group of that size even in quite small stretches of walking. Some people will be charging ahead – it’s really difficult to organise them.”
Conservative transport spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, added: “If we don’t get this right, the impact for tour operators in the city will be very, very negative.
“It’s important that before the first Open Streets days we run, these issues are fully engaged between operators and the council and are completely ironed out.”
The council will work with consultants, Lothian Buses and emergency services to “refine closure plans and traffic management” and temporary traffic regulation orders (TTROs) will be advertised before any closures.
Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “We need to look at this about the reasons we are doing this. This is not some sort of whim from a committee, this has got serious reasons behind why we are doing this with benefits.
“The Open Streets concept is moving quite quickly towards that May date and we have a lot to learn from other cities, both overseas and in the UK about how they handle this kind of situation. We must recall that this is roughly for a five-hour period on one Sunday of every month.”