‘Concern for West End’ under new plans to pedestrianise Edinburgh’s streets

Pedestrian enjoy traffic free space as trams are given priority over other vehicle traffic. Picture; Steven Scott Taylor.
Pedestrian enjoy traffic free space as trams are given priority over other vehicle traffic. Picture; Steven Scott Taylor.
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THEY are the radical plans which could change the way we move around the city centre forever.

The Evening News revealed on Saturday how key Capital streets could become “largely traffic-free” under a vision to transform transport in the city.

Concerns have been raised over what the proposals would mean for businesses across the Capital.

Concerns have been raised over what the proposals would mean for businesses across the Capital.

One of three options being proposed is to pedestrianise a swathe of streets while hubs could be built for buses to drop off passengers to use “less impactful transport”.

You would be able to drive to – but not through – the city centre, while pavements would be widened and public spaces improved.

Reaction to the proposals, which are set to go out to consultation, has been flooding in. Opinion is clearly split, with many welcoming the vision but others highlighting the possible impact on business.

Green councillor Chas Booth told the Evening News he was excited at how the potential changes could improve the city centre.

READ MORE: Revealed: radical plan to pedestrianise key Edinburgh streets

He said: “This will help solve some of the problems we have in the city centre such as air pollution. Edinburgh is not easy to walk around and you’re stood waiting around at traffic lights for a long time. I welcome the level of ambition shown by the council on this. This could be very significant to the future of the city indeed.

“This is an opportunity for people to have their say. We want to take the residents of Edinburgh on the journey with us. During the consultation the council will provide road layouts and visuals so people can see what is envisaged. I believe this will benefit businesses with an increased footfall on streets such as the Royal Mile and George Street. There is more than one option though: we could carry on business as usual – which in my opinion would be a missed opportunity.”

The three approaches are listed within a document called ‘Connecting our cities, transforming our places’ with the possibility that the future of transport in the Capital could be completely restructured.

Along with the no-change option, a third option is a “strategic approach” which highlights possible “controls on the levels of general traffic with restrictions on through traffic within certain areas.”

Anna White, owner of the Scotland Shop on Queensferry Street, said: “Tourists make up a lot of our trade and they would be using the public transport anyway. But our customers for example from Glasgow come to our shop and park around the corner. It is a real selling point for us.

“If the transport system is improved I think it could be a good idea for the city centre.

“After cutting down the traffic on Princes Street I didn’t think the council would be doing more of this. I hope businesses would not be too restricted with this though because we have goods to transport to and from the premises.”

Sunil Varu, operations manager at Edinburgh’s West End BID added: “Clearly this is part of a wider strategy and the impact on the fabric the city centre and air quality will be felt from the St James’ Development when it is opened.

“Our concern in the West End – the area to the west of Charlotte Square to St Mary’s Cathedral – is securing a better environment for businesses, residents and visitors.

“For us, it is also about raising levels of footfall to sustain the many independent businesses and we would therefore be looking at a balanced approach that includes car usage to reach us.

“We will encourage our West End BID businesses to make their comments as part of the consultation given that the proposals will impact on their livelihood.”

Terry Levinthal, director of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association, said: “There’s no denying the fact Edinburgh struggles with the volume of traffic at the moment.

“There are always challenges. Edinburgh is unique that it has many residents in the city centre so it may affect them. I think there is a need to look through past ideas which haven’t worked and establish why they didn’t work. I don’t know if these proposals are the answer but I’m looking forward to taking part in the consultation and finding out more information.”

Some feel the plans will have a knock-on effect to outlying areas.

READ MORE: In full: City centre roads closed during Edinburgh Festival

Chairman of Corstorphine Community Council, Steve Kerr, said any Low Emission Zone must not be restricted to just the city centre. “The most polluted part of the city is in the west including Corstorphine and the Glasgow Road encompassing Edinburgh Airport. St John’s Road is one of the most polluted streets in Scotland.”

He added: “The community council recognises and supports the need for house-building and airport expansion in Edinburgh to accommodate the city’s growth albeit with appropriate consultation. This must be balanced with the application of measures which rigorously mitigate the inevitable increase in traffic volume and consequent increase in air pollution that is already unacceptably high.

“A further concern is the chronic traffic management and parking issues that Corstorphine residents endure which will be exacerbated if cars are no longer able to enter the city. Without adequate provision the Corstorphine area will rapidly become one large park and ride.”

Subject to approval of the council’s transport and environment committee, the eight-week public engagement will start in September – with further public consultation on detailed proposals set to be held early in 2019.

Transport convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes said the status quo was “not enough” for the city”.

“It’s very much about trying to find out how much of a vision people are willing to embrace and what we then need to do to deliver that.

“We are very conscious that we have a city centre residential population in marked contrast to many other cities. We need to take care of their needs and expectations of where they live. It’s also about those who visit and those who come into the city centre.

“Health is a key aspect of this and it’s about air quality, it’s about providing more opportunities to walk and cycle and better use of public transport.”