Tomorrow, Edinburgh councillors will meet via their laptops and iPads as the full city council discusses issues of import to the public. But having looked at this week’s agenda I don’t think that there will be much need to plug their chargers in as there should still be plenty battery life left at the end of the meeting, given that the agenda is not so heavy as usual.
What catches the eye, however, is the number of questions on the agenda that are seeking answers from the administration on the traffic changes currently being rolled out throughout the city under the Places for People programme or the ”emergency” measures to deal with Covid-19.
The enquiries range from seemingly benign questions to the convener of the transport and environment committee like “What were the key messages received by the convener and council officials at the public meeting held on 28 August?” to the far more probing second part, which reads: “What practical suggestions put forward at the East Craigs Public Meeting on 28 August are being taken forward in the technical design and workings?” In other words, what did the people at the meeting tell you and what are you going to do about it?
Another one, from Councillor Iain Whyte, the Conservative Group Leader, strikes at the heart of the “collaboration” with local communities that the administration held up as a key component for the successful application of the traffic measures. It reads: “Where objections to the Low Traffic Neighbourhood at East Craigs have been expressed by all three local ward Members, the constituency MSP and the Community Council, as well as hundreds of residents in writing or through attendance at public meetings, in what way can the decision to progress the scheme be perceived as democratic or publicly supported?” In other words, if your statement about collaboration with local communities is genuine, how can you justify proceeding with the current scheme for East Craigs when the evidence points to significant opposition?
Cllr Whyte may be forgiven for thinking that his question is particularly appropriate given that the council leader writes in his report to the council: “We know that there are some concerns around these measures, not least the plan for the first Low Traffic Neighbourhood in East Craigs, but there is also significant support in our communities for better active travel conditions, including in East Craigs, and we’re eager to see these take shape across the city.” However there may be some comfort for opponents of that particular scheme as he goes on to state: “Of course, we’re listening to concerns, and we’ve taken away a range of themes from input from residents and stakeholders which will change the temporary scheme before it’s implemented.” Watch this space.
Another motion later on in the agenda rams home the opposition’s point of view by stating: “Council expresses concern that specific substantive schemes and measures are being brought in across the city by the council over a period of months using emergency legislative powers, despite significant opposition from residents in communities which the council is here to serve.” In this case the administration will be able to cite the successful implementation of similar schemes in other cities, that the overall strategy is sound and it was always bound to attract some opposition from people who are resistant to change.
The administration is “eager” to make changes to Edinburgh’s traffic infrastructure and has good grounds for doing so if we are serious about cleaning up our act but the East Craigs scheme could provide proof as to whether the council is not just listening to local concerns but is prepared to act on those that are justified and make adjustments accordingly.
If it does so it will do a great deal to boost its credibility, keep faith will local communities and help to convince people that change is necessary rather than drive them into the opposition’s camp.
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