Edinburgh Council is ignoring local opinion over transport – Jo Mowat

The SNP-Labour coalition that runs Edinburgh is sacrificing people’s lived experience on the altar of ‘correct’ theory, writes Councillor Jo Mowat.
The Spaces for People debate is giving Jo Mowat flashbacks to the redesign of the GrassmarketThe Spaces for People debate is giving Jo Mowat flashbacks to the redesign of the Grassmarket
The Spaces for People debate is giving Jo Mowat flashbacks to the redesign of the Grassmarket

The virtually held full council meeting of 17 September was expected to be short. Three items of administration business were bookended by 21 councillors’ questions and 11 motions so most of the agenda had been set by opposition councillors. Matters raised were the issues that have spurred residents to fill councillors’ inboxes and, again and again, issues relating to transport and Spaces for People were raised.

During one of the transport convenor’s responses to a question about the public meeting at East Craigs I was catapulted back 10 years to a meeting with judges of the Grassmarket redesign project.

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When talking about the concerns of residents during the project one of the judges stated: “They don’t know what they really want and will thank the council for this in the future.” Fast forward ten years; those concerns have not gone away and we’re still waiting for the thanks.

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Edinburgh Council is riding roughshod over local opinion about traffic and roads...

It did teach me a valuable lesson, which is that those who live and work in a place will know best the issues that need to be addressed when change is proposed.

The urbanists judging the changes to the Grassmarket by their theory of what makes a good place saw a place that had been improved.

The residents predicted (rightly) that the changes would improve the area for visitors but that the replacement of vehicles by large groups of people desirous of entertainment would have a negative impact on the current way the Grassmarket worked.

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Long-term residents have decreased as more flats have been sold as short-term lets – which means the businesses there are dependent on visitors for their livelihood. We have seen just how much during lockdown.

Urban theory should not trump lived experience and the experts on any place are those who live there – if you want to take them with you the theory has to flex, not the people.

The streets in the Old Town are old-fashioned – not just in a picturesque sense but because they function in an old-fashioned way with a mixture of housing and different types of businesses on them. These uses require differing levels of access. Shutting them off is too blunt a tool – those who belong to the street need, and should have access.

Currently we do not have the tools to permit this in an appropriate way. I shall gloss over the irony that I proposed the council commission a report into how use of Automatic Number Plate technology could be used to manage this problem last year after the debacle that was Summertime Streets – this was rejected by a Green amendment which SNP and Labour supported.

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Something needs to give. We are asking businesses and residents to adjust their lives, not only to keep people safe during the pandemic but also to accommodate ideologically driven transport solutions that in some cases desperately need amending.

Those in charge should consider whether in implementing their solutions without the necessary tools they are sacrificing lived experience on the altar of “correct” theory.

Cllr Jo Mowat is the Conservative councillor for the City Centre Ward

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