Edinburgh Council may be under-estimating East Craigs residents in row over road changes – Steve Cardownie

Back in August I commented on a report by Edinburgh’s director of place, Paul Lawrence, titled “Spaces for People Initiative – Response to Motion” that was to be presented to the council’s policy and sustainability committee.
Lesley Macinnes addressed the open-air meeting about the council's low-traffic neighbourhood in East Craigs (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)Lesley Macinnes addressed the open-air meeting about the council's low-traffic neighbourhood in East Craigs (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)
Lesley Macinnes addressed the open-air meeting about the council's low-traffic neighbourhood in East Craigs (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)

Referring to new transport initiatives, the report states: “The work will be undertaken in collaboration with the city’s citizens and businesses and will include evaluation of the short-term measures delivered under the Spaces for People programme to inform the longer term creation of a more sustainable city.”

This was subsequently endorsed by the committee and now forms council policy. At the time, I emphasised the word “collaboration” in the report and remarked on the importance of getting public support for the proposals.

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Subsequently, a public meeting was held with more than 1,000 people in attendance to discuss the proposals for a “low-traffic neighbourhood” scheme in East Craigs.

Most, if not all, were against the proposals and the city’s transport convener, Councillor Lesley Macinnes, who addressed the meeting, promised afterwards that she had listened to the views expressed and would reflect on them, adding ominously: “However the concept is a proven one that we know can bring a much greater quality of life to areas where it is put in place.”

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Edinburgh Council must listen to people of East Craigs and Craigmount over road ...

I said if this “we know what’s best for you” attitude prevailed it would backfire and provoke resentment, especially if the collaboration with local communities policy fell at the first hurdle. It was entirely predictable that the council’s credibility would also take a hit as a consequence and so it has proved.

Monday’s paper carried an article on its Big Read page under the headline “Residents seek legal advice on low-traffic neighbourhood in East Craigs” and it makes for interesting (if uncomfortable for some) reading.

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Residents, having sought legal advice on the council’s use of emergency measures (under Covid-19) to carry out traffic modifications, have been told “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that City of Edinburgh Council has used the pandemic as a pretext to introduce a change that it might otherwise have found difficult to implement if it had to follow the procedure for making a temporary traffic regulation order.” So has the council been rumbled?

The advice recognises that such measures as the introduction of temporary cycle lanes on George IV Bridge could be considered more appropriate. However, the changes in East Craigs are far more intrusive and the legal advice concurs that local residents should have a say on whether bus gates and road-blocks are introduced under the procedures.

Of course, this is only legal opinion and is subject to challenge by the council, which, if it proves to be a block on the proposals, there almost certainly will be. However, if the council had adhered to its own policy of working in collaboration with local communities it might not be in the position it now finds itself.

This ring fight has ramifications for the council throughout the city, for some may be forgiven for thinking that the council will only accept the outcome of a consultation exercise if it confirms its already held view and if it doesn’t it is ignored.

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The residents of East Craigs have needlessly been provoked, it would be another mistake if they were to be underestimated.

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