Edinburgh Spaces for People plans: Is spending £60,000 on a public consultation worth it if council has made its mind up? – John McLellan

A prophet has no honour in his own country, so says the Bible and perhaps in that category the SNP can include Evening News columnist Steve Cardownie who, in the days when the local party listened to people, warned against the ruinously expensive tram project.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 10:14 am
Floating bus stops, with a cycle lane between the pavement the road, are one of the measures introduced under the Spaces for People plan (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

He has also regularly used his column to highlight problems with the controversial Spaces for People project and, credit where credit is due, we on the virtual Conservative benches are grateful to him for publicising the questions Cllr Jason Rust is raising at today’s full council meeting about the current consultation exercise.

To recap, Edinburgh Council wants to make most of the temporary road closure and carriageway schemes permanent and is seeking public views which will support that decision. OK, so the consultation information says it wants to find out if residents want them retained, modified or removed, but the aim is clear.

“Over the last year we’ve heard from many, many people who have gained from Spaces for People measures,” said transport convener Lesley Macinnes. “We want to see if we can deliver longer-term benefits… whether through trial schemes or by retaining projects in place more permanently.”

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To which Mr Cardownie said, “For a major issue such as this, the council would not be readily forgiven if they embarked upon a half-hearted approach which ended up posing more questions than answers.” Indeed, and for emphasis he added, “The action taken by the council on the results of the exercise is what is important.”

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Too true, but the sincerity of the exercise has been questioned, most notably the South-West Edinburgh in Motion action group which complained the public selected by the council to publicise the consultation were less than objective.

They were, said Swem, an employee of active travel charity Sustrans, a chair of a cycling action group, a cycle blogger, a member of the cycling pressure group Spokes, the parent of a cycling activist, and a council employee.

The names were quickly removed by the council’s PR team when this was pointed out and they have not reappeared.

This week, Cllr Macinnes revealed on social media that a meeting with an accessibility group on “progress towards making some temporary road-space reallocations longer-term features of a greener, healthier Edinburgh” had been “very useful”.

The Conservative Group met them too, and they did indeed find the meeting with the transport convener instructive, but only in confirming that minds were made up about a scheme they believe has “decimated” progress towards inclusive highway design for disabled people, and that Blue Badge holders were “collateral damage” in the council’s desire to prioritise cycling.

It is now known the council’s consultation will cost about £60,0000, but the question is not whether the council can afford it – the Scottish government is paying – but if the money is being well-spent, if it is genuinely objective and the results are properly taken on board, when the authority is trying to change the way everyone goes about their lives?

If the consultation into the future of the Winter Festivals is to last three months, why are public views on something so far-reaching being sought in a third of the time?

A consultation is not a referendum, the Access Panel were told, so maybe only a month is needed because minds are already made up.

*Late on Wednesday afternoon the council agreed a two-week extension to the Spaces for People consultation

John McLellan is Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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