Edinburgh's Royal Mile: Security bollards can be made to blend in with help from tourist tax cash – Angus Robertson MSP

Edinburgh’s Old Town is a jewel at the heart of the capital. Its joint importance with the New Town is recognised as a Unesco world heritage site, the gold standard for places of cultural and historical importance around the world.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 4:55 am
Edinburgh's Royal Mile could benefit from tourist tax money (Picture: Getty Images)

Residents and visitors alike will have noticed the repair and renovation of the High Street next to John Knox House which will greatly improve the road quality and looks.

However, there are aspects of the Royal Mile that could still do with a facelift, not least the security bollards staged from the foot of the castle downwards. It does not take a trained eye to see how unfitting and intrusive these are, notwithstanding their important security function, which must remain as long as the danger assessment requires.

Last week, I met members of the Edinburgh Old Town Association who are leading the campaign to find more fitting options. Of course, they – and no doubt all of us – understand the need for physical security measures in key areas of cities. This is an unfortunate fact of the times in which we live.

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Nonetheless, as members Edinburgh Old Town Association point out, there is nothing to say these physical barriers cannot be aesthetically in keeping with their surroundings. Indeed, looking at other European capitals, there are a multitude of alternative options which compliment and blend in to the sites which they shield.

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For example, in Paris, the foreign ministry has reinforced walls which are topped by plants. It’s a simple and cheap fix that greatly improves the looks.

In fact, we need not even look abroad to find better options. Lining the sides of Whitehall – the grand street that leads up to the UK Parliament where I spent 16 years as an MP – the UK government civil service buildings are sheltered by reinforced concrete walls that adequately blend in with their surroundings. The moving bollards needed for roads are much more subtle than those on the Mile and can disappear into the ground when not needed.

So, the potential solutions to the Royal Mile’s blemishes exist. Nonetheless, we will need to pay for them. For this, the Edinburgh Old Town Association has a solution which I believe is workable.

We have long discussed the need for a tourist tax in Edinburgh. The levy asks tourists visiting Edinburgh to pay a few quid per night that would go toward the upkeep of the city and should be trialled in the early part of the next council term thanks in large part to City of Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey. With the growing effect of tourism on the city, this has significant support amongst Edinburgh residents.

When this resource is secured, that kind of improvement seems like the perfect use of money. I welcome the willingness of Edinburgh Old Town Association to engage constructively on this issue and I look forward to working with them and others to ensure our historic city centre is as beautiful as can be.

Security measures are a necessary and sad reality for the streets of many cities, including Edinburgh. We should take the opportunity to ensure they both blend in to fit with the historic nature of the environment, and perform their important function to keep people safe.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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