Edinburgh's Spaces for People programme is in a horrible mess but council remains in denial – John McLellan
The countdown to some semblance of normality has started. On April 2, the “stay at home” rule ends, hairdressers will be back on April 5, hospitality and non-essential shops reopen on April 26 and on May 17 pubs and restaurants can sell booze indoors.
Meanwhile Lothian’s vaccination programme inches forward, next week moving to the over-55s. All adults in the UK will be vaccinated by early June, if NHS Lothian catches up.
April 5 is also significant in the Edinburgh Covid calendar because that’s when the public consultation into retaining the council’s Spaces for People programme of road narrowing and pop-up cycleways closes, and April 22 is the transport committee meeting at which the SNP-Labour administration is likely to take the next steps to make it permanent.
The scheme was meant to make social distancing safer for pedestrians and to encourage people to cycle instead of drive, because of worries about infection between bus passengers, but we all know it was an opportunity to slash car use for good, using government money and avoiding the normal consultation process required by law. Implementation would be the consultation.
Although the £5m the council received through the active travel charity Sustrans is specifically for temporary Covid measures, and as the pandemic recedes so too should the schemes, still the programme marches on.
Perhaps the council didn’t expect much resistance, but it is bogged down in a war of attrition with determined and well-informed businesses and residents.
From Freedom of Information requests by the South-West Edinburgh in Motion campaign, it appears the Spokes cycling pressure group was involved in initial planning, and it is also claimed that much of the controversial Lanark Road scheme was designed in a few days by Sustrans staff in London, ironic for an SNP-led administration.
SWEM also believes Sustrans produced suggestions of its own without requests from the council and assisted by a council officer closely linked to the charity. If so, it was not just providing funds but designing and promoting the scheme without proper approval from elected members.
It also appears that the clearance of disabled parking from Lanark Road to make room for a cycle-way was primarily to provide an alternative cycling route to the canal towpath because of the dangers cyclists were presenting to walkers. Again, it’s ironic that disruption of the road network for safety reasons is justified on the basis that some cyclists ignore the speed limit along the canal and can’t use a bell.
All the while, SWEM points out several bridges across the Water of Leith remain closed because the council has not repaired them, one in Colinton Dell for the best part of two years. No doubt there will be an argument that it’s not the same budget, but the contradiction is clear.
As for the consultation, a telephone line has been provided for older people who aren’t online – a significant number of whom will have mobility issues – but we now know it’s only been publicised online.
It’s all a horrible mess, in the case of the noodle soup painted on Queensferry Road a literal one, but in a divisive process marked by condescension for differing views, there is no sign the council will willingly admit the problems need more than a nip here and a tuck there.