Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme: City council should listen to people but here's why it won't – John McLellan

The Spaces For People project in Edinburgh has seen new cycle lanes created in the city (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)The Spaces For People project in Edinburgh has seen new cycle lanes created in the city (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The Spaces For People project in Edinburgh has seen new cycle lanes created in the city (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Everything is political, said writer Thomas Mann. So did George Orwell and indeed Bob Marley, but perhaps Groucho Marx put it best: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

He would have found its embodiment in Edinburgh and the city administration’s Spaces for People active-travel project which is up for debate at today’s full council meeting; the SNP-Labour coalition has found plenty of trouble with the policy’s aggressive pursuit, the schemes are everywhere, the diagnosis inconsistent and the treatment disproportionate.

Today offers a chance of a more considered approach, as called for by approximately 15,000 signatories of a petition organised by the Get Edinburgh Moving campaign, but chances are a motion from my colleague Sue Webber to do just that will be defeated. Not because her proposal isn’t sensible, but because it will be seen as political and the coalition is too dug in to make a concession to a political opponent. Everything is politics.

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But never mind the Conservative motion; there are four deputations to today’s meeting, from Get Edinburgh Moving (GEM), South-West Edinburgh in Motion (SWEM), Silverknowes Community Group (SCG) and Newington Hotels Group (NHG), so it’s not only our group the coalition will snub but the thousands of their supporters.

The verdict in their submissions is damning.

SWEM: “The situation we now face is one of lowered public trust around active travel initiatives… Sadly, the way the consultation was carried out has further eroded public confidence about the council’s ability to consult properly, fairly and openly.”

GEM: “The Covid emergency was used as a smokescreen by CEC [Edinburgh Council] to bring forward long-held aspirations and pre-planned initiatives under the guise of an ‘emergency’ which has subsequently been proven by research to be essentially non-existent. Eco-ableism is a growing concern – where green initiatives make life harder for disabled people … CEC is steam-rollering the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.”

SCG: “Politics is driving action in our council in a way that minimum standards are not being met. The transport and environment committee could be deemed as not demonstrating democracy… The only way to re-build trust is to re-run a robust consultation that meets all quality standards, to be able to engage with communities effectively.”

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NHG: “CEC through the ‘Spaces for People’ schemes have caused significant damage to Edinburgh’s conservation areas. [It] needs to be reminded that we are an inclusive community and are required to plan infrastructure to include everyone. CEC must not continue to be influenced by the biased agenda of cycling lobbyist groups.”

NHG has cited planning laws for conservation areas of which the council could be in breach and with every likelihood they will be with us for years they would surely have failed normal tests. If you can’t install a PVC window at the back of a Morningside house, how can you line the street with plastic stumps?

The council has its supporters, and the principle of encouraging active travel is sound, but the lack of empathy could set back the cause, not advance it.

With one million Scots now having had two vaccines and Edinburgh’s seven-day positive rate at 27/100,000, the pandemic no longer a justification. The authority should be politically pragmatic and listen.

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