George Street plans: jam tomorrow promises must not be broken - Kevin Buckle

It’s been a while since I watched a council meeting on playback but I watched Thursday’s Transport and Environment Committee before writing this column.

My main interest was to see what was said about the current absence of trees in the plans for George Street and to see where that old chestnut of losing World Heritage Site status fitted into the argument.

The reasoning I had seen on social media was that the trees would get in the way of the views of George Street. Now I’d heard this before on several occasions including the views of the Old Royal High School and the need to be able to see Edinburgh Castle from every possible position in the Grassmarket.

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It sounded daft then and this latest claim seemed to follow on the trend. This time there was a second back-up argument that heritage groups were unhappy as trees were not in the eighteenth century plans and god forbid there should be any change in such an important street centuries later.

An artist's impression of the section of George Street featuring the Assembly Rooms under the plans

There were of course sensible considerations of the trees not damaging any infrastructure and increasing costs but the former would just take careful planning and the latter while important would scupper the whole project if taken in isolation.

As usual, factors like Edinburgh’s inclement weather were glossed over while claims of vastly improved prospects for the businesses would stick in the craw of those businesses who went through the pedestrianisation of the Grassmarket.

I always felt guilty as Avalanche moved to the Grassmarket after the works were completed but I heard nothing but horror stories from those businesses that had to endure such a long disruption.

The Grassmarket was, according to the council of the time, to become Edinburgh’s answer to Covent Garden but if truth be told they abandoned virtually all the ideas they had for the area within six months of the works being finished.

It was with this in mind that I would love to be able to see a playback of the meetings discussing the Grassmarket plans but I assume there is nothing but notes of the meetings.

I do know that there was no relation between what the council envisaged for the Grassmarket and what actually happened and how quickly councillors distanced themselves from the project.

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The Grassmarket BID was set up to try to address the problems facing the local businesses, but councillors regularly sided with a small minority of residents, obsessed with the noise they had to endure at night from drunken revellers, to block plans to support businesses during the day.

Even a small Christmas Market which closed at 8pm to appease residents was voted down by Edinburgh Council not long after Avalanche left the Grassmarket. Within a couple of years our neighbours Red Dog Music had closed down and Jos from Helios Fountain simply gave up and retired from a business he would have loved to continue with.

For businesses in George Street still recovering from the pandemic they need cast-iron assurances of support during the works, not a promise of a brighter future once completed.