Outraged by Edinburgh Council’s traffic plans? Remember the SNP knows better than you – John McLellan

Don’t expect Edinburgh Council to respond to protests by the people of East Craigs and Craigmount by making any major changes to its ‘low-traffic neighbourhood’ concept, writes John McLellan.
Lesley Macinnes faces the crowd at the Gyle Park meeting (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)Lesley Macinnes faces the crowd at the Gyle Park meeting (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)
Lesley Macinnes faces the crowd at the Gyle Park meeting (Picture: Alex Cole-Hamilton)

It was the biggest, if not the only, audience of the Festival season, but the hundreds who gathered at Gyle Park last Friday to hear city transport convener Lesley Macinnes justify widespread road closures didn’t go home with a smile on their faces.

It certainly showed a commitment to the cause for Councillor Macinnes to put up with booing and jeering for the best part of two hours, but of course she knew all along the joke was really on them because it is now clear that the diversions and blockages across the city causing so much dismay are not temporary measures to facilitate social distancing but here to stay.

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Some have tried to claim this is just scaremongering, but despite Cllr Macinnes’s commitment on the night to look at their concerns, she might as well have added “and then largely dismiss”, judging by her subsequent remarks. “Every time a low-traffic neighbourhood concept has been proposed in other cities it has met the same degree of resistance,” she told the Evening News. “However the concept is a proven one that we know can bring a much greater quality of life to areas where it’s put in place.”

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Truly she is a prophet without honour in her own land because it appears she knows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that her plans will improve the lives of the unhappy people of East Craigs and Craigmount, if only over 2,000 poor souls who signed a petition against the scheme could realise it. And presumably it’s the same for the hundreds of deluded fools demanding the reopening of Braid Road.

Maybe a cone or two might be moved to show willing but, when the aim is to make driving so difficult that any alternative to the car is preferable, the congestion caused by funnelling traffic on to fewer roads is not the problem but the point.

The SNP’s Programme for Government (PfG) published this week confirmed this is the start of widespread permanent change and with such schemes now fully endorsed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the chances of a local U-turn are as high as Cllr Macinnes doing a doughnut on the City Chambers quad in a Ford Mustang.

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To prevent a “surge” in private car use, the Scottish Government says it will spend over £500 million over five years on active travel, allowing councils to seek funding for “large scale, transformational active travel infrastructure projects, reallocating road space in favour of walking, cycling and wheeling over cars”.

The East Craigs and Comiston Road schemes were funded by the Scottish Government through Sustrans, and sure enough the PfG says clearly that the “Sustrans programme of temporary measures . . . utilised almost £39 million funding from the Places for Everyone Programme which funds permanent infrastructure”.

But crucially it shines a light on what Councillor Macinnes actually meant when she said she would review her plans: “Local authorities now have the opportunity to review the temporary infrastructure projects – turning many of them into permanent schemes – and we are engaging with them to determine where this is possible.”

Of course where this might not be possible is in places where an almighty public outcry threatens the SNP at next May’s Scottish elections, and cynical though it might sound, there is less to be lost by experimenting in areas like Gyle, Fairmilehead and Morningside where SNP support is lower and there are currently no Nationalist councillors.

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Ironically, in her lengthy opening statement to the PfG, Ms Sturgeon said, “Our recovery from this . . . virus will . . . rely on us all pulling in the same direction, looking out for each other.”

As far as the council leadership is concerned, pulling in the same direction only applies if it’s the one they set, as if they have a monopoly on ideas. And at election time, remember your local SNP candidate apparently knows better than you what’s best for you and your family.

John McLellan is a Scottish Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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