Spaces for People: If arrogant Edinburgh council just ignores the public's opinions, what's the point in asking for them? – Robert Aldridge

With its customary arrogance, the council leadership has dismissed the views of Edinburgh citizens and pressed ahead with making some of the most unpopular Spaces for People schemes more permanent.

Monday, 28th June 2021, 4:55 am
The Spaces for People scheme has been extended for 18 months with some changes (Picture: Getty Images)
The Spaces for People scheme has been extended for 18 months with some changes (Picture: Getty Images)

People had responded in their thousands (around 18,000) to a council consultation. It was one of the largest responses ever. As you would expect, Edinburgh citizens took a sensible and balanced view that improvements around schools on the whole should be made more permanent, but schemes which make it harder for people with disabilities should not be kept.

More local to me, the overwhelming majority said the segregated cycle route on Drum Brae North should be removed. It is barely used and creates a hazard for traffic at the brow of the hill. It is claimed that the empty cycle lanes on Drum Brae are of “strategic significance” – council-speak for not needed, very rarely used, but looks good on paper.

Declaring “this was not a referendum”, the SNP and Labour (with their Green cheerleaders) chose to ride roughshod over the well-thought-through responses which citizens had taken considerable effort to complete.

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Their attitude to this consultation is yet another example of them turning away from citizens when they give an answer they simply don’t want to hear. Lib Dems believe that if you have a consultation, it has got to mean something. The clear message the council sends out is that it doesn’t matter what you say they will press on regardless.

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Spaces for People: Edinburgh scheme to remain for 18 months but with key changes

It is little wonder that the Spaces for People scheme has become so polarised and it is largely down to the way it has been mishandled. Most of us are very much in favour of making life safer and easier for pedestrians and cyclists. That was the message from the consultation. Lib Dems agree with around 75 per cent of the Spaces for People measures. There could have been a positive route through this.

Instead, by feeding an artificial and unnecessary division between cyclists and motorists, they have undermined the aim we all have of encouraging more people to walk and cycle where they can. Indeed most of us are pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and drivers at different times. We don’t simply belong to one tribe.

While hundreds of staff hours have been spent defending the relatively small number of controversial Spaces for People schemes, other road and pedestrian safety schemes have fallen behind. Important improvements like pedestrian crossings which were already scheduled and agreed have fallen behind.

The overwhelming view in my postbag (or inbox) is that there should be a bigger focus on the basics. It is the maintenance and improvement of paths, pavements and roads which will make it far easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle.

It will come as no surprise that in the council’s latest performance report, our roads paths and pavements are showing no improvement.

There is a simple message for the SNP-led council: Edinburgh citizens are wise and thoughtful. If you ask for their opinions, you should listen to them.

Robert Aldridge is a Scottish Liberal Democrat councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle and leader of the party’s council group

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