Why Edinburgh's 'Spaces for People' schemes are here to stay despite local opposition – John McLellan

Such has been the manipulation of the facts surrounding Edinburgh’s Spaces for People road-closure and reduction schemes that it’s no surprise alarm bells rang yesterday when deputations to today’s transport committee from campaigners were set to be blocked.
Edinburgh's Spaces for People project, rebranded as Travelling Safely, has sparked several controversiesEdinburgh's Spaces for People project, rebranded as Travelling Safely, has sparked several controversies
Edinburgh's Spaces for People project, rebranded as Travelling Safely, has sparked several controversies

Now given a make-over as “Travelling Safely” schemes, the retention of the network of bollards and rubber barriers on the city’s roads is back on the agenda, with a recommendation from officers to keep them in place for a further 18 months under “experimental traffic orders”, as if the two years since they were installed haven’t been long enough to understand their impact.

Anyone who thinks these are experiments is deluded, because it has been clear for years that the council’s policy, re-stated in today’s papers, is to prioritise walking and cycling, even if it means inconvenience for the disabled and public transport disruption.

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Representatives from both sides of the argument wanted to address councillors but officers intervened on the basis that granting traffic orders were “quasi-judicial” decisions, like planning applications and licences, and the deputations’ contributions could leave the council open to legal challenge.

This may be technically correct, but it ignores the reality that officers are taking advantage of a previously obscure legal process to advance a political programme, and are using the law to prevent people expressing their views about changes to their neighbourhoods, whether for or against.

It cannot be forgotten that these schemes were introduced in that horrible time before the vaccine programme when public transport was abandoned, and we were all told to keep two metres apart. Pavement widening was needed on busier streets to avoid accidents, but officers think the vast majority of these schemes should stay even though social distancing is now consigned to history.

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Cycling has become a vicious battleground, so take the pedestrian scheme on Dalry Road as example of what might be politely described as muddled thinking. It might get busy when Hearts are at home, but otherwise the cemetery side is quiet and the temporary kerb on what is a main bus route makes it more dangerous for cyclists. Yet this is set to stay.

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The election returned a group of councillors even more distanced from the lives of average voters than before, and with a new transport convener who is a proud member of the Spokes cycling pressure group, if anything, the officers are more empowered. So they have presented a report which shows a clear majority in a cursory consultation period oppose retention, but the plan is to plough on.

There were 702 objections to identified schemes against 303 in support, and that looks like an under-representation of opposition. Duddingston Road West, for example, is shown as having ten objectors, when I know from residents the vast majority want the bollards removed, and my successor as a local councillor, Iain Whyte, has more names than that.

The report claims the extension will “give officers more time to consider the broad range of comments received and reflect on these in the context of scheme success, or otherwise”. But here’s the sting; while government money was made available to put in these schemes, there is nothing for their removal, so today’s report says that would cost £1m.

Stitch-up, done deal, call it what you want, but these bollards are staying.