It might be stating the obvious to say that Edinburgh is a busy capital city. It’s thriving, the economy is booming and there are lots of people of people coming to enjoy it.
That used to be the case for the months of August and December and at weekends. In one sense thankfully, that’s no longer the case – it’s 52 weeks a year now. Edinburgh goes the whole time.
All this means thousands of people in a finite amount of space and that’s a crucial issue for me. Of course it’s fantastic that our city is as popular as ever, but Edinburgh has to be an experience for all, not just the fit and able.
That’s why I welcome the decision to ban A-Boards and all temporary on-street advertising from the Capital’s streets. Councillor John McLellan might claim that this move shows the council doesn’t care about businesses but this simply isn’t the case – in fact we’ll be supporting them to find alternative advertising solutions. This is about balancing the needs of everyone in the city. John should spend a day in my shoes. I can’t remember the last time I walked the length of Rose Street – it’s just not enjoyable trying to navigate all the obstructions along the way.
I’ve got my guide dog Lloyd – he’s very good and well trained. But even for him, at his level, he only gets a split-second warning of obstacles like A-Boards when the crowd in front of us moves to avoid them. Then he has the difficult job of trying to find a lane free, which is frustrating for me but also very stressful for him.
And what happens when a blind person with a white cane is in that situation? That’s even more dangerous. Then there are people in wheelchairs, on mobility scooters, with physical difficulties or mental health issues – streets littered with clutter just don’t add to their enjoyment of the city centre at all.
This affects able-bodied people too. As Equalities Champion I am distinctly aware of the fact parents and carers with prams and small children struggle to make their way along many pavements without having to move on to the road or stop to let others by. Even just wandering along the street chatting to a friend poses a trip hazard or worse when forced to negotiate the many hundreds of A-boards, signs and other material throughout the Capital.
It’s clear that things have to change – and the decision by Transport and Environment Committee last week is a real step in the right direction. We simply can’t continue to exclude people from the city centre, increasing social isolation and all other difficulties associated with that. We have to make the streets as accessible as we possibly can and that means reviewing every foot our public realm. Our population is increasing all the time, not to mention the many millions of people who flock to experience all that the city has to offer.
Coming to Edinburgh has to be something everyone can enjoy so we have to make the most of our limited space to enable that. I look forward to seeing the effect the A-board ban will have here, and to my next trip along Rose Street!
Councillor Derek Howie is the Equalities Champion at Edinburgh City Council