There is little doubt that the time is now for widespread, ambitious change if we are to create a truly liveable city worthy of future generations.
Our population is projected to rocket over the next 20 years, while we face a significant challenge in terms of congestion and air quality – it’s abundantly clear that we must build resilience to these pressures, and to do so we need to think radically.
Last week we cemented our commitment to do so when members of the Transport and Environment Committee moved forward two game-changing reports focusing on the transformation of our city centre and proposals to bring the tram to Newhaven.
This is about much more than solutions for traffic management or congestion though. We see the development of modern, inclusive and efficient transport infrastructure as an enabler for improving communities. By putting people at the heart of placemaking, we want to drive sustainable, economic growth while creating a better environment to walk, play and live in.
It’s extremely important that we bring the people of Edinburgh with us as we progress this vision. That’s why I’m delighted by the immense response to our major Edinburgh: Connecting Our City, Transforming Our Places consultation, which engaged more than 5000 people and gathered a huge amount of valuable feedback.
What was apparent from the thousands of comments was that people really want to see change happen – 88 per cent to be precise. And not piecemeal, gradual change – more than half of participants told us that they wanted a radical approach to deliver a more liveable city, fit for the future.
Recent artist’s impressions of a pedestrianised Cowgate or scaled-back traffic on Lothian Road are not only eye-catching but they’re helping us to explore how a combination of different measures, based on feedback and research, could help us achieve this desired change. These aren’t proposals yet – they’re scenarios, visualisations of what our World Heritage Site could be, created as part of our ambitious Edinburgh City Centre Transformation (ECCT) project.
ECCT will take a strategic approach to how the city centre is managed, with the aim of creating a more vibrant, people-focused Capital through a range of ‘interventions’. Our project team has undertaken an enormous amount of work to identify emerging principles and potential actions for achieving this, and last week the committee heard about types of changes that could enable a smarter, fairer and transformed city.
In doing this we have looked to placemaking best practice in forward-thinking cities around the world. We want to lead the way when it comes to sustainable transport and inclusive design but it’s worth noting that many of the kinds of innovations we’re looking at have already been seen internationally – with great success.
Just last month I accompanied Daisy Narayanan, ECCT project director, when she delivered a key speech on our plans to the Smart Sustainable Cities Workshop in Madrid, an extremely beneficial experience.
Not only did we gain a great deal from engaging with an international contingent on delivering smart, low carbon and healthy travel, but we were heartened by the passionate response to our own aspirations. People from around the globe are really beginning to sit up and take notice.
One of the areas in which we are leading the way, in the UK at least, is in the introduction of Open Streets, which will see vehicle-free days in key parts of the city centre every month. In line with our desires for ECCT, these events will return our streets to the people, encouraging community interaction, activity and an appreciation of our beautiful historic backdrop. It’s already attracting interest from authorities around the country, and will help us to better understand how new approaches to pedestrianisation and traffic can impact the city.
Physical transformation is just one piece of the jigsaw – our co-ordinated approach will only improve community, economic and cultural life if it is aligned with planning, housing, economy and the range of other services we manage.
Key to this is our commitment to introduce an LEZ in Edinburgh, something which three-quarters of respondents to our consultation support, and we are making great strides to develop proposals. As part of our broader work to improve air quality, including an ambitious electric vehicle action plan, an LEZ will control the effects of the most polluting vehicles, which have been proven to have a detrimental impact on our health and the environment.
Many of the issues described – an increasing population, issues in transporting people from A to B, the need to drive economic vibrancy – can be seen clearly in Leith. It makes absolute sense that we should bring the tram to Newhaven, and I’m pleased that, following the first public debate on the Final Business Case, committee voted to bring it to council for the final decision.
This will be pivotal to our overall ambition to create a greener, more liveable city, and I sincerely hope fellow elected members recognise this when we come to make the decision this summer.
No growing city can expect that the status quo should last forever. Over the years we’ve seen major evolution in the way city centres operate around the world, from Copenhagen to Barcelona or Amsterdam, and now it’s our turn. This is very much an ongoing discussion, but I have every confidence that we are moving in the right direction towards making Edinburgh the innovative, inclusive and economically viable city it deserves to be.
Councillor Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, City of Edinburgh Council.