Edinburgh’s ‘Transformation’ risks putting people off going to city centre – Helen Martin

STAR Trek fans must be familiar with illustrations of Edinburgh City Council’s City Centre Transformation plan.

Monday, 16th September 2019, 11:45 am
The City Centre Transformation Plan is idealistic - but is it realisitlc?

When these fictional explorers, going where no man has gone before, land on a futuristic planet city, there are no cars or buses, trams or lorries (no bikes either but we can leave that to one side for now).

This future vision of central Edinburgh is becoming rather like a miniature, localised Brexit in the way it divides opinion.

Aiming for fresh air, no congestion, a ban on vehicles, broad cycling routes, and gigantic pavements to thin down the crowds of people especially during tourist peaks? Most would initially agree with that. It’s idealistic – but possibly not realistic.

What is going to be in our future city centre? Shops, bars, restaurants, and many other businesses? Who knows? But is it going to be a tourist environment, or will it remain a centre for local people?

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The main way of reaching the centre will be by cycle or buses dropping people on the edge of the Transformation. It’s said there would be some exemptions and facilities for the disabled. But what about those who are not technically and formally recognised as disabled, but can’t walk very far?

Some elderly, perhaps a bit frail or with ageing aches and pains, someone with arthritis, back problems, breathing difficulties, anyone with a walking stick, temporary crutches, those de-energised by medication they’re on, will be put off.

With no car parked reasonably closely, they will have to carry possibly multiple bags. Many people only go to the centre (even now when bus stops aren’t far away) when they have several things to buy or attend to. It’s not worth the hassle for just one purchase.

If it’s windy, raining, snowy or slushy, laden with bags, there are many of those hindered, but not disabled, who won’t be capable of walking to and from more distant bus stops.

OK, forget about shopping. What about a family, celebratory dinner somewhere which includes an elderly gran or grandad (or a very pregnant mum-to-be) who would currently be dropped at the restaurant with others while the driver goes off to find a ­parking place? The door-to-door system won’t work any more.

The Transformation can’t embrace all locals, whether they are fit, infirm, or just lazy. But it also has the potential to lower the footfall, discourage some of the population and drop the trade for retailers, restaurants and any other businesses in the redesigned centre.

Out-of-town shopping centres have free parking (so far). So do out-of-town restaurants. Many of the retailers paying business rates for the centre are famous, upmarket brands or chains. It’s nice to see, touch and try something before one buys it, but there’s always the internet.

Lack of city centre parking is bad enough for the public, but it’s also a loss to the council’s income. It’s been said that there are plenty of suburban areas where residents currently don’t have to pay for parking outside their home, and extended parking zones will raise dosh to make up the loss.

How far out will the council have to go with that goal? The majority of people in Morningside and the Grange already can’t park outside their homes if they don’t have a driveway. So where are the new targets... Liberton, ­Craiglockhart, Silverknowes?

And the final criticism? This (with real Brexit going on, with debt and a black hole in the city finances, cuts in ­services and poor maintenance) is not the time for another council project for which the public are made to pay.