Leaders: ‘All involved in the project deserve credit’

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THERE is always a buzz in the Capital at Festival time, but this year promises to be something special.

As ever, there will be the usual mix of the weird and the wonderful to entertain us. But the prospect of George Street being transformed into the Festival Mile – with cafes, bars and restaurants spilling out on to a traffic-free street – is certainly an exciting one.

The broad streets of the New Town are wide enough to accommodate street entertainers and temporary stages just like the Royal Mile – without having to reproduce the infamous High Street crush.

It won’t, of course, simply be a carbon copy of what happens on the Royal Mile. All new Festival “hubs” develop their own distinctive identity, and watching George Street find its own will be one of the joys of this summer’s Festival.

Heck, the sun might even shine, so that we really do get a taste of that elusive open-air cafe culture in Edinburgh.

Of course, the big fear about all previous plans like this has been that creating an attractive pedestrian environment would inevitably mean putting off visiting motorists. Many of the businesses that operate there all year round rely on people parking up and popping in, and fear that pedestrianisation will put off more customers than it attracts.

Today’s plans appear to strike a sensible compromise, allowing cars continued access and protecing parking on the doorstep of the shops, at the same time as creating an unprecedented pedestrian zone in the heart of the New Town. All those involved deserve credit for working together to bring this about.

Who knows, as councillor Lesley Hinds suggests, this plan might just provide a blueprint for making the most of George Street in years to come. It is going to be fascinating watching how it works in practice – and fun soaking up the Festival atmosphere in one of our greatest streets.