Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour council coalition has embraced a radical plan that would effectively eliminate all cars from the city centre, apart from those belonging to residents, writes John McLellan.
There are nine million bicycles in Beijing, trilled Katie Melua, and while we might not quite reach 15 bikes for every one of the 600,000 people expected to be living in Edinburgh by 2040, judging by the council’s City Centre Transformation plan we’re all going to need one. And buying a bike will only be the start of the expense.
All pretence that the council is not anti-car can now be safely dropped as the SNP-Labour administration fully embraces radical policies to effectively eliminate all but residents’ private cars from the city centre.
Dreamy illustrations of cyclists mingling happily with boulevarders and their children and wee dogs in tow with hardly a vehicle in sight pack every page of the report presented to today’s transport and economy committee.
Some people will support it and the proper pedestrianisation of the High Street to replace the awful tank traps is overdue, but for the 95 per cent of residents who do not live in town, it will be bike, bus or boot as cars become “guests” in New Edinburgh... and not the “haste ye back” variety.
Not only cars but cross-city buses too, in a vision of a tranquil playground served by free “hopper” buses to link up new bus routes which will “kiss” the city centre at interchanges (for which there is no space) and loop back out to the suburbs. It sounds like a recipe for chaos as well as a financial disaster for Lothian Buses which is expected to manage it all, but the SNP-Labour coalition is determined this is how it’s going to be.
Maybe this is what people want. The consultation behind the plan gathered over 3,000 responses and a majority were positive. But like most such council exercises, the process was far from scientific because the returns were not balanced for age, gender, address or any other kind of potential distortion.
No attempt has been made to conduct the kind of market testing which supports major product launches, never mind something with the potential to affect the lives of every single resident.
Those who don’t go into town too often might think they are unaffected, but if that’s you, dear reader, then one paragraph buried in today’s report might contain another unpleasant surprise if you are a car owner.
The problem is the council has still not worked out how it is going to foot the projected £65.35m bill (and the rest) for the first phase, despite £22m of Government funding for the Meadows-Mound bikeway, never mind the conservative estimate of £314m for the whole thing.
£12m is still needed for George Street changes, the result of which will be the loss of city centre parking revenue, so what to do? “The financial implications of this must be understood within the context of the reprofiling of the council’s parking service and income,” says the report. “The City’s Parking Strategy will reprofile the council’s parking income streams, linked to realigned and expanded Controlled Parking Zones that respond to changing pressures.”
Reprofile is bureaucrat-speak for a price increase, so residents’ parking permit charges will be jacked up to compensate for lost city centre revenue, and handily for the council the number of controlled parking zones is about to expand. This will only push more commuting drivers further back and it cannot be long before most residents will need a permit to park on their street to beat displacement.
Transport convener Lesley Macinnes has already confirmed that charging for park and ride services is an option, so how long will it be before a driveway levy is on the agenda? You can imagine the conversation: it’s not fair for all those nasty new suburban housing estates to have free parking when they have garages no-one uses for their cars.
Council leader Adam McVey previously warned transformation meant pain, and now we know it’s not just the pain of disrupted bus services or displaced suburban congestion, but good old-fashioned taxation. They dream, you pay.
A terminal case
Later this month, the Scottish Government is supposed to be supporting the development of the International Business Gateway at Edinburgh Airport, a plan which promises to bring a multi-million pound investment and hundreds of jobs.
The plan was approved by the council in the face of bitter opposition from the airport which is now promoting its own plan, and now the Scottish Government has apparently caved to pressure to re-examine the application, putting the whole project at risk. If the Scottish Government is serious about economic development in Edinburgh, it’s got a strange way of showing it.
Pitch plans get the nod at long last
A potential new business opportunity has opened up for Edinburgh Rugby when the side plays at Murrayfield – the ground can be used to train astronauts because there is no atmosphere. But not for long, now that at long last work can get under way on mini-Murrayfield on the back pitches after the Council approved a building warrant for the new stadium.
But there is an intriguing inference that the delay was caused by an investigation into why the planning application went through on the nod from officers when it should have gone before a committee of councillors.
The plan was approved in September and the probe was completed before Christmas when senior officers issued an apology, so even if it’s true that the investigation contributed to the delay, that still means nine months have gone by while the warrant was processed.
Palace mourns a dear friend
One of Gorgie’s most famous daughters, a media star as recently as July, and a friend of the Queen, has sadly passed away.
She brought welcome publicity to a much-loved facility which has been threatened with closure, an integral part of the district’s identity distinct from a certain sporting institution across the road.
The news was met with sadness by Palace officials so her impact was undeniable and Gorgie City Farm will never be the same. Farewell Olive the Duck.