Where will the cyclists shop when the stores are empty? – Kevin Buckle

Why do supporters of active travel still insist that road closures like Summertime Streets and Open Streets help high street businesses, asks Kevin Buckle.

Saturday, 31st August 2019, 6:00 am
Cllr Lesley Macinnes did not like city centre barriers being described as looking like they were from a war zone. Picture: Ian Georgeson

After last week’s column about city centre Councillor Jo Mowat’s failed attempt to have a review which would, among other things, have included consulting with residents and traders affected by Summertime Streets I actually got to watch the meeting involved.

Councillor Mowat spoke well about why a review was needed andn having met with businesses, had some scary figures about the drops in takings they had suffered averaging at 30 per cent.

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The council seem to think there is no need to speak to folk and instead information from camera monitoring will be enough. City centre Cllr Claire Miller of the Greens, who talks a lot of sense on other matters, seemed to have completely missed the point that talking to businesses was essential and indeed felt everybody had been “on the same page” and there was no real division.

Further offence was taken by Cllr Lesley Macinnes the transport and environment convener, when the barriers used were described by Cllr Nick Cook as looking like they were from a war zone.

Anybody who has seen the barriers would recognise Cllr Cook’s description and as with Open Streets the barriers look more like there has been an incident and the street closed than being there because of any event.

I did at least see some information on the barriers for Summertime Streets whereas the barrier at the bottom of Cockburn Street for Open Streets gave no indication at all why it was there. When I pointed this out I was told things needed to improve and then at every further occasion they didn’t.

Truth be told, the closing off of streets was not done well, little seemed to be have been learned from previous closures and bland promises to get better while not accepting things were that wrong seems to be the order of the day.

There is a further point here and that is while Cllr Mowat has on this occasion spoken out in support of businesses I know from my own time in the Grassmarket that whenever there was any clash of interests between residents and local businesses all the city centre councillors sided with the voters.

What would be interesting to know is how many councillors have any background in high street business and in particular retail. I’m guessing few and possibly none, which may explain that while councillors who support causes like active travel and Leith Theatre and the arts are well known and many in number it is hard to come up with any councillor who regularly supports and speaks up for high street retail, which I think most would agree is greatly needed.

While there is much talk about plans for George Street councillors yet again fail to have any focus on what businesses may, and indeed may not, be there should these plans come to fruition and with 30 to 50 shops predicted to become empty when Edinburgh St James opens I see little forward planning now beyond the mistaken idea that allowing changes of use will solve the problem.

As I have said before, if nothing is done Edinburgh city centre will just be cyclists passing by empty shops.