Campaign group backs move to make Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme permanent

A group which aims to get more capital residents to walk and cycle has welcomed news that the council’s controversial Spaces for People scheme could become permanent.

A report, set to go before the council’s transport committee on Thursday January 28, asks councillors to approve a new public consultation and assessment criteria, which officers and councillors will use to judge whether the temporary traffic measures should be kept post-pandemic

Opponents of the scheme have reacted with dismay to the proposals, with one Conservative councillor, Susan Webber, warning that making the traffic measures permanent would risk ‘crippling the city’ as it emerged from the pandemic.

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Other campaigners, such as Professor Derryck Reid, chair of South West Edinburgh in Motion, accused the council of implementing politically-driven changes under the guise of emergency coronavirus legislation.

However, pro-cycle and pro-pedestrian groups in the city, which are broadly in favour of retaining much of the road closures and traffic measures in order to cut emissions and reduce accidents, have greeted the news warmly.

Chris Young, co-chair of Low Traffic Corstorphine, a local community group that is campaigning to enable more people to walk, wheel and cycle, said: “The Spaces for People programme has seen many temporary schemes pop up in Edinburgh to enable more people to walk, wheel and cycle safely through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen some of these temporary measures in Corstorphine and think they have been positive, especially for children and families.

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“The pandemic has seen big shifts in travel, but it’s obvious that Spaces for People projects have benefits that are not just related to social distancing.

“The climate crisis, physical inactivity, air pollution, road danger and congestion can all be addressed with more people making active journeys.

“Corstorphine residents have been desperate for many years to reduce traffic, improve road safety and have clean air for our children to breathe.

“Over 100 Spaces for People schemes have been implemented to date, and their trial nature means communities have experienced benefits and drawbacks first-hand.

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“Low Traffic Corstorphine is very supportive of a wider city consultation to see which schemes benefit from permanence, either remaining as they are or modified based on feedback.”

A start date for the consultation, or the means of consulting, have not been published but the transport committee is expecting the results of the consultation to be presented at the committee’s meeting in April.

The assessment criteria includes asking: does the project encourage walking and/or cycling; what are the project’s impacts on businesses; and what are the project’s impacts on disabled street users?

Liberton and Gilmerton SNP councillor, and convener of the transport committee, Lesley Macinnes, said: “We’re continuing apace with our ambitious programme of Spaces for People measures designed to give people space to physically distance and to provide safe, protected routes for making journeys by foot, bike or wheelchair.

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“We’ve had a great deal of positive feedback from people benefiting from these changes and we know from our own monitoring that many of them are having a positive impact on surrounding areas.

“That’s why we’re beginning to think about the potential for retaining some of the schemes implemented as part of Spaces for People beyond the end of the pandemic, though we know this is some way off.

“Of course, any longer-term project would involve a great deal of engagement and consultation with communities – we want to bring the people of Edinburgh along with us.

“But by focusing on an ‘experimental’ approach we would be able to continually monitor and evaluate projects, responding to residents’ needs to best serve the public.”

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Mr Young added: “As well as being great to help folk get about, good-quality, permanent improvements would help Edinburgh fight the big issues previously mentioned.

“It’s worth remembering that over 40% of Edinburgh residents don’t have access to a car and communities need to be more supportive of opportunities for people to walk, wheel and cycle, despite the few but noisy minority voices.

“We are keen to see the outcome of consultation and hope that measures in our neck of the woods, such as improved safety for children at primary schools, are kept so that people can more easily choose to get around on foot, wheel and cycle.”

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