Edinburgh’s tourist season crowd control likened to ‘auction mart’

South Bridge is narrowed for greater pedestrian access. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
South Bridge is narrowed for greater pedestrian access. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Edinburgh’s historic Old Town has been turned into an unsightly “auction mart” and a “construction site” this month thanks to new road closures and crowd control barriers, heritage experts and business leaders have complained.

A radical rethink of the Summertime Streets project is being demanded for next August after the programme of safety measures were branded “panicked and last minute”.

Critics including the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh World Heritage and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have condemned the introduction of “off-the-shelf security fencing and barriers” in part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage site.

Victoria Street, the Lawnmarket and Cockburn Street have been closed to traffic this month, while new safety measures have been in place at key junctions.

However key thoroughfares such as George IV Bridge and the Bridges are said to have been made “worse than ever” due to increased traffic congestion and more overcrowding on pavements.

The FSB said the “unsightly and unwelcoming” barriers were to blame for a slump in sales reported by many business, and claimed the police had been called in to referee disputes between traders and street entertainers.

The city council is also being urged to instigate a “formal dispersal strategy” to move street performers into other areas to help ease pressure on the Old Town.

Cockburn Association director Terry Levinthal said this month’s arrangements gave the impression of “chronic mismanagement” of the city centre.

He added: “The Old Town has a mixed look. Festival frivolity is mixed with overflowing bins, street clutter, including temporary barriers more suited to a construction site or an auction mart. The overall feeling is of panicked, last-minute efforts to deal with overcrowding management issues, with a look and feel that is temporary, unplanned, poorly coordinated and unkempt.”

Nick Hotham, head of external relations at EWH, said: “We strongly support the transformation of our city streets into safer, more pedestrian-friendly spaces. We would urge councillors to continue to consider improvements to streets and roads that would create an environment in which people can enjoy the World Heritage Site with as few barriers as possible.”

Garry Clark, development manager at the FSB, said: “The road closures have disrupted deliveries to the point where some business people have had to have goods delivered to their home address and then carry the stock into the shop by hand. Street performances have also disrupted the pedestrian flow, impacting footfall, and attempts to speak to performers about this have resulted in police intervention. To top it all, the temporary barriers placed at the end of streets are unsightly and unwelcoming to potential customers – they do not speak of a street that is open for business.”

David Hunter, spokesman for the walking campaign group Living Streets Edinburgh, said streets which had been completely closed this month were “greatly improved”, but called for the programme to be much more extensive next year.

He added: “General traffic on non-restricted streets, such as George IV Bridge and the Bridges, seems worse than ever partly because of insufficient parking enforcement and excessive tourist coaches. Better bus priority is essential.”

Council transport leader Lesley Macinnes said this month’s changes were aimed at creating “a safer, more welcoming environment in the Old Town during the busy festival period, while maintaining access for residents and the emergency services.”

She added: “As we gain experience, we have been monitoring the initiative, liaising with stakeholders and continuing to develop and improve measures.”