Edinburgh Spaces for People: Former transport convener Lesley Macinnes says she still gets threats

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Controversial Edinburgh roads schemes still causing harassment

The SNP’s former city transport convener Lesley Macinnes has said she still receives “threats and harassment” over the controversial Spaces for People scheme.

Speaking at the council’s transport committee on Thursday she said “disinformation” had been circulated about “very extensive consultations” while she was transport convener last term. Her comments came as councillors called for a respectful debate on proposals being put to the public for feedback, including more bike lanes, new tram lines and other measures aimed at cutting car use and boosting walking, cycling and public transport over the next decade.

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Cllr Macinnes was met with a fierce backlash following the roll-out of Spaces for People (SfP), which saw temporary cycle lanes, widened pavements and pedestrianised streets introduced across Edinburgh during the pandemic, under emergency Scottish Government Covid-19 legislation. Whilst there was also support for the measures, the previous SNP/Labour administration was criticised for not engaging with the public enough or taking their views on board.

Lesley Macinnes was transport convener in the SNP/Labour administration from 2017 until 2022.Lesley Macinnes was transport convener in the SNP/Labour administration from 2017 until 2022.
Lesley Macinnes was transport convener in the SNP/Labour administration from 2017 until 2022.

Cllr Macinnes said she was still getting “threats and harassment on social media as a result of that period in time”. She said: “As the person who sat in that chair for five years I know exactly the level of personal abuse I got for the kind of programmes that we’re trying to bring forward. Strategies that are within the general degree of thinking around climate change, for example, sustainability of the city, fitted within the Scottish Government’s priorities – all of those things that as a city we need to tackle and understand.

“The level of disinformation that went out to people about the very extensive consultations that we did in the last term that were being regarded and encouraged to be regarded as referenda was I thought not the world’s most responsible approach.” She added there would be “a range of opinions” on the latest plans and called on residents to come together in a positive way.

Transport convener Scott Arthur said “mistrust around consultation” was a challenge for the council. He said the debate could quickly turn into one about “cars versus bikes” due to a “quite noisy minority”. Green councillor Claire Miller said she received “very angry emails” in her inbox on the subject and called for a ”safe conversation”. “How do we have those hard conversations but at the same time try to de-escalate some of the tensions that people have and the emotions that come to the surface when we talk about changing the way that we use our spaces? We have to make choices between space for this and space for that and that’s really at the heart of what I think we need to be facilitating in the dialogue that we have with people.”

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Head of placemaking and mobility at the council, Daisy Narayanan, said: “Everything gets conflated especially when you talk about change.” She added: “Nobody in this city wants to live in a congested, fume-filled place – we all want to live in a city that we can all thrive in. There is far more in common that people have than not.”

The council said its “extensive” three-month consultation would allow people to understand the “common issues” and help to shape the plan before it is implemented. It said the more than 100 actions in the proposals “are intended to work together towards key council objectives including cutting car kilometres by 30 per cent by 2030, reducing congestion and improving health and well-being, as well as the vital net zero goal”.