Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme likely to be behind steep rise in complaints to council

Residents’ anger about Spaces for People measures has been blamed for a huge surge in complaints to the council over roads and travel last year.

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The temporary cycle lanes, road closures, widened pavements and parking restrictions brought in during Covid to give pedestrians and cyclists more space sparked several long-running controversies across the city.

And Tory group leader Iain Whyte suspects they explain why road-related complaints jumped from 582 in 2019 and 627 in 2020 to 1016 in 2021.

“I can't tell for sure, but I know there were people, particularly in south-west Edinburgh, who were writing in about Spaces for People. I can't see what else it would be.

“This is a large increase in transport-related complaints despite the fact the public were largely working from home.”

Complaints about housing also increased dramatically, going from 1,236 in 2019 down to 814 in 2020 and then up to 2,684 in 2021.

Cllr Whyte said he believed there were problems with repairs, including people with damp issues that were never resolved. “I would not be surprised if some of the increase is related to poor repairs. I understand there are a lot of repairs where they do the bulk of the job but there's a bit that just doesn't get finished.”

Spaces for People measures sparked several controversies across the Capital.

Benefits and grants saw complaints rise from 71 in 2019 to 79 in 2020 and 148 in 2021. Council tax complaints numbered 417 in 2019, dipping to 337 in 2020 before soaring to 656 in 2021. And complaints about planning and building went from 193 in 2019 to 183 in 2020 and then 409 in 2021.

Complaints about libraries and leisure, sport and culture were down, perhaps because most centres were closed for much of the Covid period.

Schools and learning complaints were down from 71 in 2019 to 64 in 2020 and 57 in 2021 while health and social care complaints rose slightly from 22 in 2019 and 2020 to 28 in 2021. And complaints categorised as emergency, safety and crime fell from 40 in 2019 to 19 in 2020, then rose to 24 in 2021.

Transport and environment committee convener Councillor Scott Arthur said road complaints could be about a range of concerns, but acknowledged the controversy around Spaces for People and spoke of the need to rebuild trust.

He said: “I expect all complaints to the council to be taken seriously and for officers to work hard to promptly address them where appropriate. While I don’t yet have a breakdown of the reasons for complaints about roads, travel and parking, I have been informed that this could relate to various different issues, including work by external contractors and utilities companies.

“Nonetheless, I accept Spaces for People has been the source of a number of complaints during the last administration, and as a result I accept I have a duty to rebuild trust in the way the council promotes active travel schemes.”

A council spokesperson said the housing complaints covered a range of housing-related issues and were not solely linked to repairs.

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