PLANS to close streets to vehicles in the Capital’s Old Town for one day a month have been criticised by a leading tourism group over the impact on bus tours of the city.
The Scottish Tourist Guides Association (STGA) has written to Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Committee to largely welcome the changes which members believe will sustain historical sites and reduce pollution levels.
However, the association, which represents more than 500 guides across Scotland, has questioned access for coaches carrying thousands of visitors, which they say would lead to increased congestion on the streets.
Committee members are set to vote on the proposals on Thursday and if rubber-stamped these will see roads closed off to traffic on the first Sunday of every month for 18 months at the Royal Mile, Holyrood, Cowgate, Grassmarket, West Port, Lady Lawson St, Castle Terrace and Johnston Terrace.
STGA chairwoman, Linda Arthur, said in her letter that the Association can offer “valuable insight” to the council, adding: “Our members are responsible for navigating a large percentage of coaches on city tours so it is in both our interests to make sure practical decisions are made.” “By closing Johnston Terrace, coaches will have to drop off passengers further away from the Castle. The visit still has to be made, therefore guides would be responsible for walking those thousands of tourists to the attraction, thus increasing pavement congestion.”
The group suggested restricting the number of cruise ships docking at Edinburgh each day could also help ease congestion-related issues.
Ms Arthur said: “With around 3000 people on each ship, on a day when you’ve got six ships then you’ve got a huge amount of congestion because they’re not just going to the Castle, they’re doing Edinburgh city tours.
“It’s the Old Town that tourists want to go to, so we’ve got to find somewhere in the middle ground where we can control visiting to places”.
Plans for the closed streets were put forward after a public consultation on city centre transformation saw a majority of participants back a more “radical approach” to examining how people move around the Capital’s streets.
Transport and Environment Committee member, Cllr Scott Arthur, said he welcomed STGA’s “constructive engagement,” adding: “The aim of the Open Streets programme is to make central Edinburgh a more pleasant place for local residents and tourists to be, with a key benefit likely to be supporting local businesses.
“As the programme progresses, I am keen that it is fully evaluated so that it may evolve into something we are all proud of.”
Cllr Arthur added: “Whilst I hope that evaluation will focus on the benefits to older people and families, I hope STGA and the wider business community will also contribute.”
Transport and Environment Convener, cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “To begin with, Open Streets will focus on a small section of the Old Town loop, but we will be expanding upon this route over time in collaboration with key stakeholders to take into account access and operational needs.”