Councillors voted to approve the final strategy for the city centre transformation project – with £314m needed to implement it in its entirety. The strategy includes setting up a pedestrian priority zone, treating cars as “guests” in the city centre as well as ambitious plans to create a pedestrianised plaza on Waverley Bridge and close several roads to traffic.
Conservatives called for the final strategy to be put on hold for the authority to prove it can deliver projects that have already secured funding such as George Street and cycle link improvements.
Tory transport spokesperson Cllr Cook blasted the “continued lack of specifics” for ideas that have been “kicking about in some cases for more than a decade”. He added that “Lothian Buses have made clear their concerns” and have “in black and white said that this programme will increase journey times and cause huge inconvenience for people using buses”.
Fellow Conservative and city centre Cllr Joanna Mowat labelled the report a “mish-mash”.
She added: “We are spending public money. I don’t think this process actually gives me the confidence to say I can approve this at this stage and say I’m delivering best value for the city.
“We do need that further detail to come forward before we are taking a decision on best value for the future of the city.”
Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, told councillors that the city centre transformation project will “build a capital city fit for the future” with a “ground-breaking approach”.
She added: “Cities across Europe are looking to us for leadership. We must address the challenges of congestion, pollution and stress caused by an increase of vehicle use.”
Cllr Macinnes also lashed out at Conservatives, accusing them of resorting to “scaremongering tactics”. She told her opponents that they should be “ashamed” of their “quite simply pathetic” attempts to “put the brakes on destroying that ambition”.
Green Cllr Gavin Corbett also criticised the Conservatives, who last week called for the strategy agreed by the authority’s transport and environment committee, to be further discussed by all 63 councillors. He accused the Tories of “milking and amplifying fear of change”.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Gillian Glover welcomed the ambition saying “Princes Street is often gridlocked, the pavements on the Bridges are practically impassable” but called for a “little bit more focus on getting the basics right”.
She added that “it’s great to be visionary and ambitious” but some residents will be “perplexed” about the proposed investment of £314m, partly for lifts to help those with mobility challenges between the city’s two levels, which she claims will be of “more interest to visitors”.