Edinburgh's City Centre Transformation: Strategy approval delayed amid calls for £314m plans to be halted
CONSERVATIVES have delayed the final approval of the 10-year city centre transformation strategy after their calls for unfunded proposals to be put on hold were rejected.
After the city council’s transport and environment committee approved a final draft strategy for the ambitious overhaul of how people move around the city to move forward, Conservative transport spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, called for final decision to be referred to full council – holding up the plans for approval.
It is not thought the delay will impact on the implementation of the strategy – but all 63 councillors will now have the chance to discuss it.
The proposals, if fully implemented, would see some roads closed to traffic, a large pedestrian priority zone set up and a joined-up network for cyclists. Waverely Bridge could become a pedestrian plaza while a bridge could be built, connecting the Old Town and the New Town.
Earlier, councillors were told by project director Daisy Narayanan that “we need to ensure the city centre is accessible, inclusive, safe and is pleasant for everyone”.
She added that following a second public consultation, which saw a response from around 3,000 people, “overall it’s clear that there’s a real appetite for change”.
Conservatives said the number of consultation replies, one of the best ever responses on the council’s consultation hub, is not big enough to prove the city wants radical change. But Labour Cllr Maureen Child said the Tories were trying to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”.
Cllr Cook called for the third phase of the strategy, which includes £314m of proposals without guaranteed funding, to be put on hold until projects including George Street and cycling improvements are delivered.
He called for “flagship projects to be put front and centre “ and “should be progressed and used as a benchmark” for further projects in the strategy.
He added: “We should take a funded and transparent approach to how we transform the city centre.
“We are now 17 months in. This is now a finalised strategy and many of the key questions have little more detail than they had before or remain unanswered.”
But transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, who rejected the Conservative proposals, reiterated that the document was a strategy. She labelled the move a “desperate attempt” by the Conservatives to “accelerate us into difficulties”.
She added: “It’s designed to pull us back. It’s reducing it down in a way that I don’t think is particularly helpful.
“What is being asked for is a leap forward into detailed work that is still to be done in a detailed, comprehensive manner. The detail will emerge at an appropriate time with all the different stakeholders.
“I’m very proud of this. This is about looking at existing council demands and projects and joining them together and understand the needs of this city and how we respond appropriately to them. It’s an opportunity for the city to be proud that we are tackling some of the biggest issues facing us as a country.”
Green transport spokesperson, Cllr Claire Miller, said there’s “definitely more scope in my mind for being more ambitious” and questioned whether if legal or financial barriers are overcome, could the strategy go further.
She added: “The number of streets we are closing to traffic is very small. How much more ambitious can we be?”
Officers told councillors that the strategy remains flexible, adding that closing Cowgate to traffic was considered but investigations found it was “a step too far at the moment”.