Edinburgh council accused of 'secret consultation' on Spaces for People measure

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Residents claim a council invitation for the public to give their views on cycle lanes was so poorly promoted it amounted to a "secret” consultation.

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The council wants to keep many of the temporary cycle lanes and introduced under the Spaces for People programme during the pandemic and is planning to use Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs) to extend them for another 18 months.

In June it launched a public engagement exercise, which it said was above and beyond the statutory requirements, inviting any comments or concerns on the design of the schemes.

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But some residents have complained there was nothing about it on the council’s consultation hub or on council news pages, and no mention on Twitter or Facebook until two days before the deadline for comments on July 3. They also said people who managed to find the consultation on the website of the company carrying it out for the council felt the way it was presented was “inaccessible”.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: "Some respondents thought they had to register to access and comment on plans, the plans were hard to locate and there was no explanation of the technical drawings.

“It is hard to see how this ‘engagement’ can inform any council report or recommendations in a fair, open and transparent way and it may be legally questionable if it did.

“It will have further reduced trust in the council’s ability to run consultations and engagements in line with best practice. Having taken time to comment, I now have the perception that the council was actively trying to avoid receiving any comments by keeping this engagement as secret as possible and I probably shouldn’t have bothered participating.”

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The Lanark Road Spaces for People scheme has been one of the most controversial in the city.The Lanark Road Spaces for People scheme has been one of the most controversial in the city.
The Lanark Road Spaces for People scheme has been one of the most controversial in the city.

Kenneth Harvey, who lives in the Braids, said the engagement was convoluted and hard to reach. “Given how much value the council have placed on having good quality consultation as part of their desire to work with communities l was astonished that the councils own well publicised consultation hub was not the starting point for this exercise.

“And the actual process involved having to email a particular department and cross-reference the comments with individual drawings. Only the very persistent would have been able to attempt this and the digitally-excluded have been denied any opportunity to comment.

"It is little wonder that many people in the Braid Road area are so confused and cynical about the way our streets have been tinkered with by politicians and officials out to prove a point or save the planet with no regard for local wishes.”

Colinton/Fairmilehead Tory councillor Jason Rust said the council could easily have done more to promote the engagement exercise.

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"There are concerns this was a secret consultation, despite being 36 schemes impacting over 20 miles of Edinburgh streets and thousands of residents and businesses. The absence of substantive promotion, confusion as to the purpose of this exercise and difficulties accessing the site, together with the presentation of plans with no written description have created a complete lack of clarity."

Transport convener Scott Arthur said: “The latest round of engagement was agreed before the May election and was publicised in local news publications, through newspaper advertising and via notifications to stakeholders including Ward councillors and community councils, which went beyond statutory obligations.

“As a result, I understand that the council has received well over 1,000 detailed responses. I’m grateful for this level of response, and I will ensure each is considered fully and fairly. If the Transport and Environment Committee agrees to progress any of the proposed ETROs, a full and proper statutory consultation will be carried out alongside it, so that the council may learn and improve these schemes.

“I accept many residents may have found it difficult to interpret some of the proposals in the most recent consultation, and I am keen the council learns lessons from this.”

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