Edinburgh George Street: Date is set for pedestrianisation plans for New Town street

Work to pedestrianise George Street with widened pavements and ‘European style’ cycle lanes has been given a start date

The plans are set to progress with final designs going to city councillors for approval next week. Work on the £36 million redesign, which will see over 240 parking bays removed from the New Town street, is expected to take around three years, and will begin in 2024 according to current timescales. And the council has admitted it will lose the authority around £1.6 million in lost parking revenue.

George Street and the First New Town’ forms part of the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation strategy, a 10-year project aimed at changing how people move around the heart of the capital. The changes mean that one complete, pedestrians will have priority with vehicles given access ‘treated as guests’.

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An artist's impression of Edinburgh's George Street under the plans

Scott Arthur, Edinburgh’s transport and environment convener, said the thoroughfare, which is one of the city’s main shopping streets, will go from “a place which is dominated by cars to one which is dominated by people”. While general motorists and buses will no longer be able to use George Street, access for taxis and deliveries for businesses will be permitted between 7pm and 10am, extended to 12pm on Sundays.

In addition, some parking spaces will be retained for Blue badge holders, who will be exempt from the new restrictions. Architects’ finalised designs will go before the council’s transport and environment committee on Thursday (November 3) to be approved.

Core elements of the project include:

- Significantly widened pavements (circa four metres) on both sides of George Street along the entire street length to ‘increase circulation space and accessibility for pedestrians’

An artist's impression of Edinburgh's George Street under the plans

- The creation of a ‘European style cycling street’ within the central carriageway, connecting the City Centre West East Link (CCWEL) and future Meadows to George Street (MGS) route

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- ‘Greening’ plans for planting and shrubbery along the length of the street within ‘sensitively balanced landscaped seating areas’ both on the north and south side of the street which will provide ‘designated areas where people can relax or rest in comfort and safety’

- A new sustainable drainage system to allow surface water to drain naturally via the creation of rainwater gardens, avoiding existing drains and sewers from overflowing

‘A major milestone to transform Edinburgh’s city centre’

An artist's impression of Edinburgh's George Street under the plans
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A council report on the project said community safety, with a focus on protecting vulnerable groups, has been a key consideration in developing the designs “given the importance of the night time economy to the area”. “A women’s safety audit has been developed to create a safer first and last mile journey for women,” it said.

The report also revealed project costs have risen a further £4m from the previous estimate, however it’s claimed the overhaul will generate around £95m for the city’s economy. Cllr Scott Arthur, Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment convener, said George Street businesses are largely supportive of the scheme.

“They want to maximise the benefits to the area,” he said, adding: “Broadly, they are on board with this. This is a major milestone for a flagship project to transform Edinburgh’s city centre, where people will be put first and the economy will be supported. We will transform George Street from a place which is dominated by cars to one which is dominated by people.

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“The latest proposals build on years of public and business engagement, all of which has improved the design. There will be the central corridor which will be predominantly cyclists, there will be some interaction with pedestrians in that space but there would be more than enough room. Where there will be challenges perhaps will be at busier times, particularly during the festival period.”

The council will lose around £1.6m a year currently generated by parking charges and ticketing on George Street. However Cllr Arthur said this loss will be counterbalanced by plans for the authority to take a more “aggressive approach” to parking enforcement which will “result in extra income”. “It’s about cost and benefit,” he said. “The council is serious about reducing car use in the city. If we want to reduce car use, a key part is reducing parking because every journey starts and ends with a car parking space.”

Karen McGregor, Scotland Director of Sustrans, which the council has partnered with for the project, said: “Sustrans is proud to be a funding partner for the George Street and First New Town transformation. The design proposals are the result of extensive public engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. The project will facilitate walking, wheeling, cycling and sustainable transport in Scotland’s capital. But more importantly, it will create a greener, healthier place with people at its heart, where they can relax, socialise, shop, work and enjoy Edinburgh’s beautiful surrounding.”