Edinburgh W hotel's bid for taxi and coach access to St James Square blocked by council's transport committee

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Councillors say hotel should use underground car park instead of pedestrian square

A bid to let vehicles enter a new pedestrian square in Edinburgh city centre has been blocked by councillors after they were “not convinced” it was needed.

The W Hotel wanted to give taxis and executive coaches access to St James Square so celebrities and guests with mobility issues could be dropped at the main entrance, according to officials who proposed a two-month trial of the measures. But the recommendation was not backed by councillors as one quipped permitting vehicles to enter would be like “riding a coach and taxis through our transport and planning polices”.

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The transport committee agreed it was “designed to be principally a pedestrian space and an area where people can sit and linger” and highlighted an underground car park already provided access to the hotel. Ahead of the meeting on Thursday, October 12, safety concerns were raised about “large vehicles turning in an enclosed area of high pedestrian footfall”.

Edinburgh's W Hotel wanted taxis and coaches to be able to use St James Square to drop off guests - but the council has said no.Edinburgh's W Hotel wanted taxis and coaches to be able to use St James Square to drop off guests - but the council has said no.
Edinburgh's W Hotel wanted taxis and coaches to be able to use St James Square to drop off guests - but the council has said no.

Councillors’ comments were criticised as being “ill-informed” by Martin Perry from St James Quarter developers, Nuveen, who pointed out planning permission was previously granted for “taxis and small executive coaches to drop off at the hotel”.

He added: “The experimental traffic regulation order is in place to trial the planning consent, ensuring that there are no conflicts with the very limited pedestrian and cycle movements in the area. It is apparent from the comments of councillors that they have not been made aware of these facts or have misunderstood the information that’s been presented to them.”

It was proposed either two taxis or one executive coach would be allowed to enter the square at any time, with vehicles granted access by automatic bollards on Elder Street. The council said hotel bosses and developers indicated during discussions they wanted the Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) to accommodate “visitors with mobility issues” and to “show off A-list guests, say if they had red carpet events”.

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David Cooper, the council’s head of development and regeneration, told councillors: “Both the council and the developer are of the view, and their technical advisors are of the view, that unlimited access to the square would both be undesirable and indeed unsafe – so no-one’s interested in that.”

Parking manager Gavin Brown said: “We as transport officers thought that it would be appropriate to introduce this using an experimental order, making sure it was monitored appropriately. And then of course if it was showing it wasn’t appropriate we would not implement it.”

Labour transport convener Scott Arthur said approving the ETRO as recommended “goes against the feeling and culture that this committee has established”. He said: “Progressing with the ETRO might turn the space into something that’s a bit more utilitarian.

“There’s actually very few pedestrianised spaces or even open spaces in the city centre which are fully public accessible. This one is actually away from roads so it’s a little bit quieter and easier to enjoy, particularly if you like architecture of modern hotels in Edinburgh.”

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Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang said: “It has struck me what a popular thoroughfare this has become. So to approve an ETRO would need us to feel there is a possibility of us doing this in a safe way, and I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible. I’m just not convinced that even going with an experiment is the right thing to do, and even going with an experiment over a short-term basis could I think have unintended consequences.”

SNP councillor Danny Aston said: “I don’t doubt for a second the thought and work that’s gone in here from officers in to trying to find a viable compromise here. Fundamentally it is still riding a coach and taxis through our transport and planning polices and a lot of unflattering things have been said about the hotel’s appearance…but this specific area, St James’ Square, is actually quite good public realm – and it’s certainly light years ahead of what preceded it.

“Permitting even limited vehicular access could undermine the benefit of that new public realm and I think we have grounds for saying the change that is being sought is unnecessary.”