Edinburgh's Spaces for People: Councillors agree to extend road closures and bus lanes

Councillors have voted to go ahead with plans to extend controversial Spaces for People schemes across the Capital.

A total of 37 projects, including cycle lanes and road closures, first introduced during the pandemic, will now be taken forward under Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs).

But a bid by Labour transport convener Scott Arthur to hold community workshops with residents in two areas where there were particular concerns – Comiston Road and Braid Road schemes, linked with the Meadows Quiet Route; and the Silverknowes scheme – was defeated by a Green amendment, supported by the SNP.

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Cllr Arthur said in both areas there remained significant concerns but local residents were constructive in their outlook and wanted to improve their communities. And he wanted to “upgrade” the engagement to “proper face-to-face meeting” with residents. He said it wasn’t about removing schemes, but improving them.

He noted that all parties were agreed that the majority of the Spaces for People schemes should continue – the Lib Dems and Conservatives had proposed scrapping the most unpopular ones.

But he said: "I acknowledge that over the last few years people feel let down by how councillors have dealt with this and they feel there was a lack of transparency. And I think collectively in this committee we have a duty to rebuild that trust."

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He also voiced concern about the impact some schemes had had on public transport and said Lothian Buses had highlighted the effect the Waverley Bridge closure was having on them. The committee agreed to ask officials to propose solutions where possible.

Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang echoed Cllr Arthur’s comments about rebuilding trust. He said: “I think the reputation of this council was very seriously damaged in the last term because of the way in which a lot of this word was taken forward. We need to signal to our constituents that when we ask for their views it matters and we will listen and try to make changes where we get very significant feedback.”

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Braid Road has been one of the most controversial schemes in the Spaces for People programme. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Tory transport spokeswoman Marie-Clair Munro said the most recent engagement process had produced a very low response and many residents felt it had been inadequate.

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"When a well-publicised Spaces for People survey was put to residents across the city in 2021, 17,600 residents took part. While a petition on Change.org in 2021 surrounding Spaces for People had 16,809 signatures.” She argued the schemes which did not have public support should be ended.

Green Claire Miller said progressing the ETROs would be for the betterment of the city. “We believe strongly in providing that chance to trial measures on the street and use that trial to gather feedback.” But she rejected the Labour proposal for expanding the engagement for some schemes but not others.

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The SNP’s Danny Aston noted that where, in England, measures introduced during the pandemic had been removed cycling had decreased to the lowest level on record. “We thought the model for best practice was in places like Denmark or Belgium, not our friends south of the border – Ghent, not Kent.”

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