Expert group quit role in dismay at Leith Walk junction plans

The new road layout planned for Picardy Place
The new road layout planned for Picardy Place
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AN organisation which channels Scottish Government cash into traffic projects across the country has pulled out of the design working group for Edinburgh’s new Picardy Place junction in dismay at the plans being pursued.

Sustrans Scotland wants a rethink of the proposed layout to replace the roundabout at the top of Leith Walk.

Picardy Place lies within the Edinburgh World Heritage Site and the New Town Conservation Area.

Picardy Place lies within the Edinburgh World Heritage Site and the New Town Conservation Area.

And it warned getting the design right is crucial to the success of two major projects awarded funding of £12 million last week to create a cycle network across the Capital.

The new layout at Picardy Place, proposed as part of the St James Quarter development, involves three lanes of traffic on each side of a central triangle with space reserved for a tram stop.

Although cycle lanes are included in the plans, critics have said too much priority is given to cars.

READ MORE: Plans revealed for top of Leith Walk bike lanes

Sustrans has now taken the unusual step of issuing a statement setting out its views and revealing it withdrew from the steering group for the project after its repeated calls for a different approach were overruled.

The statement said: “Designs focus on maintaining traffic capacity, rather than creating public space.

“The multi-lane gyratory traffic system appears unsuitable for an area at the gateway to Edinburgh’s World Heritage area.

“Sadly, we feel that the design for Picardy Place, as it stands, is a lost opportunity for Edinburgh leading the way in people-friendly public realm design.”

Last week Edinburgh won funding from the Community Links Plus competition - run by Sustrans - for cycle routes connecting Roseburn to Edinburgh Park and The Meadows to George Street.

Sustrans said: “Last week’s announcement has created a renewed sense of urgency in reviewing the Picardy Place designs. The two successful bids from Edinburgh will only achieve their full potential if the design of the junction at Picardy Place integrates into a cohesive vision for the city centre, a vision that prioritises people and place over vehicular movement.

“We have consistently argued against a gyratory at Picardy Place and now, more than ever, the need for this outdated urban planning requires an urgent review. We urge the new administration to reconsider the current design proposals for Picardy Place.”

Daisy Narayanan. deputy director of Sustrans Scotland, said they worked closely with Edinburgh council and had put forward some design concepts suggesting an alternative approach, including designating the road outside the Omni and the Playhouse for pedestrians and cyclists.

But their ideas were rejected and eventually they decided to pull out of the design working group which also had representatives from the council, the developers and Lothian Buses.

She said: “We had not seen any of the designs for a while and we asked to meet the team. Seeing it was still the gyratory, we said this was not a project we wanted to be involved in.”

Sustrans is funding the Leith Walk cycle scheme, which must link up with the Picardy Place junction. Ms Narayanan said: “We had discussions with the Picardy Place team to see how the two projects would shake hands. At every stage we kept saying the gyratory is not an appropriate solution for this junction.

“We completely understand the pressures the council is under but this is such a great opportunity to create something cohesive. It’s such a wonderful civic space.”

Sustrans has also praised the council for its record on boosting cycling. Ms Narayanan said: “The ambition of the council is there - they have shown it with these other projects, but for some reason that has not followed through to this junction.

“We are hoping the administration can pause, step back and look again at what they could do with this space.”

Transport convener Lesley Macinnes defended the current plans and claimed Sustrans’ ideas would have led to delays and congestion.

She said: “The designs for Picardy Place have been carefully developed to provide a successful and accessible connection between the Leith Programme and the forthcoming City Centre East West Link, both of which are aimed at making active travel significantly more attractive, especially for less confident cyclists.

“The option for a ‘Y junction’ layout, similar to that proposed by Sustrans, was considered by the working group alongside the current design. It was rejected on the basis that it would generate delays for traffic and bus passengers, extend crossing times for pedestrians, and would not cater well for an integrated public transport interchange. The design also departed from the historic street layout.

“Their revised plans would require substantial redesign of the proposed tram line and the permanent closure of Leith Street to cars and Calton Road to all vehicles, causing congestion elsewhere in the city centre.”