Lothian MSP calls on council to listen to Edinburgh business owners worried about Spaces for People impact

A Lothian politician is calling on Edinburgh City Council to listen to the views of local businesses owners who are worried about the negative impact of its controversial Spaces for People project.
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Scottish Conservative MSP Susan Webber claims if the schemes - brought in to facilitate social distancing by widening pavements onto roads and create pop-up cycle lanes - are allowed to continue beyond August 9 when Covid restrictions are due to be lifted, it will harm the chances of the city’s economic recovery and threaten jobs.

But professor Chris Oliver, of Lothian cycling campaign group Spokes, said Edinburgh “needs to build a city for people, not cars” and that many studies show trade is often increased, not decreased after cars are excluded. He said cities including Paris, Oslo, Pontevedra (Spain) and Vancouver are examples of how to do this and that the pandemic has been a “great opportunity” to redesign the Capital’s transport systems for the better.

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The council’s transport and environment vice convener, Karen Doran, said a number of the schemes have provided more space for people to visit shops, cafes and restaurants while observing social distancing. She said their team has worked hard to respond to business concerns and, in many cases, amended schemes to facilitate loading or parking.

Some elements of the council's Spaces for People programme have proved controversial.Some elements of the council's Spaces for People programme have proved controversial.
Some elements of the council's Spaces for People programme have proved controversial.

On June 24, the council voted to retain Spaces for People schemes for at least another 18 months but say they will remove measures around the city’s shopping districts and “engage” with residents on the Lanark Road temporary cycle lanes.

This followed a council-run public consultation which received 17,600 responses and found the majority of locals oppose the policy, apart from safety measures outside schools. Based on the consultation, 38 percent of the public support the council’s protected cycle lanes compared to 56 percent who oppose them.

A business consultation also found traders are overwhelmingly against the policy.

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Ms Webber said: “The spaces for people schemes have been causing major controversy across the city ever since they were introduced. If Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour administration continues to ignore residents and businesses, they could seriously hamper the recovery of the city.

“We hope that we will move beyond Level 0 on August 9 which will be of great relief for people and businesses who have made huge sacrifices for well over a year.

“However, our council administration continues to make life so unnecessarily difficult through this scheme and it is a source of huge frustration.

“Businesses and employees have shown great resilience through lockdown and continued restrictions during the pandemic. They should be being supported at every turn by the council who should be creating an environment to support economic growth and protect jobs.

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“Edinburgh City Council are pressing ahead with this policy that is doing the exact opposite.

“It is time for them to urgently listen to the views of local businesses who are rightly opposed to this scheme continuing, rather than refusing to engage with them.”

Ms Webber says she has received complaints about the scheme from businesses in George Street, Lanark Road, Morningside and Bruntsfield. Local restaurant business the Vittoria Group has also voiced its opposition.

Alberto Crolla, of the Vittoria Group which owns a restaurant on George IV Bridge, described the current state of this road as a “disaster for local businesses” and says the city council is not listening and refusing to clarify what is happening with the measures there.

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Mr Crolla said: “Our customers, and those of other nearby businesses have severely restricted access while delivery drivers are facing daily challenges as there is now nowhere for larger vehicles to stop on George IV Bridge.

“Local businesses who have struggled throughout the pandemic are hanging on by a thread because of the continued ridiculous decisions of Edinburgh Council.”

‘We are listening’

Transport and environment vice convener, councillor Doran, said: “We appreciate the challenges businesses across the city have faced during the pandemic, and that’s part of the reasoning behind a number of Spaces for People measures. These have provided more space for people to visit shops, cafes and restaurants while observing social distancing, to help residents travel safely to their local high streets and to create more room for outdoor seating for hospitality venues.

“Our Spaces for People team have worked hard over the last year to respond to businesses’ concerns, in many cases amending schemes to facilitate loading or parking. However, we are listening, as our plans to remove many of the measures on shopping streets post-pandemic demonstrate. We do recognise the benefits of increased space for pedestrians in these areas though, and will continue to explore measures to achieve this longer term.

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“This is about striking a balance between the needs of the city’s businesses and our commitment to provide safe, accessible routes for people travelling by foot or by bike. We’ve heard from lots of people who have benefited from the Forest Road and George IV Bridge measures, and this was reflected in the relatively high level of support in consultation and market research responses. For this reason we’ll be considering options for the future of this route, in close liaison with local stakeholders.”

Professor Oliver said: “Many major cities around the world, such as Paris, Oslo, Pontevedra (Spain) and Vancouver are leading the way to better quality of life by excluding cars from their inner cities. Edinburgh can learn much from these exemplary cities. Many studies show that trade is often increased, not decreased after cars are excluded. Pollution is decreased and a balance towards carbon neutrality can be worked towards.

“Edinburgh needs to build a city for people, not cars. The pandemic facilitated Spaces for People to develop and allow an acceleration towards a more liveable city. The Edinburgh Council consultation and plan on the steps to be taken as the pandemic appears to end seem entirely mature and sensible. The pandemic has been a great opportunity to redesign Edinburgh’s transport systems and make the city more liveable.”

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