Thousands respond to survey amid push for permanent traffic closure of Holyrood Park
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The large response indicates the high level of interest in the future of one of Edinburgh’s best-loved natural attractions.
But there are very different views about whether the park should remain as a handy route for motorists or whether traffic should be banned so people can enjoy it to the full.
Roads in the park have long been closed to vehicles on Sundays and from June 2020 the ban was extended to Saturdays too.
The High Road, round past Dunsapie Loch, was shut for a period during Covid but is now open three days a week, Tuesday to Thursday, 9.30am to 3pm.
And the Low Road, between the Commonwealth Pool roundabout and Duddingston, is currently closed while assessments are carried out on the risk of rock falls.
The online survey conducted by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who manage the park, asked whether or not the Saturday closure and the High Road closure had each had a positive impact, made the park a more pleasant place to be, encouraged people to explore it more or made it harder to access.
It also asked whether a 24/7 closure of the High Road should be made permanent, the High Road should be open to vehicles at all times, partially open during daytime hours or partial reopening should be adjusted further followed by another trial.
And it asked if people would like to see further road closures or further opening of the road network in the park.
HES says it was not a consultation but a “survey and feedback opportunity”. It closed on September 30 and HES says it is trying to find an impartial third party to analyse the results and produce a report, ideally by the end of the year.
Residents’ group Car-Free Holyrood Park has been campaigning for years for a ban on traffic, arguing it would make the park safer for children and families, stop air and noise pollution in the park and allow space for walking, wheeling and cycling for all ages and abilities.
‘Would we build a road through the park today?’
And they quote statistics showing over 115 road casualties in Holyrood Park since 1999, including 24 pedestrian casualties, seven classed as serious; 43 cyclist casualties, 10 serious; and 14 children, three of which were serious.
Sarah Gowanlock, a keen supporter of the campaign, said excluding vehicles from the park would fit with many policies of central and local government such as reducing car journey kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 and increasing walking and cycling.
She said: "Now is the time for a car-free Holyrood Park, to make it a real park that doesn't have traffic running through it.
"In the 21st century, having a scenic drive through a park isn’t how we will be able to operate in the future with the climate emergency.
“Lots of things are going to change and this is one way the city can adapt existing resources to shift towards active and sustainable travel, but also enhance the wellbeing of its citizens and visitors to the city.
“Would we build a road through the park today if there wasn't any road through it? I don't think many people would say yes to that.”
And she said it was important to recognise the roads in the park were already different from the city’s other roads.
“This isn't just any road. It isn't a road the council maintains as part of the city's wider network.
"There is a distinction in terms of how it is funded, operated and maintained, even how it looks. It's quite a unique space.”
The roads, like the park, are managed day-to-day by HES but owned by Scottish ministers.
“They don’t have any separate funding for the roadspace – any money going towards the road is being diverted from the care for the rest of the park.”
The car-free vision for the park would include access for disabled people to the car parks around the edge of the park.
And Ms Gowanlock said an “access hub” offering mobility scooters and other equipment to help people get around the park would be crucial.
But the roads themselves would be kept for use by cyclists, pedestrians and others.
"We don’t have any vision of grassing it over or painting it or making any major changes like that.
“The key is the simplicity of a car-free park – we have all this paved accessible infrastructure already in place that we're not using the way we could.”
Alex Staniforth, Green councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, backs the idea of banning cars
“It’s my view that Holyrood Park needs to be free of through traffic and sooner rather than later. If we truly aim to be a zero-carbon city, which we should, we need more space for active travel and fewer space for cars.
"It’s also a more pleasant green space to enjoy if those in the park don’t have to worry about traffic.
“We do need to work out a way to ensure disabled people can still access the park if they need to drive up to it, because everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy our green spaces, but that is a different thing to allowing through traffic as a ‘rat run’.”
‘Total closure would mean congestion elsewhere’
But Tory councillor John McLellan, representing the same ward, warns total closure of the park to traffic would mean congestion elsewhere.
“I don’t think there is a groundswell of opinion amongst [Duddingston] residents for complete closure of the park. If it was completely closed their access would be London Road, Montrose Terrace – and that’s already a very heavily-used road.
“A ban when leisure use is at its height can be argued for, but 24/7 closure is not something the majority of residents would support.
"And closure would significantly add to the congestion on the routes from Meadowbank into town.”
Neil Greig, policy and research director at road safety charity IAM Roadsmart, echoed the congestion concerns.
“The main route through Holyrood Park doesn't really form a barrier to the enjoyment of the park,” he said. “We are very short of road space in Edinburgh and it provides an alternative.
"Even if it wasn't open all the time, it could be open at certain times to relieve congestion. You really don't have enough road capacity in Edinburgh to permanently give some up.”
Stuart Hay, of walking campaign Living Streets, likes the idea of a traffic-free Holyrood Park and suggests a “sensible start” would be to have a car ban all weekend, on bank holidays and during the school summer holidays.
“In the long term, we do need to think about closing – but that would be a start and we could see how that goes.
"It's whether it's a park or a transport route and we see it as a park and people can't enjoy a park if it's full of traffic.
“It's also an important active travel route across the city and the infrastructure is just not there in terms of the amount of space you need for cycling and for walking.”
“We’d stress the need for disabled access for parking. And we also need to think about access to Duddingston Village, but that's separate consideration.”
HES accused of ‘utter disdain’
Park managers Historic Environment Scotland have been accused of showing “utter disdain for local opinion” over the closure of the Low Road between the Commonwealth Pool roundabout and Duddingston amid concerns over possible rockfalls.
Craigentinny/Duddingston Tory councillor John McLellan said: "The ongoing closure of the Low Road through Holyrood Park is causing considerable inconvenience to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. It is diverting traffic through other routes, causing congestion and exacerbating traffic problems.
“But the communication between HES and residents has been appalling. I have contacted HES senior management and, like residents, been ignored .
"The senior management have to communicate properly with residents about what their plans are to reopen this road as soon as practically possible.
"It's an absolutely appalling high handed way of treating people".