ON the sunken, uneven surface of it, the battle of Brighton Place is a classic Capital conflict – commercial pragmatism versus historic protectionism.
Conservationists want the cobbled setts retained to complement Georgian townhouses while traders want the cheaper and quicker fix that asphalt promises.
A volte-face by City Chambers, allegations of misinformation and one councillor winding up business owners on Facebook have helped little.
It was agreed in 2016 to remove the setts and resurface the road in asphalt after a survey by Portobello community council found 57 per cent of locals backed that option.
But in March this year the decision was reversed after input from the heritage lobby and it was agreed to reconstruct the setts.
Work is scheduled to start next Monday, last 60 weeks with a month’s break at Christmas and cost £1.2 million. Asphalt is believed to cost a third less in both time and money.
Orazio Reggibile, owner of Monny ice cream parlour on Brighton Place, is indifferent to materials but just wants disruption kept to a minimum.
“Sixty weeks is too much for anybody,” said Mr Reggibile, 28. “We don’t really care if it’s Tarmac or setts.
“The council say they’ll advertise businesses on the radio but how many people listen to the radio?” he added.
A main access route into Portobello from Duddingston and beyond, Brighton Place serves four bus routes ferrying customers and shop workers onto the high street.
Businesses there have band-ed together over fears of lost trade.
Owner of the Cake and Candy Tea Room for seven years, June Robertson predicts nearly half of her takings are in jeopardy.
“Most of our trade comes on buses,” said Ms Robertson, 54. “Because they didn’t do impact assessments, I did my own.
“There’s a complete disregard that’s been shown to the traders and to anyone who opposes these setts.”
Council chiefs argue an economic assessment is unnecessary for such capital maintenance as they have a legal duty to maintain roads.
Anger at a lack of representation from councillors was stoked by one member taking a perceived mocking tone in a Facebook post.
Labour’s Cllr Maureen Child wrote: “Where are those pixies to work their overnight magic when you need them?!”
Cllr Child apologised unreservedly for any offence and told the Evening News members are committed to helping traders. “Local councillors have always been prepared to help a representative body of Portobello traders find ways of minimising the impact on their members’ businesses in any way we possibly can,” said Cllr Child.
She also pointed to improved bus diversions for the 21, 42, 49 and 69 services which use Brighton Place in a bid to keep customers coming to the high street.
Tory Cllr Callum Laidlaw backed the decision to replace setts but admitted the row has “divided the community.”
He added: “I strongly believe that with the right support the high street can continue to thrive throughout the works.”
A perceived lack of consultation has angered traders too – Ms Robertson only finding out about the March change of decision to replace setts in June on Facebook.
Paul Marsden, 49, of specialist dog confectionery store, Harry’s Treats, is also concerned about the loss of trade.
“It’s take us more than two years to build up trade here. People come from all over and a lot come down Brighton Place,” he said.
Estate agent Michael Annan, 47, has been on the high street for a decade and questions what help the suggested Christmas break in work will be for all-year-round trade.
“When you think about Leith Walk and the impact work has had, they can’t quantify a figure and compare the mess that made,” he said.
One of Mr Annan’s clients, Ali Kerr, said the planned works helped hasten her move out of a first-floor flat on Brighton Place.
Ms Kerr said she was angry at being consulted only for the council to then change its mind and go for setts after all.
“I like the heritage of the setts,” she said. “But the council don’t mend them and they’re dangerous – there’s been twisted ankles and cycles going over on them. I’m also keen for our council tax to be spent more wisely.”
Zena Eunson, 88, was on her way back home along Brighton Place from the high street shops with her walking frame – and admitted to having mixed feelings.
“If you’ve ever tried pushing a pram or a bicycle along setts or you’re elderly, you’ll know it’s very difficult to get across the road,” she said.
“As an ex-driver as well, I know it’s not very good for your suspension either.”
Present problems with the setts are believed to have been caused when utility works failed to look after the cobbles properly.
No-one has a definitive answer on when the current setts were installed but it was longer than 25 years ago with only patching work since.
Backed by city road officers, the heritage lobby say setts are cheaper than asphalt in the long run as they require no resurfacing work over a lifespan of up to 50 years.
Rumours that the council only reversed its decision in favour of setts because it was awarded a conservation grant have been rubbished – with any work coming out of city coffers.
Diana Cairns, president of Brighton and Rosefield Residents Association, backed resetting in line with council policy, with proper maintenance now mandatory.
A survey of residents in Brighton Place and surrounding streets conducted by the association received nearly 100 responses with 88 percent in favour of cobbles.
“Brighton Place is one of the most attractive parts of the conservation area and the setts are an integral part of the street so there’s an historic and aesthetic element to this as well,” she said.
Such sentiment is backed by John Stewart, director of Portobello Heritage Trust and chair of Portobello Amenity Society.
“We felt it important the setts should be replaced and retained in Brighton Place because it’s one of the least altered and most important parts of the conservation area.
“We feel the setts are very important providing setting for the listed building and contribute to the character and appeal of the conservation area.”