CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new three-lane “gyratory” junction at the top of Leith Walk have been given the go-ahead despite protests from residents and campaigners.
Work is now expected to begin in March with completion due in July in time for the reopening of Leith Street.
Deputations of local residents and cycle group Spokes told councillors they believed the gyratory design was the wrong approach, describing it as a “mini-motorway” at the gateway to the New Town and the city’s World Heritage Site.
And they said the proposal clashed with the council’s own aspirations to transform the city centre by prioritising pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
Resident Claude Badion also questioned the plan for a landscaped area with a pavilion and possible cafe in the central island. He said: “We are going to have a central space nobody wants - it’s going to be polluted and noisy; we don’t see the need for a cafe there.”
Martin McDonnell of Spokes warned the proposed narrowness of the uphill pavement in Leith Street - at one point just 2 metres - would make for “very crowded and unpleasant” walking.
He also highlighted the lack of a cycle lane at the top of Leith Street and urged closing the road uphill to general traffic as part of the plans.
And Father Nick Welsh from St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral appealed for more disabled parking. He said the latest proposal would see the current nine spaces near the cathedral cut to four.
Green transport spokesman Chas Booth proposed the council should urgently renegotiate the GAM (Growth Accelerator Model) agreement with the Scottish Government and the St James Quarter developers, which tied them into the gyratory layout and come forward with a more “people-friendly” design.
“We believe the design before us could make life more difficult for the pedestrian but easier for motorists - in other words we are doing the reverse of what we should be doing.”
But council official Paul Lawrence said the gyratory was the best way to keep all modes of traffic moving.
“We have modelled some of the alternatives. They push traffic into areas we do not want them to be and they have very negative implications for buses through this area.”
Tory Nick Cook accused the Greens of “idealistic thinking” and said renegotiating the GAM deal could land the council with “astronomical” costs.
Transport convener Lesley Macinnes promised discussions with local people and campaigners about details of the design would continue.
After the meeting, Peter Williamson, co-leader of the residents’ campaign, said the decision was not a surprise. But he said: “We don’t see this as the end of the matter. We hope over the next three years it could be revisited.
“Can we see a time when the third leg of the gyratory in front of the cathedral can be removed and that becomes part of the public space as well?”