MAJOR plans are being advanced to transform George Street into a continental-style piazza fit for the modern era.
Blueprints show the iconic thoroughfare overhauled to make room for outdoor dining, festivals and year-round events – with priority given to pedestrians and cyclists.
Consultant Ironside Farrar – which was employed by the council to draw up the designs and is also behind Falkirk’s £43 million Kelpies and Helix park – insisted its vision would create an “absolutely fantastic” space at the centre of one of Europe’s most celebrated cities.
It compared George Street to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris and Copenhagen’s pedestrianised shopping haven, Strøget.
But with estimates showing a final cost of around £28m, it won’t come cheap.
Early-stage designs will go before councillors on Tuesday. If they meet with approval, final blueprints will be drawn up over the next two years, with the revamp scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.
Julian Farrar, director of Ironside Farrar, said he was looking to create a “world-class space” in an area that has previously been marred by “clutter”.
He said: “This is the greatest space in the New Town. We have to celebrate these wonderful places. We don’t do it enough.”
His team’s vision shows widened pavements with little-to-no kerbs, allowing for a flexible, open-plan area that could be closed off to vehicles and opened up to festivals and outdoor dining.
Traffic would be reduced in favour of a segregated cycle route, with the central parking reservation also removed.
But Mr Farrar said cars would still be allowed to park along the street’s north and south edges, and the multi-storey car park expected as part of the upcoming £850m St James Quarter could further alleviate pressure.
He said: “[George Street] is very different on a wet Tuesday in November than on a wonderful Saturday during the Festival. We should be able to adjust. There’s a design stage beyond where we are at the moment where we work all that out.”
The plans follow a year-long trial on George Street to increase pedestrian and cycling provision.
In September 2014, city chiefs introduced a dedicated two-way cycle lane, extra pedestrian space and a one-way traffic system for cars.
The move was the starting point for developing a long-term design for the street, and while some aspects were successful, others – such as controversial glass-covered pavilions – have now been ditched.
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said the trial “was a success in that it showed clearly what worked and what didn’t”.
He said: “The consultation and research clearly shows that additional pedestrian use is supported as is the fact that George Street needs to be able to adapt to differing needs at different times of the year.”
But Marion Williams, director of heritage group the Cockburn Association, raised concerns over funding and possible “tension” between different road users.
She added: “I’m generally optimistic, if [the council] follows the report and uses quality materials and makes it easy for people to understand how the street will be used. The only thing that’s missing is the money. Until we have got the funding committed, we can talk about it all we like.
“This is a significant piece of work [dealing] with the only street that can be made fantastic again. We have lost Princes Street and the Royal Mile. We have to get this right.”
Documents show the plans could cost the council £28m over six years, with hopes Edinburgh’s long-awaited £1 billion City Deal could be used to fund the project.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport and environment leader, said: “The point of the trial was to create a more accessible, enjoyable atmosphere.
“By working closely with residents and stakeholders we were able to assess which changes worked and which didn’t.
“The lessons learned have enabled Ironside Farrar to create a series of all-inclusive design principles, and I look forward to seeing these developed further.”