Planning chiefs have a “golden opportunity” to create a European-style boulevard in the centre of Edinburgh, according to locals backing the plans.
Capital residents are being asked to put forward their thoughts on proposals to modernise the historic George Street in the New Town area of the city as part of a design consultation process.
It would see the thoroughfare – known for its multitude of shops and bars – closed to traffic and opened to street cafes, cyclists and pedestrians, similar to the famed Las Ramblas area of Barcelona.
The street is regularly transformed into a hive of activity during the festival season when it plays host to a number of bars, venues and pop-ups.
City of Edinburgh Council appointed WYG Environment Planning Transport Ltd and LDA Design – whose portfolio includes London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – to lead the consultation in October.
The local authority trialled closing the street to certain vehicles in 2014, aimed at making the area more attractive to shoppers, residents and tourists.
The trial period saw the introduction of a dedicated two-way cycle lane and a one-way system for general traffic and buses.
The free consultation events are open to all members of the public, with today’s drop in session open at the City Art Centre on East Market Street from 1pm - 8pm.
HR Consultant Lesley Weir, 56, said any development had to be “mindful” of George Street’s history.
She said: “I think any project to modernise and improve the area should take note of the historical elements around which make the street what it is. The developers have to be mindful of losing the character of the old buildings.”
She added: “As an event space during the festival, I actually think George Street is fantastic, but any move to fully pedestrianise the street would require plans to redirect the traffic elsewhere in Edinburgh because, at the moment, trying to get along Queen Street and Princes Street is just a nightmare.”
Caroline Lawrie, 51, said the council would have to find another way of “managing the traffic” if the road was permanently closed to vehicles.
She added: “I hope they can decide one way or another whether to open the road or close it to cars. As someone who works in the city, I find it quite difficult to know when it is open or closed to traffic. They would absolutely have to find other ways of getting the traffic moving because this waiting at the junctions is awful at the moment”.
She continued: “If they were to create more buses, especially outside of the centre, we would not need the level of traffic that we have just now.”
Andrew Lamberton, 41, from Leith, said the street was “much safer” for cyclists during the year-long trial, adding:
“When the St James Centre goes in, there is going to be a huge car park under that, so parking on George Street is superfluous. From a cycling perspective, going down the street felt much safer, you weren’t constantly having to look over your shoulder to make sure you weren’t going to be clipped.”
He continued: “The fact there was an experiment to see what it was like without traffic suggests there is some willingness to see it pedestrianised.”
Grant Lawrie, 53, from Winchburgh, West Lothian, raised concerns over losing parking spaces in the area.
He added: “If they are to close George Street to cars then I think it may be a good move, but they have to provide more parking somewhere else in the city. Coming in from West Lothian, it can take up to an hour to get this far into the centre and losing that amount of parking would not help that.”
Mr Lawrie continued: “I think with the St James development going on, there is a need to do something different to attract people back to this part of the city.”
Emma Lyle, 37, who lives in the Grassmarket said pedestrianising the area would cut down on emissions and help make the city a healthier place to live.
She continued: “Living in the city centre is difficult for wee ones given the amount of pollution around, especially with the lorries and buses that use George Street. Obviously if you take that away, the city centre will be a much healthier, much cleaner place to live.”
She added: “I like the way they open the street up during the festival, so hopefully we can see more of that if it is pedestrianised.”