Edinburgh city centre transformation

Monday January 7th 2019

Edinburgh Transformation Plans

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, David Bol

Edinburgh Transport leaders will draw up plans to “open up streets to pedestrians and cyclists” when proposals to transform how people move around the Capital are tabled this year.

A leading councillor has made a plea for the people of Edinburgh to embrace the overhaul and reassured businesses that traders will benefit from increased footfall if pedestrians are given more priority across the city. Vice transport and environment convener, Cllr Karen Doran, has also rubbished accusations that the Capital is going to be pedestrianised.

She said: “You can’t cut off traffic – disabled people need to get about. To say Edinburgh will be pedestrianised is ludicrous – we can’t do that. We can’t do anything unless the people of Edinburgh come with us.

“We have a vision of a healthy city where people can get around by walking and cycling. How we go about that is up to the experts and what the people of Edinburgh have told us.”

The council will bring forward analysis of its public consultation on the city centre transformation, low emission zone and mobility plan at its transport and environment committee in February. Options for how changes could be made will then be brought forward in May.

Project director Daisy Narayanan, who the council has seconded from Sustrans, is pleased with the progress already made.

She said: “The response has been phenomenal and there’s so much that has come back in terms of ideas. We have done a lot of ground-work so that once we know what people want, we can start to shape some options.

“This is not about closing streets, this is about opening it up for everybody.”

Cllr Doran has moved to reassure businesses in the Capital who may be sceptical about an overhaul of the city’s transport network.

She said: “Businesses sometimes get a bit worried but actually everything has shown that any work that is done to make it more viable for walking and cycling, their businesses take off because people want to hang around the city.

“People don’t want to hang around a city that’s just cars and you are fighting to cross a road. If you have a really nice space, you want to stop and sit.

“Edinburgh is a place you want to meet friends and have a chat and a coffee. You don’t really have that option because who wants to sit and watch cars speed past you? This can only do businesses good and all the statistics show that.”

Conservative transport spokesman, Cllr Nick Cook, said the proposals could impact on traders in the city.

He said: “Any suggestion that the council’s city centre transformation plans are driven by a desire to positively impact businesses is an insult to the traders who drive our economy.

“Tellingly, the council’s inaugural report on introducing a low emissions zone failed to once mention the words jobs or economy.

“Outside of a few pollution hotspots, emissions in Edinburgh have generally been shown to be falling, not rising. The SNP/Labour administration should be upfront that their transformation plans are increasingly nothing more than the latest salvo in their war on the motorist.”

Cllr Doran has also highlighted the importance of tackling poor levels of air pollution, which she labelled a “silent killer”.

She added: “As a Scots person I always used to say Scotland has beautiful, clean air – but it has most certainly not. You always used to think Scotland had clean air because of the mountains and all the outdoors – but you cannot possibly say that in any way, shape or form.

“We are pushing our buggies along the road at car exhaust level. That is the most frightening thought and it is happening every single day. I would love to give a gift of clean air to future generations.”

The council will also bring forward plans for a Low Emission Zone next year, as well as specific proposals for monthly ‘open streets’ events on Sundays.

Cllr Doran said: “The LEZ will be for Edinburgh, it’s very ambitious for Edinburgh. People have to travel from city to city so there has to be a bit of joint working on how that will work.

“We can’t say people are not going to change, so what’s the point – the city will just grind to a stop. What we need is a city that is moveable and breathable and you can actually get around.”

Green councillors have called on the council to ensure that reality matches ambition.

City centre Cllr Claire Miller said: “Across the world city centres are transforming away from car-dominated places of congestion and air pollution. Right now, Oslo, for example, is taking out car-parking spaces in its city centre so that pedestrians and cyclists come first.

“Edinburgh will have to match that ambition and I am pleased about the consensus so far to do so. However, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. People will judge the council on its delivery, so ambitious visions have to be accompanied by detailed action plans and the money and staff to make them happen.”

The work being done in the Capital is being used to shape transformation policies across the world.

In December, project director Daisy Narayanan, addressed representatives from 35 countries in Geneva at the invitation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

She said: “They heard about what we are doing in Edinburgh so they asked us to come and talk.

“There were about 35 countries in the room and it was quite nerve-racking.”

She added: “It was quite unusual as they brought in practitioners from cities that are delivering work on the ground to see what they would need from WHO in terms of how we could support each other. The theme was about active mobility – so walking and cycling, but seen through the lens of health and climate change.

“The urgency of what needs to be done was so clear in that room. I came out feeling quite inspired and quite energised and also feeling that we are on the right track.”

The team behind the transformation has also presented at the Liveable City Conference at the Danish Embassy and shared insights into the project at Eurocities when it was held in the Capital last month.

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