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Edinburgh City Centre Transformation — very welcome, but overdue and unfunded

Published 07 July 2019 by Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland have today responded to City of Edinburgh Council’s City Centre Transformation consultation. Transform director Colin Howden said:

“Look up, and Edinburgh is a beautiful place. But look down, and it’s clear that the city centre is woefully mismanaged. Despite the small, compact, walkable city centre, large swathes of the centre are given over to asphalt for vehicles rather than streets for people. It is long overdue for Edinburgh’s city centre to be prioritised for public space rather than for private vehicles.

“For decades, successive city administrations have tried to accommodate aspirations for improved walking, cycling and public transport alongside sustained, high levels of private car access. It is clear that this experiment has failed, and it is time to exclude the private car from Edinburgh’s city centre.

“As such, the City Centre Transformation proposals are both long overdue and very welcome. We need to see early action in delivering the strategy so that it doesn’t become one of many previous strategies that the City has prepared but then failed to deliver.

“The greatest problem will be availability of funds to deliver the infrastructure required, but given the significance of Edinburgh’s city centre to Scotland’s economy, it is imperative that the Scottish Government be responsible for making substantial financial contribution to the transformation of the centre of our Capital City.”


Transform Scotland response

1. General comments

The proposals in the consultation document are strongly supported.

The time for action is long overdue. The quality of the Edinburgh city centre environment for pedestrians is dire, and embarrassing compared to the quality offered by capital cities across the Continent, east and west. CEC has been aware of the need for action for decades (indeed, the consultation paper on p.62 cities the work of Jan Gehl that it commissioned as long ago as 1998) and action must now follow swiftly.

2. Need for greater urgency

We are concerned that the consultation paper demonstrates insufficient urgency. The First Minister has just declared a Climate Emergency, but this strategy suggests a 10-year programme, with much action delayed to the latter part of this period.

The timeline (p.100) would suggest that the first physical manifestation of the strategy will not be seen until 2021-22 (with the closure of some Old Town streets). We are confident that some of these closures (e.g. High Street to St Mary’s Street, and Bank Street) could be implemented more swiftly.

Furthermore, there are additional measures which could be implemented in a short timescale, and which do not involve new infrastructure provision.

Firstly, we recommend the aggressive enforcement of existing bus priority measures; we see zero evidence of on-street, visible, real-time enforcement of bus priority at peak hours on critical points on the city centre network (e.g. on Lothian Road, the east end of Princes Street, and on South Bridge).

Secondly, an early demonstration of commitment to pedestrian priority would be the re-timing of all signal-controlled junctions within the proposed Pedestrian Priority Zone so that pedestrians are not made to wait more than, say, 30 seconds to cross; this matter is entirely within the power of CEC, and could be achieved by the City instructing its traffic engineers to prioritise pedestrian movements over vehicle movements.

3. Vague funding plan

We are not confident of CEC’s ability to finance these plans, even with additional revenues that could be provided by Workplace Parking Levy, Transient Visitor Levy, or other sources of income, should they be implemented.

Given the importance of Edinburgh’s City Centre to the Scottish economy, CEC should promote the City Centre Transformation as a priority for funding under the Scottish Government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 (STPR2). This is demonstrably a ’Strategic Place’ for Scotland. We are confident that these proposals would provide extremely high Benefit: Cost Ratios should they be analysed by conventional transport appraisal methods, and even higher scores should public health and/or quality of life be better reflected in these appraisal methods (which may follow the Scottish Ministers’ recent commitment to review the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidelines).

4. Detailed comments

We have seen the responses submitted by Living Streets Edinburgh and Spokes, which focus on pedestrian and bike user perspectives, respectively, and are in agreement with much of their detailed remarks. However, we would offer the following further remarks:

Traffic levels: We are not confident that a 25% reduction in private vehicle movements is a sufficiently high aspiration to meet the overall objectives of the strategy.

Cowgate: We are not persuaded that the aspirations of the strategy for this area can be met unless the objective is the permanent removal of general traffic from this route.

Bus & tram proposals: We would need to see further details of the proposals here before being in a position to make useful comment. We are not yet persuaded that the existence of cross-city bus services is a problem, although there may be merit in routeing some services via Queen Street (with an associated reduction in private vehicle movements there) rather than via Princes Street & George Street; this could be considered in association with the use of a further Hopper Bus service to connect to the City Centre from Queen Street.