Report on Picardy Place: NTBCC’s response

NTBCC submitted the following to CEC's Transport and Environment Committee yesterday.

Veronica MacMillan
Committee Services
Transport and Environment Committee
City of Edinburgh Council

Dear Ms MacMillan

I am writing on behalf of the New Town and Broughton Community Council (NTBCC) regarding the  report on the redevelopment of Picardy Place for the 25th January meeting. I hope that you will circulate this to Committee members in advance of the meeting.

Overview

  1. The NTBCC notes that the revised proposals address several of the concerns regarding pedestrian and cycle access, the use of public space and the Paolozzi statutes raised both by NTBCC and other stakeholders. However, we think that there are aspects of the design which are still suboptimal, especially regarding the bus tram interchange and the ban on the left hand turn from York Place into Broughton Street.
  2. Some of us have a more fundamental concern that the gyratory will create traffic merry go round, and that it is simply the wrong approach for the gateway to the World Heritage Site. Others take the view that until traffic levels fall, the gyratory remains the optimal way of accommodating the various competing demands on the space.
  3. The report briefly touches on alternatives design, and why they are not being followed up, but this has not satisfied critics of the gyratory layout within the community. The local Picardy Place Residents Group calls for the Committee to defer a decision on the future of Picardy Place until alternative design options not involving a gyratory can be considered with local stakeholders. There remains anger in the community at the 'take it or leave it approach' of the Council to the redesign of the Picardy Place area, which stems largely from the manner in which the Council signed up to a detailed design in the GAM with a lack of transparency and without meaningful consultation, and then sprung the design upon us in September 2017.
  4. By contrast, the recent short consultation, which was the first which sought to engage the community and listen to what was being said, has already had the effect of significantly improving the current proposal. Given this, we would support a pause in decision making to allow for further consultation. We think this has the potential both to lead to a better design as well as to increase community acceptance of the eventual approved design. That said, NTBCC would oppose any design which did not maintain the Leith Street route between Broughton Street and the Bridges for all vehicles.
  5. Other benefits of the pause would be that it might enable a decision on the tram extension to be taken at the same time, which would provide more certainty as to the design, and allow roadworks and tram works to be more integrated than has hitherto been the case in Edinburgh. It might also enable the decision on the design to be taken in the wider context of the Central Edinburgh Transformation project.
  6. However, we recognise that the Committee will have to balance the benefit of further consultation against the advantages of taking a decision now which would enable the GAM to be renegotiated and work to commence whilst Leith Street is still closed.

Comments on the detail of the design 

  1. We are pleased to see the expanded public realm on front of the Cathedral, which, with the cycle lanes now moved to the triangle, appears to be large enough to accommodate the Paolozzi sculptures if that is decided to be their location. We also note the plans to allow a path for wedding and funeral corteges to draw up in front of the Cathedral, and the commitment to reinstate trees, which hopefully will screen pedestrians from the worst of the traffic rumbling by. We would ask that the Committee seek assurances from officials that all these elements can be accommodated in the available space, as the sketch layout provided by Optimised Environments does not include the funeral cortege path
  2. We much prefer the proposed segregated cycle lanes running through the triangle, as not only does it avoid pedestrian/cycle conflict, but it shortens desire lines and has the potential to animate the triangle, which we feared might become a dead space, especially if the tram is not proceeded with. We also welcome the segregation of the pedestrian and cycle crossings and the provision of a pedestrian crossing from Picardy Place to outside the Playhouse.
  3. Equally we welcome the Council’s commitment at para 3.31 of the report to retain this space for public realm and other facilities associated with the potential tram stop, and that, should the potential tram stop not be required, there would be an opportunity to review the size and potential use for this area. We think this flexibility is important in the longer term should a combination of the Central Edinburgh Transformation plans and other measures, such  a  low emissions zone and improved public transport, reduce  traffic volumes to the extent that a gyratory is no longer required.
  4. We note that the Paolozzi sculptures might be relocated to the triangle, and, with one caveat, we would defer to the Paolozzi experts on the appropriateness of this. Our caveat is that we suspect  parents might be reluctant to allow their children to play on them as Paolozzi wished, surrounded, as the triangle will be, on all sides  by traffic, in the way they did when they were outside the Cathedral. We also urge that efforts are made to landscape the triangle to give it a sense of place, for example by providing hedges and trees to screen the cycleways and footpaths from the nearby traffic.

Our major remaining concerns and questions

  1. The bus stops for east west traffic proposed at the Cathedral still are quite far from the proposed Picardy Place tram stop, as are the York Place stops for bus passengers  wishing to change to the tram should it be extended  down to Leith. At Friday’s briefing someone questioned whether the buses could run along the 'trambahn' to enable them to stop by the tram stop going west east. We do not know if this is feasible, but would urge that this be explored. If neither the bus stops not the tram stop can be moved, then we urge that very careful consideration be given to signage as unless public transport users are clear how to switch, they will not  support the hoped for modal shift to tram. We wonder whether Lothian Buses would consider installing a small information centre and public toilets in the triangle, both of which would be a boon for public transport users. Through ticketing is also essential to make the interchange function properly.
  2. We remain concerned that the ban on the left hand turn from York Place into Broughton Street, besides inconveniencing local residents, will also displace traffic onto Union Street or East London Street, or alternatively though the second New Town. Residents of the eastern New Town are already very concerned about the high volumes of rat-running through their streets which has persisted since the Tramworks and are understandably concerned at any change that has the potential to add to it. Whilst we note that the report suggests at para  3.27  that banning it may serve to minimise congestion in York Place and thus traffic displacement into the second New Town, and cites traffic data and modelling, residents are unlikely to be reassured by this without having  a chance to study the data and modelling on which this assertion is based.
  3. Resident’s scepticism has not been helped by the Council’s failure to take effective steps to enforce the 20mph zone on the residential side streets of the second New Town, where drivers continue to speed with impunity. Many think that the Council should concentrate on ensuring that city centre drivers reach their destinations by reasonably direct routes at no more than 20mph, rather than lengthening journeys by banning left and right turns (such as the proposed ban on the RH turn from London Road to Leith Walk which will only serve to divert traffic to Picardy Place and which NTBCC strongly opposes). We urge the Council not to finalise their position on either ban  until we have had a chance to study the data and modelling, and consider what further consultation might be carried out on this with local residents and businesses.
  4. The design suggests that all residents’ parking will disappear from Picardy Place. Whilst we understand that this will be difficult to accommodate on Picardy Place itself, we ask the Committee to ensure that officials consult with residents to ameliorate matters as far as possible, perhaps by providing suitable extra residential bays on neighbouring streets.
  5. In conclusion, we reiterate that the process by which we have finally reached this design was far from satisfactory, we find it disturbing that the Council was seriously contemplating starting work on the September 2017 design in October. Had the Council taken proper steps to consult about the detailed design before entering the GAM agreement, we could be at a better place now. We hope that the Committee will recognise that consultation with the community is central to achieving good planning outcomes going forward with the equally important George Street and First New Town design process and the Central Edinburgh Transformation project.

Yours sincerely,
Ian Mowat
Chair NTBCC