George St: CEC’s response to NTBCC submission

CEC has now responded to NTBCC’s submission on the latest plans for George Street, as follows:

New Town and Broughton Community Council
c/o Simon Holledge
By email

31st May 2022

Dear Simon

George Street and First New Town (GNT) Public Realm Proposals

The Council note and welcome the recent comments received from the New Town and Broughton Community Council (NTBCC) regarding the public realm plans for George Street and the First New Town (GNT).

NTBCC has been one of the key stakeholders over the years through the development of the proposals for George Street. The Council recognises that the views and comments raised by NTBCC are critical in shaping final proposals for the area and ensuring that the project is a success in terms of enhancing George Street and the First New Town as a place to live, work and visit. As the Council has stated, collaboration is key to the success of the GNT project and we will continue to work with NTBCC as final project proposals are developed.

The Council’s response to the main items raised by the NTBCC are detailed below.

 

Equality Impact Assessment

An initial Integrated Impact Assessment (IIA), which allows the Council to meet its legal obligations in relation to equality, socio-economic disadvantage, climate change, sustainability, the environment and human rights for the GNT project, was produced in May 2019 and was updated in March 2020. During this current design stage of the project the IIA will be reviewed once more to reflect current designs but more importantly operational plans for the area which are due to be finalised by autumn this year. Working in partnership with key stakeholders, especially those representing disabled and mobility impaired groups, we will continue to review the project IIA as the delivery of the project moves forward.

Continuous engagement and consultation have taken place on the GNT project from the outset and the Council will continue to adopt a collaborative approach in developing final proposals. Groups including Edinburgh Access Panel have been closely involved and a specific session was recently organised with them relating to the current Stage 3 proposals.

Travel

In line with the Council’s City Mobility Plan, City Centre Transformation Plan (CCT) and Climate Emergency, a key objective of the George Street project is to make it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle as well as provide better access to public transportation. With regards to people with mobility issues or disabilities, we will remove as much street clutter as possible, improve junctions, introduce seating areas, and significantly widen footpaths. This will all help to enhance the experience for everyone who wants to access and enjoy the street.

Increasing the use of public transport is a priority for the project and aims to discourage those who work, live and visit the area to use private motor vehicles. Lothian Buses currently only service two blocks of George Street (between Frederick Street and St Andrew Square) and in an easterly direction only. These routes, and others which travel through the First New Town, will also undergo a more comprehensive review as part of the wider interventions through City Centre Transformation (CCT) in future.

Access to the street for buses will still be available at South/North St David Street, Hanover Street and Frederick Street. These will remain as key bus corridors with bus stops closely aligned to the junction with George Street as far as possible. George Street is also serviced by the tram stop at St Andrew Square and with the extended line to Newhaven will create an additional public transport link for anyone travelling from the Leith area. National/regional bus operators will still be able to stop on Princes Street, Frederick Street and St Andrew Square bus station.

With regards to the strategic impact of traffic being re-routed in the City Centre, George Street forms a key component of the Council’s CCT strategy. Traffic modelling work was undertaken when the Council developed CCT proposals. George Street does not operate as a main strategic transport corridor – unlike, for example Queen Street or Lothian Road, with the majority of traffic visiting the street. There is likely to be further traffic modelling as the CCT project programme moves forward and other key strategic transport studies are carried out, such as the bus network review and circulation plan.

Parking

Parking surveys and analysis conducted between March – May 2019 have shown that the First New Town has sufficient capacity during both weekdays and weekends to accommodate the parking demand of the existing spaces provided on George Street. This considered all types of parking within the GNT project study area, Charlotte Square, St Andrew Square, Thistle Street/Hill Street/Young Street and First New Town streets between Queen Street and Heriot Row/Abercrombie Place. While these findings reflected only parking supply in the immediate periphery of the GNT project, this coupled with over 2600 parking spaces provided nearby in locations such as St James Centre and Omni Centre/Q-Park means there is considered to be an abundance of parking in the city centre.

The Council and consultancy team would welcome further discussions on this and can share the findings of this study with NTBCC.

In relation to residents parking and parking locations within the GNT project, plans illustrating these zones will be published alongside the final Stage 3 Design later this year and discussed in greater detail within the Operational Plan. While these will be subject to some refinement at the next stage (such as the potential relocation of bus stops on Frederick Street and Hanover Street closer to George Street to increase its accessibility) the principal locations have remained largely similar to those published at the August 2021 Transport and Environment Committee and engagement material associated with the Operational Plan published in March/April of this year.

The design team are committed to maximise the parking capacity for residents wherever possible and provide permitted parking in convenient locations. As mentioned in previous project updates the current design provides an increase in the number of permitted parking spaces over the existing street layout.

Public toilets

The future provision of public toilets was agreed at Committee last April. This sets out the Council’s approach to where public toilets should be located. In summary, it was agreed that facilities are expected in areas where people are likely to visit or spend sustained amount of time (but there aren’t many alternatives e.g. bars, restaurants, cafes). It was agreed that the focus of the Council’s future provision would be:

  • premier parks
  • locations which are promoted as places for a higher number of visitors (e.g.
  • Portobello beach or the Pentland Hills Regional Park)
  • each of Edinburgh’s official town centres. Here it was suggested that rather than
  • building purpose-built toilets, that publicly accessible toilets would be provided within the multi-service ‘hubs’ which will be created as part of the 20-minute neighbourhood approach.
  • travel centres where people arrive after journeys on which facilities are typically limited

The appendix contains information on where the current facilities are found. The report can be found here: https://democracy.edinburgh.gov.uk/documents/s33415/7.8%20- %20Public%20Convenience%20Strategy%20v11.pdf

The St Andrew Square bus station has public toilets including disabled and baby changing facilities.

Safety

Atkins has carried out an audit of the design proposals based on their recently published ‘get home safe’ guidance note. The audit does not just consider the ‘ask for Angela’ scheme but instead is a comprehensive technical analysis of the proposed design from a woman’s perspective. The engineers involved in the audit are all female and are conducting their work independently from the other members of the consultancy team. A site visit took place recently during the day and night which included local elected members and Police Scotland. The team also held a workshop at the RSE with several stakeholder representatives in attendance, including Police Scotland. Many of the principles being applied to women’s safety are also relevant to other groups that might be deemed vulnerable.

Disabled residents

With regards to access to George Street for disabled residents our records show that there are three residential properties on George Street itself. For residents who live on the surrounding First New Town streets access and parking will be maintained including visitor parking. We will continue to actively engage and consult with local residents over their needs, concerns, and views regarding the GNT project prior to finalising an operational plan for the area.

Climate change and shelter

There is no certainty over future weather patterns other than a consensus over warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers with greater extremes. Our design tries to respond to these climate change challenges while taking cognisance of the unique architecture and heritage of the area. You might be aware that our current plans include a blue green strategy incorporating rain gardens to help minimise the impact of extreme rainfall. Our landscaping areas also aim to enhance the biodiversity in the area.

To reflect the street’s key heritage considerations, planting provides shelter to non- commercial public seating areas to shoulder height, and these are provided on both the north and south of the street offering locations in both the shade and open sunlight. These reflect early studies of the street’s public life.

George Street is the centrepiece of Edinburgh’s internationally renowned New Town and its planned layout of urban squares, crescents and formal gardens. Adding new “shelters” to this part of our historic centre could affect the setting of individual Listed Buildings and weaken the street’s historic unique character and backdrop views to St Andrew and Charlotte Square. Notwithstanding this, and subject to Council planning policy and discussions with Edinburgh World Heritage, there could be scope in the future to investigate the possibility of introducing awnings/canopies to provide shelter (summer and winter) to the commercial table and chair areas.

As mentioned previously, bus stops will be retained on the key interconnecting streets of Hanover, Frederick and North/South St David Street with bus stops located as close as possible to the junction with George Street.

Tourism and events

The GNT project does not intend to determine what form of events should take place on George Street. The design team have responded to the Council’s project objectives by ensuring that events can take place on the street from small informal ‘pop up’ events to medium to larger festivals. The design aims to make these spaces form part of the new urban framework for the street ensuring that events can be managed more easily while sustaining the needs of other users, for example local residents, businesses, pedestrians, and cyclists. As the Community Council is aware, the Council is consulting on the use of public open spaces for events and filming which will help support future management plans for event spaces which might take place in George Street and the First New Town.

We will continue to work with NTBCC as final project proposals are developed and would be happy to arrange a follow up to our recent meeting with the Community Council.

Yours sincerely

Tony Holsgrove

On behalf of Daisy Narayanan
Head of Placemaking & Mobility

Place

Waverley Court,
4 East Market Street,
Edinburgh
EH8 8BG
Email tony.holsgrove@edinburgh.gov.uk