NTBCC March meeting summary – Peter Williamson, Environment convener

The following sets out the main points of discussion at the meeting of New Town & Broughton Community Council held on Monday 8 March 2021.

The meeting was attended by Community Councillors, local Councillors, those presenting on the George Street Development and members of the general public. The meeting was relayed by Zoom.

Complete minutes of the meeting will be presented in draft at the next meeting of the Community Council and when approved placed on the NTNCC Website.

George Street And First New Town Project

The main item of business of the meeting was a presentation by the Team responsible for the George Street And First New Town Project. (The presentation is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_jRv20SVAI). The presentation and subsequent discussion at NTBCC is part of a consultation by the Project Team which has already involved a number of small group meetings with interested parties.

Presentation

The c £30m Project supported by Sustrans is intended to result in ‘a world-class investment’ for George Street with an emphasis on extending the space for pedestrians, a reduction in traffic and provision of improved facilities for cyclists.

Pavements will be much wider and decluttered, there will be landscaped areas for play, leisure, culture, and local business and community use, and there will be seating areas including those for outdoor bars and restaurants. There will also be landscaped areas with hedges and shrubs. Heritage will be protected and enhanced, including open spaces in front of each block to provide clear views of ‘signature buildings”. The central area will be a safe space for cyclists who will have priority on this part of the street. There will also be more parking for cycles and charging points for e-bikes. There will be no buses on George Street, and bus and trams stops on surrounding streets will have to be used. Vehicle access will be kept to a minimum to Blue Badge holders and vehicles servicing local businesses. (Loading bays will be on both sides of the street for use at set times only). The plans for George Street are linked to the City’s target to be net carbon zero by 2030, and is in line with a reduction in vehicle traffic in the City Centre generally. It is also expected to contribute to the City’s economic recovery.

The current timescale for the Project is that construction will be complete by the end of 2025 with a two-year construction period. After this Concept Phase of the Project, there will be a Development Phase.

Discussion

At the meeting the general concept of the Project was welcomed. There was however a number of points raised by those attending that sought clarification and expressed specific concerns.  Some of these points, while about George Street, did not relate to the Project itself but to the City Mobility Plan and the City Centre Transformation Project, but these points have been included. The points raised were:

  • There was too much emphasis upon the needs of cyclists at the expense of other users, especially businesses. It was questioned why the original plan to have a separate cycle lane on one side of the street had been abandoned.
  • There was concern over how well the scheme would meet the needs of those making deliveries for business and domestic purposes.
  • The opportunity to sit out at cafes and bars was not seen as a major attraction given Edinburgh’s climate.
  • Questions were raised whether it would be possible for vehicles to turn safely round the statutes at road intersections with the planned road narrowing.
  • The absence of bus stops on George Street was seen by some as a negative, and a review of this was sought especially as there may be a general reduction in buses in the City Centre in line with the aim of traffic reduction. A complementary review of public transport services was needed.
  • There were questions about access by taxis to George Street as the Project Team indicated that it was intended to put controls on vehicular access to George Street.
  • A commitment to a proper upkeep of the area, especially areas where there would be shrubs and hedges, is essential.
  • There are questions over the use of spaces for events and whether this would detract considerably from the overall positive impact of extending open spaces. in the street. It was recognised that this is a matter for the Council. (The Project Team however noted that the fixed spaces would not allow for some of the larger attractions that had been in George Street in the past such as the Spiegel Tent and a helter sklelter).
  • There was no economic impact assessment or commercial plan connected to the development which was seen as an important gap in terms of the overall character of the area. There were concerns that, given the current large number of premises in George Street with ‘To Let’ signs for offices and shop, George Street would be dominated by bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs, which would not be welcome. The Project Tam referred those attending to the City Centre Transformation Programme regarding this.
  • There was a debate with divided opinions over whether there should be shrubs or trees in the landscape areas.

Police Report

The main points from the regular Police Report were:

  • While the vast majority of the public understand the importance of the Covid-19 regulations, in the past month there have been instances of breaches of Covid regulations in the New Town area including house parties and in Queen Street Gardens which the Police have attended.
  • The Police continue to support rough sleepers and homeless persons working closely with support agencies and charities in order to target homelessness. Rough sleeper numbers are very low at the moment.
  • The City over the past year has experienced a notable drop in crime figures, including break-ins and street disturbances which can be attributed most obviously to Covid-19 restrictions.
  • Road safety patrols continue in the New Town with speed checks where required.

Transport Committee Report

City Mobility Plan

The Transport and Environment Committee approved the new City Mobility Plan at its meeting on 19 February. NTBCC had submitted a deputation that, while supportive of the Plan, highlighted concerns about the lack of clear targets, funding or measures to reduce city centre traffic and parking. The deputation further highlighted a lack of ambition with regard to mass transit and reducing atmospheric pollution from vehicles. It was also proposed that Community Councils through the existing Transport Forum or other groups should be more actively engaged in the development of proposals resulting from the Mobility Plan.

Trams Project Update

The Transport Committee is having meetings with the Trams Team about the timing of the work in relation to Picardy Place which will involve some further road closures and traffic diversions. Information on this should be available by the end of March. Traffic Regulation Orders for consultation for the whole route should also be issued by the end of March. A separate consultation has been initiated on a proposal to ban left hand turns on to London Road from Leith Walk. Traffic coming up Leith Walk would have to go around the gyratory and down Leith Walk before entering London Road. The proposal is intended to improve traffic flow southwards and pedestrian/cycle crossings at London Road but may cause congestion at the gyratory and lead to traffic displacement. The closing date for comments to be submitted is Friday 12th March.

Spaces For People

A response to a request to the Spaces for People team for immediate improvements to the Leopold Place pedestrian crossing is still awaited. The Community Council submitted proposals about how to take forward SfP changes from the top of Broughton Street to Canonmills. NTBCC members have had discussions with the SfP Team and it is intended that these are followed up to clarify the position. There is concern within NTBCC over the tight timescale for all of this – all remaining SfP initiatives have to be implemented by May to take advantage of available funding. Meantime, the Council has issued a new survey on the Consultation Hub to obtain the views of the public and businesses on whether the existing temporary SfP changes should become permanent. The survey is both premature and limited in the extent to which it seeks answers to pertinent questions. The consultation ends on 21 March and can be accessed at: https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/bi/retainingspacesforpeopleconsultation

Winter Festivals

Those attending were reminded about the City of Edinburgh Council consultation on Winter Festivals. It was noted that the consultation was not of good quality, restricting the extent to which local residents’ issues were properly covered. Consultation, which ends on 19 May, can be accessed at: https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/sfc/winterfestivals. The Community Council will also make a written submission.

Planning

Three applications for development on the former RBS site between Dundas Street and King George V Park (New Town Quarter Development) have been approved by the Council’sDevelopment Management Subcommittee, subject to certain conditions. The development is mixed-use comprising 349 residential units, office/retail space and a 116-bed hotel, although it is possible the hotel will not proceed and there will in consequence be extra residential accommodation. The Council has still to conclude finally a Section 75 Agreement on obligations on the site owner including planning gains. The development also involves the removal of a substantial number of trees at the corner of Dundas Street and Fettes Row which is being pursued separately. Some of those attending the meeting raised questions about why the Cockburn Association and Edinburgh World Heritage had not objected to the plans when local residents’ associations had. This opened up a discussion of the need to protect the ‘buffer zone’ to the New Town.

There was an update on the proposed development at Powderhall (ex Bowling Green Area) of a nursery, inter-generational housing and a play area. The development has not attracted much interest but there are more objections than notes of support. The main issue for NTBCC is the form of the proposed building, not the development itself.

A local resident raised concerns about the planning application for a new hotel at 12-14 Picardy Place and the implications this had for residents in Broughton Street Lane. NTBCC agreed to follow this up outside the meeting.

Public Space Management Plan

The City Council had held a collaborative engagement exercise regarding formulating a management plan for public spaces. It ran from 14 October 2020 to 20 January this year. The outcome from the engagement was to be considered by the Council’s Culture and Communities Committee on 16 March. This has now been deferred until its meeting on 14 September 2021 in recognition that there are “elements that are complex and require further dialogue, research, development and consensus”. It is understood that a short life Working Group of stakeholders and officers will be set up to support this. It is also understood that NTBCC will be asked to participate.

Peter Williamson, for New Town & Broughton Community Council:  9 March 2021