(The following is the text of NTBBC’s submission to CEC’s Open Streets consultation, submitted 2 November 2018)
The New Town and Broughton CC supports the principle of holding vehicle-free Sundays in parts of the city including the city centre.
In the city centre an obvious location would be sections of George Street with Charlotte Square or St Andrew Square, an area which already experiences pedestrianisation at least in part during the Festival. There might have to be a break at Hanover Street to allow for north/south traffic.
We would also support similar arrangements in the areas designated as ‘town centres’ in the consultation. These would support place-making around the city and not just in the centre. We note the Council’s commitment to consult with local residents and businesses and stress that this should be comprehensive and not hurried.
Two of the “town centres” suggested by the Council – Stockbridge and Leith Walk – are close to the NTBCC area. Given the tram works, perhaps the most workable of these might be Stockbridge which is the site of a highly successful Market on Sundays and the area already experiences a heavy footfall. However there would be significant access issues for adjoining streets and for bus routes, and the present arrangement appears to work well as it is.
We believe it would be important that there is a good range of Open Streets areas around the city and not all concentrated in the centre. As noted above, any move by the Council should be preceded by detailed consultation with locals and businesses in the ‘town centres’ concerned.
Promoting pedestrian-friendly routes
The initiative could be used to encourage better use of existing pedestrian-friendly links between traffic-free areas such as Princes St and Stockbridge (via Castle Street, Wemyss Place and Gloucester Lane) or from the Portrait Gallery in Queen St to the Botanics (via Dublin St, Drummond Place, London St and Canonmills). This would help to gradually expand those areas of the city which are wholly or effectively traffic-free on the relevant Sundays.
We consider that events are not always necessary. Edinburgh’s townscape and streetscapes are among the most beautiful anywhere and Open Streets Sundays could be an increasingly rare opportunity to enjoy the streets for their inherent qualities, and simply allow for appreciation of the architecture and streetscape without extraneous events or installations.
As the Character Appraisal for the New Town conservation area states, ‘the relationship of stone buildings, pavements and setted streets provide a disciplined unity and cohesion’ and this cannot be appreciated if streets are filled with vehicles and temporary installations. It would be valuable simply to create the conditions to walk safely around sections of the New Town to appreciate the architecture and streetscape without the danger and distraction of traffic.
We agree with the Council’s aspiration that ‘cultural attractions can be enjoyed by all without the impact of traffic congestion and air pollution’. Where there are events we believe that they should always be appropriate and proportionate.
Appropriate walking tours of sites of architectural and historic interest, using pedestrian friendly routes, could even be organised by the World Heritage Trust.
We welcome the Council’s commitment to consult with residents, businesses and other interested parties.
We consider that the Open Streets proposal would contribute to the key objectives of the city’s transport and environment strategy by re-establishing the primacy of the public realm, and reducing traffic noise and pollution. It should help demonstrate the value of these and build public support for longer-term measures to reduce traffic and expand sustainable means of transport.