A RADICAL overhaul of Scotland’s most famous street has been ordered by city council leaders in the capital – following widespread criticism of its condition in recent years.
Traffic bans, widening pavements, clamping down on “tartan tat” shops and bringing neglected closes back into use are all being considered to help revive the Royal Mile.
Council leaders say they want to hand much more space over to pedestrians by extending the parts that are closed to vehicles.
A year after a summit was called to address long-running complaints over the decline of the showpiece thoroughfare, the new blueprint suggests significant change on almost every part of the Royal Mile.
Council leaders say they want to transform the Royal Mile from an under-achieving tourist attraction to the “world’s best cultural living street” under a plan expected to be implemented from the autumn of this year.
Key aims include persuading the droves of tourists who descend on Edinburgh Castle to visit the bottom of the Royal Mile, and doing more to promote the area outwith the peak summer months.
Measures have been devised to tackle overcrowding on the pavements of the Lawnmarket and Castlehill, where traffic restrictions are likely to be introduced. Plans to clamp down on antisocial behaviour and late-night disorder in the middle section of the Royal Mile will address concerns about begging and disruption from nightspots and “party flats”.
Tough rules to tackle rubbish left out on the street and unsightly “clutter” used to promote “tartan tat shops” are also expected to be brought in.
In the bottom half of the Royal Mile, motorists and taxi drivers face restrictions, banning them from the stretch between Niddry Street and St Mary’s Street, while the council is also looking to lower the speed limit.
Traffic calming measures are being explored for the junction where the Scottish Parliament building meets the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Among the more controversial measures are likely to be curbing parking levels on Edinburgh Castle esplanade, which is the responsibility of Historic Scotland, relocating bus tours off the Royal Mile, and trying to turn the lower part of the Royal Mile into a “low emissions zone” to reduce traffic levels.
A new Royal Mile Charter is also expected to be drawn up with businesses over the next year in a bid to reach agreement on how to tackle graffiti, problems with trade waste and display of goods outside shops.
Last year’s Royal Mile summit, held at the Hub building on Castlehill, heard a string of complaints that the Royal Mile was letting down the capital’s tourism industry due to poor-quality road surfaces, unsafe and unwelcoming historic closes, and the quality of its shops.
The event triggered the appointment of a Royal Mile manager to liaise with businesses and a spring clean to tackle long-standing graffiti, shabby signage and unnecessary clutter.
The council has already tackled shops blasting out loud music and flouting rules on the display of goods outside, but it is hoped a voluntary code of conduct will help curb these problems further.
Ian Perry, the city’s planning leader, said: “I remember there was a lot of opposition to the proposals to close part of the Royal Mile in the 1990s, but I don’t think anyone would be in favour of things going back to where they were at that time.
“Our general thinking is to make things much more pedestrian-friendly by giving more space over to people to walk about. It is pedestrians that go to shops and cafes, not cars.
“Only around a third of the people who go to the castle make it to the bottom of the Royal Mile. We want to try to get that figure much higher.”
Section 1: Castlehill
Problems: Poor maintenance, traffic congested, conflict between pedestrians and vehicles, poor signage.
Solutions: Give pedestrians priority, restrict vehicle access, relocate coach parking from esplanade to Johnstone Terrace.
Section 2: Lawnmarket
Problems: Pavements narrow and congested with pedestrians, poor maintenance, too many tourist shops cluttering pavements with their wares.
Solutions: Restrict vehicle access to Lawnmarket, widen pavements. Impose new charter on “street clutter” from retailers. New controls on council-leased premises. Clampdown on advertising boards.
Section 3: Civic zone
Problems: Disruption from “night-time economy”, build-up of trade waste, lack of tourists outwith summer.
Solutions: Stricter controls over trade waste, year-round marketing.
Section 4: High Street zone
Problems: Traffic congestion at North Bridge junction. Homeless people and beggars intimidating people. Too many coaches picking up passengers.
Solutions: Create pedestrian, cycle and bus zone between Niddry Street and St Mary’s Street. Relocate traffic lights at main North Bridge junction to improve pedestrian safety. Explore possibility of a low emissions zone.
Section 5: Canongate/Holyrood
Problems: Narrow pavements, poor road surface, too many buses/coaches, poor street lighting, poor variety of shops, shortage of tourists in off-peak months.
Solutions: Traffic-calming measures at Canongate Kirk and neighbouring museums. Explore plans for traffic calming/pedestrian priority measures at junction of Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parliament building. New lighting.
Section 6: Closes and wider hinterland
Problems: Lack of shops and open spaces, poor lighting,
antisocial behaviour and people sleeping rough.
Solutions: Encourage more shops to open. Talks with police and other bodies on strategy for curbing antisocial behaviour.