GEORGE Street will become the “antidote” to a frantic Festival whirlwind this August as plans are agreed to halve traffic along the thoroughfare and create a high-brow entertainment quarter.
A blanket of pavement cafes will replace vehicles along swathes of the city’s most prestigious shopping district, although traffic will continue to flow westwards along the southern side – from Frederick Street – and eastwards on the northern side from Hanover Street.
The shake-up is set to double the amount of pedestrian space, encouraging bars and restaurants to spill out into the street, while the returning Spiegel Terrace will form a central magnet for revellers.
On-street entertainment including music and exhibits is expected to be provided through the book and arts festivals.
It is thought the radical changes to George Street – running from August 1 to 25 – will be used as a trial run for a permanent traffic overhaul as the Capital seeks to achieve its vision of a “living city centre”.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which proposed almost identical plans earlier this year, said George Street could become a standard bearer for a new “continental-style approach to alfresco dining” in Scotland and a haven from the Festival madness.
He said: “It will get to be that people won’t have done the Festival unless they have done George Street. To get the full experience you can do the rough and ready stuff of the Fringe in the Southside and enjoy the more sophisticated and chilled side in George Street.
“You will be able to sit in George Street with a glass of wine, maybe have a string quartet playing and view some of the arts exhibits and enjoy a different tone and angle on the Festival.”
He claimed it would be an “antidote” to the “frantic and brash” Royal Mile.
“It’s designed to be somewhere you stroll down and enjoy something on each block.”
A controversial snag in earlier bids to boost pedestrian space was the inevitable loss of parking bays, which vocal traders said must be avoided.
Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, has warmed to the new proposals despite his previous opposition.
He said: “The key is bringing more people into the area and keeping the parking. George Street, from a traffic point of view, is a destination not a thoroughfare – you don’t use it to go anywhere else.
“The Spiegel Terrace was successful as an event for itself last year, but it was too big and detrimental to other traders in the street. This will help redress the balance.
“It will bring different activities to the area, attract people in and keep them in. It will create wider pavements which will allow cafes and restaurants more outdoor space, which people are looking for.”
Festivals champion Councillor Steve Cardownie said the plan would bring back the “fantastic Festival vibe to the New Town” while easing pressure around the Royal Mile.
He said: “It’s a very welcome step towards the continental cafe culture that we’ve all been looking for in the Capital.”