AMBITIOUS plans to create a cavernous underground car park below George Street could be back on the table after Essential Edinburgh admitted it was looking to fund an updated feasibility study into the proposal.
Chief executive Andy Neal said the organisation had set aside funding in its proposed budget to investigate creating a fully automated subterranean car park, similar to those in major cities such as Rome, Turin and Milan.
A proposal by Edinburgh City Council to create a 1000-space car park under George Street – which would have been financed by the Capital’s now defunct congestion-charging scheme – was shelved almost a decade ago.
But the George Street Association yesterday added its voice to trader calls to reinvestigate the project’s viability, which was estimated to cost £50 million in 2003.
Mr Neal said parking and access to the central city had again emerged as a key priority for its levy payers as part of a recent round of business consultations.
He said: “The one area in which the city centre fell down against the rest of the city was in ease of access by car. In this area, more than 90 per cent said ease of access was not as good as the city overall. The findings were very much the same when it came to parking in the city centre.
“It is very much a part of our business plan for the next five years, if we are re-elected, to facilitate improving access and parking in the city centre. As part of that, we have set aside funding in our proposed budget to help finance feasibility work aimed at drawing together all of the work on underground parking and other parking solutions that has taken place over the recent past.
“There is no doubt that businesses see improved access and parking, particularly for the west end of the city centre, as an imperative.”
Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, said Charlotte and St Andrew squares could accommodate an underground car park.
He said: “This would add a lot of parking capacity, so the city becomes a destination and in turn freeing up the street for people to enjoy the space.
“The fact is that people do desire to bring their car into the city centre. George Street, I believe, is the most used street to park on in the city. It just emphasises shopper behaviour and the shopper’s desire.”
The renewed support comes with the cost of pay-and-display parking in parts of the city centre rising from April 1.
Parking in George Street, St Andrew Square and Charlotte Square will increase from £2.80 to £3 an hour.
Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute at Napier University, said building an underground car park under George Street could easily cost between £100m and 200m.
He said: “We have recent experiences of excavations in the city centre which have not been entirely pleasurable for most people and have been painstaking. In a heritage city, digging under the streets is always a bit more complicated.”
Mr Birse said kick-starting the stalled St James Centre rebuild was the key to rallying support behind the car park.
City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “There are no current plans to construct an underground car park in George Street, or to conduct any further feasibility studies on this matter.”
THE SPACE RACE
ENGLISH firm Trevipark has previously built fully automatic, unmanned underground car parks across Italy and Sweden.
Motorists entering the car parks pay for a space through a computer panel. Once out of the car, a computer-controlled lift then takes the vehicle underground where it is automatically parked.
The vehicle is automatically brought back up to an exit bay when the owner returns, ready to be driven away. It takes an average of 50 seconds per vehicle to either park or retrieve a car using the control panel.