Edinburgh’s George Street transformation is just the beginning – Adam McVey

We don’t need to choose between delivering a city for future generations and focusing on core services in the here and now, says Adam McVey

We don’t need to choose between delivering a city for future generations and focusing on core services in the here and now, says Adam McVey

Last week we got some fantastic news. We confirmed that we’ve been awarded £22.8m of funding to take forward the transformation of George Street. This is the single biggest allocation for an active travel project or a project to improve our public space in the country. It’s testament to the work that our outstanding officer team has done as well as the determination, vision and ability to delivery of our Transport Convenor Lesley Macinnes. Having personally led our city’s bid presentation, I know how impressed the panel were with Edinburgh’s approach and how much change they felt our plans could deliver for our residents.

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£20 million package to improve Edinburgh's George Street for cyclists and pedest...
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Businesses too have an enormous amount to gain from the fundamental shift of the street’s design. Let’s not forget how important George Street is to the retail offer of the Capital and how much value it brings. As retail faces the challenges and opportunities of a changing landscape the best way we can secure the future of businesses on the street is to secure the future of the street itself.

The heritage legacy of one of the most important and well-preserved streets in the world is also a huge consideration. We need to respect the past of the street while embracing our future. It’s not an easy balancing act. There will be debates to come about the extent to which trees are an appropriate part of the streetscape and many more issues.

As these debates continue, we need to be willing to be open to what residents want in their public space and be willing to balance the creation of a modern, European-style boulevard with the 18th century street that has been so well preserved.

Our vision and ambition have expanded to meet the aspirations of our residents. People have been telling us consistently they want a city designed for people, where all users of public space (regardless of disabilities, age or number of children in tow) can genuinely enjoy the space in their city. 88 per cent of the 5000 people who responded to our recent consultation on placemaking in Edinburgh told us they wanted to see changes to how the city is managed – the transformation of George Street will be central to this.

George Street wasn’t the only component of our funding. Part of the plans are focused on how our active travel networks connect into George Street. The link between George Street and the Meadows is a crucial link connecting north and south with world-class cycling infrastructure. We also received some funding to help progress design work to improve cycling at the foot of Leith Walk.

The administration securing £22.8m of funding is a direct result of our ambition for our capital city. In amongst the wave of positive response to our achievement, there were some (mainly anonymous Twitter trolls) that were annoyed that we had something positive to say while the city still had some potholes and bins uncollected. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, core service issues are not an excuse for giving up on our ability to improve our city for the better – they’re reasons to tackle those basic service issues and nothing else. Worth saying that Edinburgh’s missed bin complaints have been trending a five-year low since March and our road condition has gained the biggest improvement in a single year in a decade, with the highest road quality score for eight years.

While there’s a lot more to do in improving the services we rely on day-in day-out, the city can rely on us to keep our eyes on the prize. We don’t need to choose between delivering a better city for future generations and improving life for us in the here and now. It’s a false choice, and one I reject. If we’re to meet our environmental obligations and meet the evolving expectations of what out residents demand of their public space, we not only have to embrace change like the George Street project, but we’ll have to replicate it across Edinburgh.

Cllr Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council

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The headline on this article has been changed from the original which stated that those complaining about potholes and bins were “mainly Twitter trolls”.

The Evening News accepts the headline did not make clear the “mainly trolls” remark applied only to those criticising the funding announcement by pointing to problems with potholes and bin collections.

We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for any confusion caused.