War of words over Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme

A war of words has broken out between rival groups of transport campaigners - after Edinburgh City Council took the first steps towards making its controversial Spaces for People scheme permanent.

'Transformation' - Greens councillor Gavin Corbett

At a meeting of the council’s transport committee on Thursday January 28, councillors approved plans to launch a city-wide consultation on which traffic measures and road closures residents may wish to keep.

A start date for the consultation, or the means of consulting, have not been published but the transport committee is expecting the results of the consultation to be presented at the committee’s meeting in April.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The assessment criteria includes asking: does the project encourage walking and/or cycling; what are the project’s impacts on businesses; and what are the project’s impacts on disabled street users?

'Opposition is rising fast' - David Hunter

In response to the decision, a group of long-term critics of the Spaces for People scheme met to organise and coordinate their response to the approval of the consultation.

South West Edinburgh in Motion (SWEM) campaigner, Derryck Reid, of Kingsknowe, said: “Based on independent expert advice we commissioned, the lack of safety audits for schemes of this scale is against best practice guidelines and the recent hospitalization of an Edinburgh cyclist shows these schemes are being introduced with a casual indifference to road safety for all groups.”

David Hunter, chair of the Get Edinburgh Moving campaign group in East Craigs, said the SNP/Labour ruling coalition repeatedly promised the Spaces for People measures were temporary.

He said: “The conditions of the national programme and funding from Transport Scotland were absolutely clear that these schemes were to be temporary and ‘pop up’ in nature. If they are retained, the council will have broken the terms of funding.

Spaces for People aims to make Edinburgh safer for pedestrians and cyclists

“It’s clear that anger and resolve in opposition is rising fast in this city. Not only is the timing of the proposed ‘consultation’ completely wrong - no scheme can be assessed properly until lockdown has eased for several months at least.”

Rupert James, managing director of James-Morrow in Tollcross, said: “All of us have been shocked by the stealth of schemes being introduced with no notification and consultation of directly impacted residents and businesses and the complete lack of information with inaccessible technical drawings provided on hard-to-find web pages.

“In our case, we arrived one day to find cones all around Tollcross.

“The council spoke of prior consultation with businesses and residents which turns out to be nonsense.

“The promises made on the council website, regarding this program, are mostly marketing spin with zero substance"

Aonghas Mcintosh, chair of Juniper Green and Baberton Mains Community Council, said "My concern is not just what the Spaces for People programme is doing but 'how' and 'why'.

“They are using emergency legislation brought in to help people through the pandemic but there has been no evidence of any transmission in a number of the impacted streets, paths, etc.

“My fear, which is shared by many across Edinburgh, is that they are doing this to force through changes that ordinarily through proper consultation and analysis may prove to be flawed.”

In response, Liberton and Gilmerton SNP councillor, and convener of the council’s transport committee, Lesley Macinnes, said: “We have been clear from the outset that these are emergency measures designed to give people space to physically distance safely, reducing the need for people to walk on the road or to cycle on dangerous routes while avoiding public transport.

“As we have said time and again, this approach has been encouraged and supported by both the Scottish and UK Governments and follows national guidance for implementation.

“Our engagement process was democratically approved by committee and throughout the last ten months we have made changes to designs and proposals to respond to legitimate community concerns around the designs of schemes, both before and after they’ve been introduced.

“While these are, clearly, temporary interventions, we cannot ignore the positive impact many of them have had in encouraging more people to walk or cycle, which chimes with our longer-term ambitions for Edinburgh to become a net zero carbon community.

“We face significant challenges, both locally and globally, from climate change, air pollution, congestion and poor road safety.

“ simply must change tack if we are to tackle these, and supporting more people to choose sustainable, greener and healthier modes of transport will be key to this.

“It is the council’s responsibility and task to find ways to make this city a healthier, better place for everyone who lives and works here.

“As such we do not have the luxury of simply maintaining the status quo.

“Change is needed in the face of the increasing threat to our health and our economy coming from the massive increase in traffic, size of vehicles and pollution that we have all seen.

“Edinburgh is no different to cities across the world who are facing the same problems and finding similar temporary and permanent solutions.

“If we are able to harness the positive effects some of the pop-up cycle lanes or temporary road closures have had longer term, we would be making good progress in meeting some of the goals outlined by Edinburgh’s Climate Commission and our own agreed policies.

“Our next step will be to ask people which elements of our Spaces for People programme benefitted them the most, and only then will we begin to consider whether and how we can implement some of these improvements on a more permanent, coherent basis, in full consultation with the community.”

However, Conservative councillor Susan Webber said: "It has come to a point where the various groups, residents, and business from across the city are now having to join forces to make their voices heard.

"The silent majority are now sick of being run rough shod and their views ignored.

"This is not democracy, despite all continued protestations made by the SNP and Labour and Green Cllrs.

"From the outset I demanded greater community involvement and political scrutiny on the schemes.

"I was also ignored.

"This widespread and co-ordinated public revolt happens when people are continually ignored.

"Like me, I am sure they share concerns that any consultation on the schemes being made permanent will genuinely listen their views, given there is no evidence of this happening in the past."

City Centre Labour councillor and vice convener of the transport committee, Karen Doran, said: “This is an extremely challenging time for everyone, and there is clearly still some way to go before we return to normality, as we know it.

“That’s why we’re continuing to progress with our programme of Spaces for People measures, which have been designed to help communities stay safe while making essential journeys or taking daily exercise.

“We’ve heard from lots of people who have told us just what it means to have a safe, protected cycle route on the way to work, or a traffic-free road where their children can play or travel to the local park.

“Like cities across the world, we want every resident to share the benefits these kinds of changes can bring, to the environment, to road safety or quality of life.

“Of course, we recognise that measures such as these take some adjustment, and that there can be concerns around parking for those with mobility issues or loading for businesses.

“We’re working to address these through changes to designs where we can.

“Any proposals for longer-term projects would involve a great deal of consultation, debate and awareness-raising, to make sure we bring the people of Edinburgh with us.”

A spokesperson for Spokes, an Edinburgh pro-cycling campaign, said: “Spokes congratulates the council on winning £5.25m of the £39m Scottish Government allocation for urgent cycle and pedestrian schemes using temporary materials, and which must be installed by May 2021.

“By providing safer conditions for walking and cycling, these projects help free up space in buses and enable better social distancing, as well as fresh-air exercise.

“Some of the many segregated cycling schemes approved in today's report, and entirely funded by this government cash, include: a safe route to Holy Rood High School along scary Duddingston Road West; a Portobello to Musselburgh cycle route; on-road cycle routes enabling people to avoid the busy canal towpath and the muddy Water of Leith path; and a safer route towards the infirmary from south west Edinburgh via Braid Hills Drive.

“We hope that once the pandemic subsides the council will consult on making the schemes permanent, and what changes would be beneficial.”

Spokes campaigner Stella Thomson, while welcoming the Spaces for People project, warned against the reopening of Braid Road.

She said: ‘Edinburgh City Council’s transport committee voted on Thursday on the next steps for a broad sweep of projects under the Spaces for People banner.

“Residents in the Braids, Fairmilehead and Comiston area welcomed the recognition that Braid Road is heavily used by people walking, wheeling and cycling for both leisure and exercise, especially important during lockdown, and that the proposed Quiet Route from Greenbank to the Meadows needs to be genuinely quiet to be effective.

“Keeping Braid Road closed to traffic in the meantime will allow the Quiet Route to be established.

“Any future changes to Braid Road should be considered in the context of the objectives of the Quiet Route as well as the safety of people exercising at the Hermitage.

“So many people use the Hermitage for exercise that, without the road closed to traffic, there is very little pavement space for social distancing.

“Before the closure, it was a tricky and dangerous crossing for families to reach the entrance. In addition, many people are afraid to make ordinary everyday journeys in the area by bike because they are afraid of traffic.

“With the protected cycle lanes from Fairmilehead, with Braid Road still closed, and the establishment of the Quiet Route, people will be able to cycle comfortably and safely all the way into town.

“I can’t think of an easier way to give people an alternative to driving. I want to see all of the sustainable alternatives to driving (walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport) being made attractive and accessible so that those that want to can use them.

“Those that need to drive will find that this removes a lot of traffic from the roads.”

Green councillor Gavin Corbett added: The Spaces for People changes in Edinburgh part of a transformation which cities across the world are pursuing to change the balance away from car-dominated streets to make it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle.

"The immediate need is to create safer space for people to use, but it is about improving health, reducing congestion and air pollution and, of course, tackling climate change. No city can ignore these major issues.”

He continued: "Some of the changes will work better than others so the scheme is designed to be modified as it goes. But, as we saw last Spring, there is enormous appetite in Edinburgh for people to get more active in how they move around the city, so it's right that they should do so safely as Spring comes around again."

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.