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Edinburgh City Council’s transport convener, SNP councillor Lesley Macinnes, has frequently been accused of targeting people who commute by car, as the council’s SNP/Labour has installed new temporary cycle lanes, widened pavements and implemented road closures.
The schemes have been installed as part of the Scottish government’s Spaces for People programme, which gave the council £5m at the start of the pandemic to install temporary traffic measures that would allow people to walk, cycle and wheel while maintaining social distancing.
However, the schemes were implemented using Temporary Traffic Regulations Orders (TTROs) which allowed the council to change road layouts without prior consultation with residents.
Although the council has since carried out consultation, and some changes have been amended, critics say these changes have taken too long and the council has abused its power and installed schemes under the guise of Spaces for People, against the will of local residents.
Despite often bearing the brunt of criticism, councillor Macinnes is unrepentant in her mission to help the 45 per cent of Edinburgh residents who don’t have the privilege of having access to a car.
She said: “This is a thing that really gets me, about how the opposition to these changes play this out.
“Your opinion writer, Conservative Cllr John McLellan, for example, has been regularly banging on since the beginning of this administration about how we’ve got a ‘war on cars’.
“I would flip that around, and say what we’ve got is a campaign to give people more choice, because 45 per cent of the people in this city do not have access to a car - so when we only have policies that support car use, what we’re essentially saying is that 45 per cent don’t matter - well, they matter to me.
“Now, some of those 45 per centwill be a matter of choice - if you live in Marchmont, and you live one of the tenement flats, where it can be hard to park - the choice to say ‘well I don’t need a car’ is quite strong, as you live close to the city centre and it’s all pretty easy.
“But there’s a lot of that 45 per cent who sit in real pockets of deprivation in this city, and where owning a car, because they feel they have to, is a heck of a drain on family finances.
“So I want to get to a situation where we’ve got safe infrastructure which means those families can say, ‘well I’ve got a teenage kid who is switching from school to go to Edinburgh College - how can we get them there in a way that isn’t going to cost the family a fortune for the next few years?’.
“Well, let’s give them a choice to buy them a cheap second hand bike and get them safely onto the roads.
“You then have a very low cost way of getting around. Same thing with walking facilities, same thing with trying to keep public transport costs down and making sure that it goes where people need it to go.”
The council first installed the Spaces for People measures using TTROs, which allowed them to install temporary bike lanes, wider pavements and road closures for a maximum of 18 months.
Now, as the council approaches the end of the 18-month TTRO period, city planners are looking at extending the Spaces for People schemes for another 18-month period using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs).
The council’s ruling SNP/Labour administration say this is the fairest way to continue Spaces for People measures, as a formal Traffic Regulation Order, which is the usual way road layouts are changed, are permanent.
Traffic and commuter levels haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and Experimental TROs, like the previous Temporary TROs, can also be changed as and when necessary in response to consultation.
Councillor Macinnes continued: “All of those things are driving this really positive agenda to make this a place where you can breathe the air a little better, where you can get around without having to always make the choice to drive.
“There will always be some people in this city who need to use cars, whether that’s people who are disabled or who live with chronic pain, or for other reasons.
“But that’s the kind of thing that opening up safe cycling, walking and wheeling infrastructure gives people – real choice .
“There is a regular argument in opposition to change and choice that comes forward about, for example, ‘my 89-year-old mother can’t get on a bike’, well, of course not. We’re not expecting everyone to get on bikes.
“We just want to make it much easier for those who can and want to, and the same for those who want to walk or wheel in a better, much friendlier environment.”
In response, councillor John McLellan said: “"It's noticeable that councillor Macinnes has not denied she and her administration are engaged in a war on cars, so I'm grateful to her for confirming that they are.
"The Conservative group has never said that we only back policies which support car use, but have repeatedly called for a more balanced approach to transport issues which is sensitive to the needs, knowledge and views of the people her administration's policies affect.
"I welcome councillor Macinnes' acceptance of the principle of choice, but the problem with much of the current approach is that in prioritising cycling above all else at key locations actually reduces choice by adversely affecting the attractiveness of our much-valued bus service.
"If proof was needed, it is now known that freedom of information requests to find out more about the issues raised by Lothian Buses with the council have been blocked because of the sensitivities involved.
"And as the Edinburgh Access Panel has forcefully pointed out, the choice of disabled people has been adversely affected by schemes which have removed safe parking, and run cycle lanes behind floating bus-stops.
"Councillor Macinnes and council leader Adam McVey accused the Conservative group of populism, but if the accusation is that we are standing up for local people who feel ignored and patronised by his administration then we are guilty as charged."