Makeover for 'unsafe and unfriendly' Princes St

DESIGN gurus called in to help revitalise Edinburgh city centre have told council chiefs to curb the number of buses on Princes Street and reduce car parking spaces on George Street.

Pavements would be widened, new cycle lanes created and side streets given over to festival venues under plans to help the heart of the capital better compete with out-of-town shopping centres.

The consultants have urged the council to relax strict planning laws to allow cafes, bars and restaurants to be created along Princes Street after branding the thoroughfare "unsafe" at night and an "unfriendly" environment during the day.

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Gehl Architects, the firm credited with turning Copenhagen into one of the world's most pedestrian-friendly cities, were hired to advise the capital after senior officials said they wanted to explore ways of curbing traffic congestion and boosting trade for businesses.

The company, which has been credited with transforming New York's Times Square, has delivered a damning verdict on Edinburgh city centre after being asked to carry out a "health check".

It has proposed removing buses from Princes Street for months at a time, cutting dozens of parking spaces on George Street, encouraging shops to open much later in the city centre and holding special events on Princes Steet to coincide with buses being removed.

One of the firm's directors told The Scotsman Princes Street in particular had "huge potential" but was being let down by the number of buses allowed to use it, the lack of space for pedestrians and the lack of activity when the shops shut down.

David Sim, a Scot who studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art, said parts of Princes Street, Rose Street and George Street had been left to decline to a condition that would never be allowed at out-of-town centres, such as the Gyle.

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The architectural practice - which has helped create pedestrian-friendly areas in Beijing, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cape Town, Stockholm and Oslo - was paid 25,000 to carry out an initial study.

It was ordered after the council's former design champion, Sir Terry Farrell, criticised the local authority for a lack of action during his five-year tenure. He said attempting to enact change was like "trying to make a planet change its course".

Mr Sim said: "Princes Street is effectively Scotland's high street and should be a flagship for the whole country but it is a disappointment. Our research found there had been a 50 per cent drop in the numbers of people going there over the last ten years.There are also 400 bus movements every hour along Princes Street.

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"There are a lot of quick fixes but the city needs to take a longer look at diverting buses away from Princes Steet and (making it] easier to open a bar or restaurant, which we're told isn't allowed at the moment."

Riccardo Marini, design leader at the council, said: "We have got far better assets than a lot of other city centres but we need to make the most of them. There is still a culture of fear about change, unfortunately."