Mission to make Edinburgh’s Royal Mile fit for a king

IT is one of the Scotland’s most popular attractions, thronged with visitors drawn to centuries-old architecture, historic seats of power and colourful street entertainers.

But council leaders have admitted parts of Edinburgh’s showpiece thoroughfare have become “dreadful” to visit – as they triggered a new action plan aimed at transforming its fortunes.

Officials and councillors have conceded key parts of the Royal Mile are too clogged with traffic, have poor quality roads and pavements, are unsafe and unwelcoming, and are over-run with tartan tat shops.

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The local authority is now expected to appoint a Royal Mile tsar to help enforce a tough new “charter” which businesses, tourism operators and council officials will be asked to enforce.

A “spring clean” initiative will be held in the next few weeks to try to remove unnecessary clutter, tidy up rundown closes and remove unsightly graffiti.

Handing over more space to pedestrians, stricter controls over who is allowed to lease shop units from the council, reviving sealed-off or rarely-used closes, and banning tour buses from Castlehill throughout the year are among possible longer-term measures.

A major summit yesterday heard complaints that the street was being ruined by a “monoculture” of tourist shops, cluttered and overcrowded pavements and empty shop units.

The event – attended by heritage groups, business leaders, community groups, police officers and councillors – heard how parts of the Lawnmarket and Castlehill were said to be in an “awful condition” thanks to the number of vehicles allowed to use it and shoddy repairs by utility companies.

Will Garrett, a senior council official responsible for the city’s World Heritage Site, said: “The Royal Mile is the most important street in Edinburgh, if not Scotland. We need to make sure that we do our best for it. There are parts where I think we’ve got it right, such as outside the City Chambers and St Giles’ Cathedral, but not in other areas, where the pedestrian environment is pretty dreadful.”

Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said: “We are not necessarily talking about pedestrianisation. It may be about giving over more space to pedestrians in areas like the Canongate and the Lawnmarket, where there is just not enough space for them. I have real concerns over the quality of areas like Castlehill where utility companies have come in, dug up historic setts, and simply filled the hole back up with tarmac.

“The other area where the council could have a real influence is with the large number of properties we have on the Royal Mile, so that we do not necessarily accept the highest bid for a site, and instead encourage more artisan businesses and local craft-makers to try to improve the quality of what is on sale, rather than cheap kilts, which you can get for less than £50.”

Andrew Johnston, director of the Camera Obscura visitor attraction, near Edinburgh Castle, said: “The worst aspect of being up here is definitely the streetscape. It is an awful state and it is down to the sheer volume of traffic coming up and down, as well as more than two million visitors a year. Closing it off to traffic all year round would make a big difference.”