Kevin Buckle: When will the penny drop on the Pedestrian Pound?

It was disappointing to read in the Pedestrian Pound report launched in the Grassmarket last week that pedestrianisation had increased diversification. This of course is blatantly untrue and means that the whole report cannot be considered seriously as there is no guarantee that any of the other case studies are not similarly flawed.

Updated research shows that Christmas shoppers who walk to high streets could be spending more than those who drive there. Left to right - Henry Northmore (Sustrans), Stuart Hay (Living Streets Edinburgh), Isobel Leckie (Living Streets Edinburgh), Morag Jones (Living Streets Edinburgh), David Kernohan (Transport Scotland), Lindley Kirkpatrick (Sustrans).

The truth of the matter of course is that after the pedestrianisation of the Grassmarket business actually got worse and as each non-food retailer closed it was invariably replaced by yet another food outlet. It could never be claimed that diversification had improved.

I was amazed that there was so much positive feedback about what was essentially a disaster on several levels but the answer was clear when checking the reference for the comments. Living Streets, who produced the report, had not done the research themselves but quoted from others and in the case of the Grassmarket were quoting from the architects who had been responsible for the project. Unsurprisingly, they thought it had gone very well and in fact had won an award!

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If you walk to the shops you may spend six times more than if you drive
The Nyah Fearties' debut album is available again

This is by no means the only example of a flawed report and thinking and it really is time for all concerned to take a hard look at the methodology that these reports adopt. Consultations that ask if something is great or wonderful are not a valid way to get a range of responses. Similarly, consulting stakeholders sounds fair until you look at the make-up of these groups and realise they are often very much leaning in one direction.

The George Street consultation concentrates on the transport issues but when I asked about the fact the street heavily relied on branded clothing shops and therefore was vulnerable to the actions of the fickle fashion industry this hadn’t been studied at all.

Other times good ideas such as encouraging locals and visitors alike to walk more are overcomplicated and the focus is placed on making places nice to walk down rather than understanding that people need to be given reasons to walk around the city.

Having a destination works well, which is why figures for those cycling are always for those cycling to work or school. Visitors will never take up cycling in any great numbers but encouraging and giving them reason to walk around the city beyond obvious attractions like the Castle will help considerably.

The problem now is that there are many organisations all reliant on making walking complicated enough that it keeps them in a job. Without doubt there are health issues to be considered and people using their cars less and walking is a win-win situation but cycling seems to be given an equal status that simply isn’t justified and whole new benefits like “saving the high street” are added on without any thorough justification.

What doesn’t help are those on social media who brand all this forward thinking as “a bunch of hippies who belong to a cult”! There is a little truth within that statement but there are also a lot of good people doing their best.

Probably my biggest issue is that even the good people turn a blind eye to figures being distorted to support the cause and often I’m sure statements are just taken on trust.

The ridiculous claims about the Grassmarket were obviously close to my heart, and many of the comparisons of half-empty streets in London with Edinburgh streets are simply pointless, but at the heart of this are some very valid and important points and I really do hope they are not lost in any backlash that may possibly happen.

I know I said I would report back on that Pedestrian Pound report but I will do my best not to mention the Grassmarket or consultations again. For this year at least anyway!

A tasty reissue for the Fearties’ anarchic debut

Nyah Fearties were sometimes lazily called the punk Proclaimers, an easy comparison to make for the Wiseman brothers but they without doubt ploughed their own furrow.

They toured Arran in kilts, built a percussion set-up from scaffolding and oil drums and appeared on The Tube on the back of a moving lorry.

A Tasty Heidfu’, their first album, was recorded in a cow shed in Ayrshire with just a car’s cassette deck as a monitor.

Even in these days when reissues are more popular than new releases I never expected to see this album again as anything but a rare collectable but thanks to Good Energy, a co-production between Jennifer Lucy Allan (Arc Light Editions) and Kevin McCarvel (Nyali Recordings) it’s been rereleased on vinyl in a limited run of 250.

Nyah Fearties were from the village of Lugton, and created a near-unique brand of anarchic modern folk in the 1980s and 1990s. Davy and Stephen Wiseman toured, appeared on TV, and later supported The Pogues, and these successes allowed them to release better recordings under improved conditions after this album. However, the rawness on A Tasty Heidfu’ has a charm all of its own and it’s great to see it back.

You can buy the album from the Avalanche online shop or the Good Energy bandcamp page.

Punk’s not dead – especially on Top of the Pops

Punk legends The Exploited play La Belle Angele on Sunday in a hometown gig. When Avalanche was in West Nicolson Street it was common for visiting punks to come in asking if I knew where Wattie lived. I didn’t, but I did have one story about the band’s frontman.

Wattie’s surname is Buchan and with mine being Buckle if we both turned up on time I would sign on just behind him at the local dole office. We would occasionally be asked to confirm that we weren’t actually working so it was with great amusement I saw Wattie signing on the day after he had been on Top of the Pops.

Funnily enough, checking on YouTube for the video the top comment is “Hahaha! Apparently they got their dole money stopped after a woman from the buroo saw this.”