Why Edinburgh’s city centre must be transformed – Angus Robertson

An artist's impression showing George IV Bridge remodelled as part of the city centre transformation plans
An artist's impression showing George IV Bridge remodelled as part of the city centre transformation plans
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Edinburgh is set for an exciting transformation over the next decade. ­Scotland’s capital city will make wide-ranging transportation and environmental reforms which will have a big impact for both residents and visitors alike.

Like other major world centres, Edinburgh is trying to future-proof the city as we increasingly use greener modes of transport and enhance accessibility.

Edinburgh wasn’t built with 21st century demands in mind. Constructed originally with defensive priorities close to the castle, on the crest of a ridge and within city walls, what is today’s Old Town must have been a nightmare to navigate. The Royal Mile was a dirty and overcrowded artery with difficult to access closes leading off the main thoroughfare to the ­high-rise accommodation of the day.

When the wealthy 18th century ­citizens decided that the city wasn’t fit for purpose, they literally left it and moved to the specially constructed New Town. It was built with the transportation demands of the day in mind. Wide streets gave perfect access for horse drawn carriages, which in time also accommodated trams, buses and an ever-growing number of cars.

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As the population of Edinburgh has grown, most key transport routes have continued to flow through the New Town and across the Old Town. However, as we all know, the exponential levels of traffic and high levels of pollution cannot continue to rise.

This week Edinburgh decision-makers will consider plans which will transform the city centre, enhance mobility and improve air quality by dealing with pollution. This is no small undertaking, and no doubt not all ­proposals will work out as hoped. Keeping an eye on the big picture ­however is key – do we want ­Edinburgh to remain a world-class city? The answer seems to be a resounding ‘Yes’, with overwhelming public support for the plans.

Over recent months, Edinburgh has been consulting on the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation plans, the City Mobility Plan and on Low Emission Zones. According to the plans, the city centre will be transformed, with enhanced access for pedestrians and cyclists, new ‘hopper’ bus services and future-proofed links for the eventual north-south tram line. The plans will see a range of streets become pedestrianised or restricted to bus travel. The cycle network will be boosted and more joined-up, in a city where currently less than ten per cent of people use pedal power to get to work. A number of lifts will be built to better link the Old and New Town as will a new cycling and walking bridge.

No doubt the changes, that will cost hundreds of millions of pounds, will involve frustrations caused by building work, traffic restrictions and travel delays. No doubt there will be plenty to complain about, and there may well be elements of the plans that won’t work out. I for one however, think the status quo is not an option and change is necessary. Edinburgh needs a large-scale overhaul and these plans include the key changes.

When decision-makers meet this week to consider the plans, I really hope that progress is made. Edinburgh is a world-class capital, which requires enlightened thinking and planning for the future. The city has a range of challenges and opportunities caused by population growth, visitor numbers, congestion, the housing and accommodation market and environmental considerations. Edinburgh will hopefully also become the capital of a sovereign state in the next years, which will bring huge benefits in terms of jobs, investment and enhanced national and international importance. We need to embrace the future, not fear it.