'For once the council has asked businesses what they wanted'


IT has not been a happy year for Edinburgh retailers. They were put under extreme pressure because of their opposition to the congestion charge proposals and then they saw much of their summer business wiped out because of the G8 protests. Then the city centre traffic changes brought further confusion and yesterday we reported that the city's parking revenues have fallen short by 800,000.

Traders have borne all of this with stoic resignation, as they will doubtless adopt the same attitude towards the grim predictions of a deepening spending slowdown in the year to come. After all, what choice do they have? Christmas is the last opportunity many retailers will have to turn a decent coin this year and they will hope it will be enough to see them through what promises to be a hard 2006.

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So it will be with a great sense of relief - gratitude would be asking too much - that they will greet the City Council's announcement that parking restrictions are to be eased in the city centre for the duration of the Winter Festival season, from the middle of November into January. Whether it is enough to stem the tide of an economic downturn remains to be seen, but at least the Council is doing what it can to help after seeming to do all it could to hinder the growth of downtown custom.

The changes are substantial - allowing a three hour stay in the city centre and four hours in the immediate area - but what is just as important is the way in which this came about.

These alterations are apparently not just further decrees from city fathers purporting to know what's best for the rest of us, but are the result of consultation with traders. For once, the council has asked businesses what they wanted and have delivered exactly that.

Admittedly, there is a chance parking spaces will become blocked and drivers could find themselves circling for an age in a fruitless hunt for a space but it is a risk traders are prepared to take. At least shoppers will be able to have a proper look round and maybe even enjoy a quiet coffee once they've parked up.

Perhaps the biggest cheer will be for the news that left turns on to Princes Street out of Queensferry Street will be permitted, but of course that will mean yet another change to a scheme which has already been something of a stramash. As we also report today, Drummond Street residents are furious about the rat-running the changes have sparked.

Sadly, as yet the rules will not be eased in those suburban shopping areas where a half-hour limit was always ridiculous. Easing the restrictions to at least an hour is essential for traders in the likes of Bruntsfield and Morningside and thankfully such a move could still be included when councillors discuss the new measures.

As it stands, the current regime will return once the festive season is over, but if the new rules work during the year's busiest shopping period, there is no reason for a more sensible system not becoming permanent.

For some senior council figures yesterday's announcement will have been an extremely bitter pill to swallow and it could be seen as the start of the unpicking of their strategy to drive cars out of the city centre. But others, including council leader Donald Anderson, have been concerned for some time that the council's anti-car reputation had gone too far and that not enough was being done to protect the city's commercial interests.

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This is not just a Christmas present for shop-keepers, it could be a signal that the strong anti-car lobby within the council may have reached its zenith and perhaps from now on a sympathetic and sensible approach to modern living in Edinburgh will be the administration's hall-mark.

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