Council accused of ‘one-sided spin’ over Edinburgh’s Spaces for People consultation

'One sided spin' claim: Derryck Reid'One sided spin' claim: Derryck Reid
'One sided spin' claim: Derryck Reid
Campaign groups have accused council chiefs of ‘one-sided spin’ in a consultation on whether to make its controversial ‘Spaces for People schemes permanent.

Last month, Edinburgh City Council approved the first steps towards making the road closures, traffic-calming measures, cycle lanes and pedestrianised areas permanent by launching a city-wide consultation.

However, community groups and businesses which are opposed to the plans have raised concerns that some of the language used during the launch of the consultation on the Spaces for People schemes, which impact nearly 120 streets across Edinburgh, has undermined the credibility of the consultation.

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Anti-Spaces for People campaigners point to tweets from the council’s Twitter account, as well as content on the council’s website, which would see consultees ‘starting the survey against a backdrop of repeated leading and positive statements about the measures’.

Seeking feedback: Councillor Lesley MacinnesSeeking feedback: Councillor Lesley Macinnes
Seeking feedback: Councillor Lesley Macinnes

Paul Bailey, a Braid Road resident and campaigner against the Spaces for People schemes, said: “It’s bizarre to introduce a supposedly neutral public consultation with biased statements, positioning the Spaces for People measures as incredibly positive right before participants complete the survey. In some cases the statements may even be misleading.

“Examples include the public news page where [transport convenver] councillor McInnes says: ‘..over the last year we’ve heard from many, many people who have gained from Spaces for People measures’.

“This communicates that these measures are positive before participants reach the survey.

“And based on what we know about the level of objections from the community around Braid Road and Comiston Road, this is most likely misleading as even if the council has heard positive things from many many people, it has probably heard from many more people who have experienced issues with Spaces for People measures.”

Yolanda Luca, who owns the S.Luca ice cream business in Morningside, said: “The introduction [to the consultation press release] says: ‘A citywide consultation launches today seeking views on where ‘improvements’ for walking, cycling and wheeling made during the Covid pandemic should be kept longer term’.

“This presents the measures as positive and implies they definitely were improvements which, regardless of how they were intended, may not be factually correct.

“Then the six quotes from residents are all positive, with none voicing any concern.

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“Based on our own business community, in Morningside and Bruntsfield we know this is simply not representative of communications the council has received.”

In response, Liberton and Gilmerton councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “We’re running a wide-ranging and detailed consultation on whether the Spaces for People measures should be retained or not.

“We’ve designed a questionnaire using robust methodology to ensure all views can be analysed and fairly represented.

“Anything posted online or on social media has been to help promote the consultation and to ensure as many, varied opinions as possible are shared.

“Our clear objective is to gather feedback from as many people as we can and to use this to help us to take the project forward in a meaningful way.

“We understand, however, that there are strong feelings on all sides of the debate and we do want these to be heard.

“We don’t want anything to detract from our main purpose in launching this consultation, namely hearing from as many people as possible to help us take the next step in this process.

“Please take part in the consultation to tell us where these changes do, and don’t, work for you.”

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South West Edinburgh in Motion (SWEM) campaigner, Derryck Reid, of Kingsknowe, added: “This consultation needs to be promoted widely to maximise participation, but this must be done in an unbiased way, and that is not what we are seeing in the council’s web and social media output.

“Saturating the launch in one-sided spin undermines the neutrality of the consultation.

“Where on the council website are the counter-opinions from residents with mobility issues from whom parking has been removed outside their homes?

“Or from businesses impacted by safety issues of ‘floating parking bays’?

“Or from cyclists who find aspects of these schemes incredibly dangerous?

“Edinburgh residents and businesses see right through this, as evidenced by the petition from Keep Edinburgh Moving to stop the council’s attempts to make Spaces for People permanent, by running biased consultations.

“This petition now has over 8,500 signatures in 10 days and continues to rise.

“Only scheme-specific consultations of the kind already embedded in the TRO process can be acceptable for infrastructure projects of this scale.”

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