'The citizens of Edinburgh have had enough of experiments' - thousands object to Spaces for People plan

A petition to halt Edinburgh City Council’s controversial plans to make its Spaces for People traffic schemes permanent has attracted more than 4,500 signatures in just three days.
'Not acceptable' - Prof Derryck Reid'Not acceptable' - Prof Derryck Reid
'Not acceptable' - Prof Derryck Reid

Two campaign groups - Get Edinburgh Moving and South West Edinburgh in Motion - launched the petition last week, in response to the council beginning a consultation on making the temporary Spaces for People schemes permanent.

Since April, the council has used the £5m it received from the Scottish government to introduce various road closures and temporary traffic measures using emergency coronavirus powers, with consultation taking place only after the fact.

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Last month, councillors approved plans to launch a city-wide consultation on which traffic measures and road closures residents may wish to keep.

Not a 'done deal' - Transport convener Lesley MacinnesNot a 'done deal' - Transport convener Lesley Macinnes
Not a 'done deal' - Transport convener Lesley Macinnes

The petition, which calls on the council to properly consult with residents, reads: “Edinburgh City Council plans to use a fast-tracked ‘consultation’ this spring, to make these schemes permanent.

“We have no confidence in this approach. In previous ‘consultations’ like this, the council ignored up to 90% opposition, then implemented their plans regardless.

“The council is also manipulating road-traffic legislation to replace robust public consultations with these fast-tracked "consultations", which often exclude sections of the community.

“We reject this and call on the council to honour their commitment that Spaces for People schemes were temporary. Any scheme considered for permanency should go through a standard Traffic Regulation Order.”

The petition also alleges that the Spaces for People schemes have created more congestion, damaged businesses, and has ‘diverted attention from gritting and pothole repairs, pressuring the NHS with dozens of accidents’.

Conservative councillor Susan Webber, who represents Pentland Hills, said: “The pace at which this petition has gathered this level of support should send alarm bells through the administration’s virtual corridors.

“If they continue to blatantly ignore the vast majority of the city’s residents, who now have a way to coalesce their opposition to their opportunistic attempts to make these controversial temporary spaces for people measures permanent, they will lose all respect from our citizens.

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“And going forward, when the SNP/Labour minority administration have a valid and far more worthy consultation, people will rightly shut up shop and disengage, if they have not done so already.

“That is not healthy for any form of democracy and in particular at a local government level. We are elected to represent our communities, perhaps the SNP/Labour minority administration should remember this.

“Rather than take some moral high ground where they believe they know best.”

The SNP convener of the transport committee, and councillor for Liberton and Gilmerton, Lesley Macinnes, said: “The forthcoming consultation on retaining Spaces for People measures is about gaining people’s views on the schemes, and where they’ve benefited from or been affected by them.

“This is by no means a done deal, and feedback will be invaluable to officers, who will be analysing responses before considering whether any of the interventions, or elements of them, could be kept more permanently.

“We would then follow statutory, legal process before any changes are made.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that this petition, which is circulating widely, does not portray this position accurately, in addition to several unfounded claims.

“To suggest interventions delay emergency services, for example, flies in the face of extensive engagement carried out with the NHS, police and fire services, not to mention recent findings by Cycling UK that these kinds of measures don’t hinder ambulance response times.

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“The criticism that this project has diverted resources from gritting and pothole repairs is utterly baseless – in fact, many of these interventions have resulted in the resurfacing of entire streets, while we’ve recruited additional staff to grit Spaces for People routes during the recent cold weather conditions.”

The Labour vice convener of the committee, and councillor for City Centre, Karen Doran, said: “I would question many of the claims being made by Keep Edinburgh Moving.

“Their suggestion of widespread opposition to schemes and our general intention to make walking, cycling and wheeling safer and easier is at odds with our own experience of hearing from many individuals and families who have benefited from protected routes over the last ten months.

“Of course, we do not want to force through changes which might have downsides for residents, and that’s why we want to hear what people think of the measures in place.”

Keep Edinburgh Moving campaigner David Hunter said: “The stunning initial response to the city-wide Keep Edinburgh Moving petition should send a crystal clear message to Edinburgh City Council that it must listen to residents as a whole, not active travel pressure groups.

“Only three days old, the petition is on track to hit an amazing 5,000 signatures imminently – and it won’t stop there.

“The council listens to surveys with loaded questions that say what it wants to hear – it simply must not ignore the much bigger democratic statement of this petition.

“As a city, we need to wake up to what is going on – and demand policies representing all road users, not just the cycling 1 per cent.”

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Professor Derryck Reid, chair of South West Edinburgh in Motion, said: “Take Lanark Road and Longstone for example. The council received 329 emails, as they said ‘for and against’ the scheme, but they later corrected themselves by acknowledging only 19 were supportive, 10 were neutral and 300 were opposed to the scheme. In spite of this, and over 1,300 petition signatures, the council still voted to approve the scheme.

“We must have no more consultations where the council proceeds when the majority of respondents oppose their plans.

“Temporary schemes that were installed should be exactly that - temporary. That was a condition of the funding. These schemes must be removed, and then a formal TRO process begun, for any the council wish to consider for permanency.

“Use of Experimental Traffic Restriction Orders is not acceptable. The citizens of Edinburgh have had enough of experiments.”

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