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In May 2020 the Scottish government announced funding for Spaces for People programmes, which aimed to provide safe options for essential journeys during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since April of that year, 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.
At the time, the council used Temporary Traffic Regulations Orders (TTROs), which allowed them to install temporary bike lanes, wider pavements and road closures for a maximum of 18 months.
The council says residents living near these schemes were able to provide feedback which was then used to alter and improve the schemes, but anti-Spaces for People campaigners and resident’s organisations have complained about the perceived lack of consultation and improvements to the schemes.
Now, as the council approaches the end of the 18-month TTRO period, city planners are looking at extending the Spaces for People schemes for another 18-month period using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs).
The council’s ruling SNP/Labour administration say this is the fairest way to continue Spaces for People measures, as a formal Traffic Regulation Order, which is the usual way road layouts are changed, are permanent.
Traffic and commuter levels haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and Experimental TROs, like the previous Temporary TROs, can also be changed as and when necessary in response to consultation.
Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News last week, the council’s transport convener, councillor Lesley Macinnes, said: “We have no intention of pushing through any permanent schemes under the cover of Spaces for People.
“We want to bring the people of Edinburgh along with us.
“That’s why we would be using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders to implement any longer-term changes, meaning we can continue to involve local people in their operation and evolution once in place.”
However, critics say the council is avoiding the formal TRO process because it would force them to consult with residents ahead of implementing the Spaces for People schemes, unlike the ETROs which can be introduced without prior consultation.
Newly elected Conservative MSP Susan Webber, who as well as representing the Lothians in Holyrood still serves as a Pentland Hills councillor, said: “I was surprised to learn that the inclusion of a single line in the city mobility plan, ‘creation of segregated cycling infrastructure on arterial routes’, has granted the SNP/Labour council administration the legal basis to use Emergency TROs, allowing them to keep the most controversial Spaces for People Schemes in place for a further 18months.
“This means that for three years families and businesses will face new risks and challenges that they simply did not have to endure.
“I feel betrayed having given assurances to constituents and businesses across the city that this would only be for 18 months, actively encouraging them to make sure their views were heard through the city wide consultation.
“I now have to face these same families and businesses whose lives have been disrupted by these unnecessary schemes and tell them that the SNP/Labour administration are not interested in what they think.
“The SNP/Labour council think they know best. I disagree and will continue to do all that I can to get the most controversial schemes removed.”
In response, councillor Macinnes said: “‘Councillor Webber’s comments seem like a pretty desperate attempt to create confusion and upset unnecessarily.
“If she’s been giving families and businesses assurances about an end date for Spaces for People implementation then she has blithely ignored both what was agreed at January’s Transport and Environment Committee on the use of Experimental Traffic Redetermination Orders and the assessment criteria for retention or removal of schemes as well as, importantly, the Scottish Government public health pandemic guidance that we are still operating under.
“She also appears to be at odds with the Conservative transport spokesperson in Holyrood who has clearly recognised the long term value of the Scottish Government investment in Spaces for People changes in helping deliver safer, greener places for us all to live in.”
Following the culmination of the new ETROs, formal proposals for permanent traffic regulation orders will be brought to the council’s transport committee.
Any decision made on retaining Spaces for People schemes permanently will be based on four things: public feedback from consultation; independent market research, a technical review (traffic modelling, etc.) and the council’s strategic transport policy.
Colinton and Fairmilehead Conservative councillor Jason Rust added: “The feeling is that the council is continuing to hide behind these measures being temporary.
“The inability to lodge a formal objection to an ETRO until it is in force is a real concern and I think residents will be extremely sceptical on the back of the council’s reaction to the public consultation that it will listen to objections subsequently.
“The council's intransigent approach is continuing to erode trust and making it far harder to put the positive case for active travel.
“We cannot keep experimenting where safety is concerned.”