Planning chiefs have a “golden opportunity” to create a European-style boulevard in the centre of Edinburgh, according to locals backing fresh plans.
Residents are being asked to put forward their thoughts on proposals to modernise the historic George Street in the New Town area of the city as part of a design consultation process.
The plans would involve the thoroughfare – known for its multitude of shops and bars – being closed to traffic and opened to street cafes, cyclists and pedestrians in a similar manner to the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona.
Edinburgh City Council appointed WYG Environment Planning Transport and LDA Design, whose portfolio includes London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to lead the consultation in October.
Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, said planners had to “counterbalance” developments in both the east and west of the city. He added: “George Street is the main avenue in the centre of the city and it is really important that it is a grand street, that it is a street for people, for walking, for activity and it is not for traffic.
“Eventually, I think the whole street should be pedestrianised. Certainly they could do that with the west end first, but that would be the ultimate vision in line with what we see on the continent.”
Mr Hay continued: “Edinburgh is one of the weakest cities in Europe when it comes to a lack of pedestrian space and this is a golden opportunity to put this right in the heart if the city and it is about doing that well.
“The St James development will drag things to the east and we need some counterbalance in the west. George Street has not been improved since the 1950s and it badly needs investment.”
The local authority trialled closing the street to certain vehicles in 2014, aimed at making the area more attractive to shoppers, residents and tourists.
The trial period saw the introduction of a dedicated two-way cycle lane and a one-way system for general traffic and buses.
Council transport convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “George Street is one of Edinburgh’s key thoroughfares and is central to the way our city centre operates.”
“That’s why it’s essential that we involve as many people, organisations and businesses as possible join in the discussion about its future.
“Throughout the initial George Street trial we worked with the public to explore needs and desires for the street. We want to reflect this approach with the broader, longer term central Edinburgh transformation.”