The Evening News is today reporting that it has been briefed by the Council that the Transport Committee will next week “rubber stamp” the Lanark Road Spaces for People scheme and the continued closure of Braid Road. This is despite the final plans and the details of the recent consultation not yet having been made public.
Overnight the “Spaces for People Update – November 2020” report appeared on the Council’s website. For the Lanark Road scheme, the Council is now publicly stating what I reported on the 28th of October – the aim is “to provide a safe, protected cycling route as an alternative to the canal
towpath and Water of Leith shared use path...”.
Finalised plans are not presented. Indeed, the scheme is described simply using 13 bullet points. It is claimed that the scheme will “form part of a longer route intended to provide an alternative to the Water of Leith and Union Canal towpath to enable physical distancing and reduce congestion and conflict on these busy routes…”, but no details of this are provided. The recent consultation gets no mention.
The Braid Road closure also gets a mention in the Council’s report. This has been closed for some time due to the large numbers of people trying to access The Hermitage in early lockdown raising concerns about social distancing. Whilst difficulties maintaining social distancing at site are now much less of a concern, the Council has refused to back down and reopen the road even on a trial basis.
The Council is again saying the closure is needed to enable the Greenbank to Meadows Quiet Route. Although the Quiet Route plans now appear far less ambitious than I previously reported, the Council want to “maintain the existing Braid Road closure and introduce specific measures near the St Peter’s and James Gillespie’s schools to provide a coherent quiet connection from the Greenbank area through to the existing Meadows active travel network”.
“At present the closure of Braid Road has effectively removed through traffic from the Cluny area. If Braid Road was re-opened in any direction this would re-introduce traffic to this area, primarily on Midmar Avenue and Hermitage Drive which would cause a conflict between general traffic, and users of the quiet route on Hermitage Drive. This could significantly undermine the attractiveness of the Greenbank to Meadows Quiet Corridor.”CITY OF EDINBURGH COUNCIL
The report accepts that the Braid Road closure means traffic on Comiston Road is 11% higher than pre-Covid levels. Whilst this may mean less traffic is passing James Gillespie’s, far more is passing South Morningside Primary School – is more noise and pollution there acceptable? Additionally, added congestion on Comiston Road means buses are delayed and passengers are exposed to Covid transmission risks for longer.
Again, no finalised plans have been make public for the Greenbank to Meadows Quiet Route and there is now mention of the consultation responses.
There are benefits to the Lanark Road scheme and the continued closure of Braid Road. Both, however, come with consequences for local residents and businesses. In my view, the Council has a duty to present evidence based arguments which show the benefits outweigh the consequences.
Indeed the use of the Covid TTRO processes removes the rights local people and businesses have to be consulted on these changes. However, using the Covid TTRO process must be a proportionate response to the pandemic. The Council has already been rocked by claims that these powers are not being used properly.
The legal position is only mentioned once in the report, and this is only in relation to the Greenbank to Meadows Quiet Route – “All of the measures proposed have been considered in respect of the legal powers
associated with TTRO powers. An assessment of the measures and the associated legislation has concluded that these proposals have been developed to provide access to appropriate areas which enables safe active travel for all ages during the transition through and beyond COVID-19.”
That’s it. The “assessment” is not shared and no argument is made to explain why the scheme is proportionate or how it warrants the use of TTRO powers specifically. There is no similar statement for the Lanark Road scheme.
We all want safer streets, less pollution and better support for walking and cycling, but this can only happen when the Council works with communities. Time and time again with Spaces for People in Edinburgh we have seen that even the best transport engineers will come unstuck if they don’t draw on local lived experience when drawing up their designs. If the Council wants to go beyond the Covid TTRO remit or can’t show that the benefits of these schemes outweigh the consequences, this is the approach it must adopt.