I have always enjoyed Edinburgh in August, right from when I arrived as an international student, to now, as a parent of two young ones. Edinburgh welcomes the world for an unforgettable month of theatre, comedy, art, music and dance. And as residents, we have a whole host of cultural treats at our doorstep, from acrobats and opera to Shakespeare and slapstick, and so much more besides.
As well as showcasing this world-leading celebration of the arts, this month is also the time when we show off our fabulous Capital to many hundreds of thousands of visitors from right across Scotland, the UK and all over the world.
At this time of year, more than any other, the spotlight is on Edinburgh. It highlights our considerable attractions as a Capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site but also, inevitably, sheds light on aspects on which more work is needed if we’re to retain our reputation for offering excellent quality of life.
Congestion is a problem for all urban centres across the globe and Edinburgh is no different. With the population of the city almost doubling in August, our already busy streets and public transport come under substantial pressure, particularly around the city centre.
And with increased congestion comes a drop in air quality, not to mention the frustration caused by getting stuck in queues of traffic as people try to get across town to go to work, meet friends or see a show.
Enter stage left a powerful new public consultation exercise, entitled “Edinburgh: connecting our city, transforming our places”, which I’m delighted to say got the go ahead from the Council’s Transport and Environment Committee last week. Supported through Sustrans Community Links Programme, this far-reaching prospectus has the potential to be a real game-changer in how Scotland’s Capital looks, feels and functions.
For eight weeks from early September via the Council’s Consultation Hub, the document will seek feedback to inform three inter-related projects currently in progress under the Council’s leadership, namely the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation, which I am taking forward during my one-year secondment to the Council, Low Emission Zones and the City Mobility Plan, which succeeds the existing Local Transport Strategy.
All of these are guided by the principle of putting people and place at the heart of city design. They’re about creating a city which works for everyone, through attractive, liveable public spaces, with sustainable and active travel made as easy as possible and with people’s overall health and wellbeing centre-stage.
As we discuss and plan city centre improvements, we need to make sure that everyone, including those with mobility impairments and vulnerable users, can enjoy all the city offers in a safe, accessible and welcoming way. Transport – when done well – is an enabler. The way we design our spaces has a tangible and lasting impact on our citizens’ quality of life.
Our vision is a city where cars are less dominant, where traffic volumes and freight are properly managed, where goods are moved efficiently and sustainably around and, when necessary, through the centre. A city that recognises that some people have accessibility or mobility needs, and enables those who rely on vehicles to get around safely and easily.
We want a city whose layout actively encourages and promotes healthier – and cheaper – transport like walking and cycling and where a truly integrated public transport system with smart, flexible ticketing enables residents and visitors to get reliably and safely from A to B.
Improved civic spaces where residents and visitors can enjoy spending time amid the hustle and bustle of city life are another key aim, as are better wayfinding and transport hubs to help people navigate their surroundings. Enhancing the city centre and our town centres by making them easier and more pleasant to get around will boost the retail and tourism sector as well as local businesses.
There are a number of truly bold and ambitious ideas on the table in the forthcoming consultation, all of which come directly from numerous workshops held in the spring with a huge range of groups, from school pupils, community councils and private sector organisations, to transport providers, third sector bodies and businesses.
I’m both excited and daunted by the prospect of the lively discussions ahead in the coming weeks. Excited because this is a huge opportunity to do something really transformational in our city; daunted because it’s bound to be sizeable task evaluating all the feedback we receive and pulling out the key issues raised.
When I took on this role earlier this year, I wasn’t sure at what stage we would be in August. Leadership from City of Edinburgh Council, the passion and commitment of the project team, the rigour and integrity of the process and the invaluable support from my Sustrans colleagues, has provided a platform for an ambitious but realistic vision for Edinburgh.