Edinburgh’s Spaces for People scheme has been extended for a further 18 months as the council moves a step closer to making measures permanent.
The controversial project that saw temporary bike lanes installed, pavements widened and streets pedestrianised in response to the pandemic will now enter a new phase which will allow members of the public to give their views.
Despite the efforts of Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors for some measures to be changed or scrapped, the transport committee voted to keep them all in place on Thursday.
But there was an agreement in the chamber that the council has to ‘rebuild trust’ amid a perceived lack of engagement with the public over Spaces for People (SfP) since it was introduced in 2020.
Re-named ‘Travelling Safely’, the scheme was initially rolled-out under emergency Covid legislation and the council subsequently advertised Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) so some bike lanes could legally remain in place, whilst others were removed.
Last year councillors agreed changes including on Comiston Road and voted to begin the process of drawing up Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs) which allow officials to monitor the success of the scheme more closely.
This week project manager for Travelling Safely Dave Sinclair asked councillors to approve the ETROs for an 18 month trial period.
He said: “We’re at a transition stage at this point and the task of the committee today is to consider the schemes and look forward to hypotheses.”
Engagement with the public on the proposed ETROs returned 1,230 responses, with 702 objecting and 303 in support.
Mr Sinclair said: “We undertook detailed analysis of 12 of the schemes with the highest response rates and all five of the city centre schemes. The most significant issues relate to congestion, either assumed or observed safety issues, cycling lane use or perceived lack of use.
“In terms of moving forward, we’re seeking consent today to progress.”
The ETROs will now be advertised and members of the public will have six months to make objections.
Mr Sinclair said that time will be a “period to take stock in more informed terms”.
“After the end of the six month period the council would need to decide whether we wish to continue with these schemes as an experiment,” he added.
“Do we say this is a scheme we want to make permanent, or do we modify it or remove it. If we wish to retain schemes we need to formally make traffic regulation orders.”
A report to councillors noted removing all current schemes would come at a cost of £1m.
The Conservatives were in favour of scrapping all measures introduced under SfP, except around schools, which have not been seen to have public support.
Tory councillor Marie-Clair Munro said: “Spaces for People were temporary measures introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some of these measures have been removed, the council wants others to be retained under the re-named Travelling Safely programme.
“In June, we approached the end of an 18-month temporary traffic regulation order, however the council plan to use ETRO to allow a further 18-month extension period.
“This means some temporary traffic schemes will have been in place for three years before even being made permanent or scrapped entirely.
“We strongly believe that any measures which officers seek to adapt or partially implement that were previously Spaces for People schemes and do not have public support should be ended at the conclusion of the TTROs timescale, or before where possible.
“As councillors we have to listen to every resident’s point of view and act accordingly, residents will see these ETROs as another delay.”
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems voted against five of the 37 schemes being taken forward as ETROs in locations including Braid Road and Silverknowes Road North.
Kevin Lang, group leader for the Lib Dems on Edinburgh City Council, said many of the new measures introduced during the pandemic are still “very controversial”.
He said: “I do think the reputation of this council was seriously damaged in the last council term because of the way in which a lot of this work was taken forward.
Cllr Lang urged the committee to find a way of “taking the heat” out of the topic of active travel measures, adding: “This should not be contentious stuff.”
Councillor Claire Miller, co-convenor of the Green Group, said: “We have spent a considerable amount of time in our group trying to ensure that the work which is being done under this programme as it evolved has been for the betterment of the city.
“We see that by progressing these ETROs that work would progress and we believe strongly in providing that chance to trial measures on the street.”
Convener Scott Arthur, Labour, said: “No party is proposing that all of these schemes should be removed and I think most of us, all of us are accepting that the majority should be retained and I think that’s sometimes lost in the public domain when people often around Spaces for People will just wave their arms and say it should all just be removed.
“The reality is that all of us here are supporting the retention of the majority at least of the schemes.
“But I also acknowledge that over the last few years people feel let down by how councillors have dealt with this. They feel let down and they feel there was a lack of transparency and I think collectively in this committee we have a duty to rebuild that trust.”
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