Council leader: We can manage growth to protect our built heritage, green spaces AND our Capital’s vibrancy

Development goes along with change - Adam McVey writes about how the council wants to include all citizens in the transformation of Edinburgh.

We want our city centre to be a place where residents of all ages can feel relaxed, safe, and happy spending time. This is not always the case. At times, many of our public spaces are too crowded or compromised by traffic. Our first, and hugely successful, Open Streets event at the weekend is testament to the impact that addressing these issues can have. 


Through the City Centre Transformation, and other projects, we’re looking at all aspects of how people interact with, and move through, the centre of town. We know that improved pedestrian movement, connectivity and accessibility bring social, economic and environmental benefits, just as it did on our Open Streets day. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s announcement to not proceed with a cut in air passenger duty is welcome in helping us as a city better balance these social, environmental and economic aims.


But to be successful, this programme must be a partnership between the Council, public sector partners, residents - and, yes, the private sector.


So, yes, we have worked with developers on New Waverley, bringing a long-neglected part of our city centre back to life, opening up Market Street’s Victorian arches to the public for the first time since they were built in 1875 and partnering Edinburgh World Heritage to improve Jacob's Ladder beyond recognition.


Yes, we are working with Network Rail to bring forward plans to transform Waverley Station to make it fit for the future, and better connected to the wider city. With the projected passenger growth (doubling in 20 years) this is vital not just for Edinburgh, but for the whole country. But not at any cost. And we welcome all contributions to the debate, as we will the thousands of others who take part in the ongoing consultation process.


Yes, we have approved plans for a new use for the empty House of Fraser building. Retail is changing, and we need imaginative new uses for our high streets. Celebrating Scotland's heritage while bringing an iconic building back into use - and much-needed footfall to the west end – does just that. Retailers on Princes street and George Street have echoed the need for such uses to sustain footfall and keep these streets and the businesses they house thriving.


Yes, through the Quaich Project, we want to transform the Ross Bandstand and West Princes Gardens into a space than can be used and loved by all everyone - improving access for residents of all ages and abilities and improving infrastructure, including play facilities, to make it more family friendly and inclusive. Our plans will reduce park closures and disruption, creating a diverse events programme that will support more community-led activity all year round. The gardens, including the new pavilion, will remain firmliy in public ownership - no 'provatisation' or loss of control - and there will be no more large events than there are now. But there will be more and better green space for us all to enjoy.


And, yes, we will continue to say no to proposals, such as those submitted for the former Royal High School building (twice), and to any other 'commercial pressures' that are inconsistent with our vision of fair and sustainable growth.


Of course, we have some big questions to ask ourselves as to how we best manage our city going forward and deal with the challenges our success brings. We will keep our focus on delivering the most sustainable way to share that success across our communities. But it will require change. It will require development. It will require partnership. And it will require us to engage with residents of all ages and demographics, listening carefully to what they want the future of our beautiful capital city to look like.


We often describe things we don’t like, such as the concerts in the gardens, as being “just for tourists”. However, we know from the stats that the vast majority of people who attended these were local residents and many of those were young Edinburgers. We shouldn’t lose sight of the need for Edinburgh to be inclusive of all citizens. If the Capital is to remain an attractive home for the next generation, we must protect our city’s vibrancy as much as we protect our green spaces and architectural heritage.





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