2025 vision for George Street unveiled

View along whole of George Street with new design

The final proposed concept design for the transformation of historic George Street has been unveiled. Detailed artist’s impressions and a 3D fly-through illustrate how the street could look from 2025.

The final proposed concept designs for the transformation of Edinburgh’s historic George Street have been unveiled.

Detailed artist’s impressions and a 3D fly-through illustrate how the street and surrounding area within the UNESCO World Heritage Site could look under the George Street and First New Town Public Realm Improvements Project.

Significantly widened pavements, landscaped spaces for play and relaxation and a cycling thoroughfare, where motor traffic is largely removed, will create a people-friendly setting. By retaining symmetry and removing street clutter alongside ‘urban greening’ through shrubs and hedging, the designs both protect the area’s heritage and enhance the environment.

Improvements are being delivered as part of a coordinated package of projects under Edinburgh City Centre Transformation. This includes the forthcoming Meadows to George Street and City Centre West to East Link schemes, which will transform walking, wheeling and cycling routes and connections across the city centre.  These schemes also support the City Mobility Plan, a ten-year strategy to overhaul transport and mobility in the Capital to deliver a sustainable, net zero carbon and inclusive future.

The concept design for George Street, which has been progressed by a design team led by Tetratech with LDA Landscape Design, follows several years of development and engagement to refine design objectives with the public and stakeholders, including community councils and heritage, business, walking, cycling and accessibility groups. During February and March, further engagement will take place with key groups, while the public will be able to see the design for themselves and tell us how they might enjoy a revitalised George Street. Feedback gathered in February and March will inform a final iteration of the design proposal before being brought to Transport and Environment Committee in April. The required statutory processes under which the scheme will be constructed would begin this summer.

Transport and Environment Convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “These animated concept designs offer an exciting glimpse into what George Street and the surrounding area could look like in 2025 – a welcoming, relaxing and unique space, where people will want to spend time, to visit local shops, cafes and restaurants and to travel to and through the city centre.

“This vision has been years in the making and follows significant engagement with the public and a range of groups representing different interests. It’s essential that its design works for everyone, which is why we’ve spent time ensuring it meets people’s access needs, that it allows residents to go about their daily lives and that it will encourage local businesses to flourish, particularly as we look to make a strong, green recovery from the COVID crisis.”

Transport and Environment Vice Convener Councillor Karen Doran said: “I was thrilled to see the concept designs for this project brought to life and look forward to hearing the responses of all those who watch our video or see the beautiful, detailed illustrations.

“This initiative offers the opportunity to transform one of Edinburgh’s iconic streets for the better, creating an accessible, inviting space, where both the historic environment is protected and biodiversity promoted, and where people can relax and spend time on foot, bike or wheelchair.”

Transport and Environment Committee first agreed to increase pedestrian space in the city centre in 2013 and in 2014 and 2015 a new layout was trialled on George Street, with stakeholder engagement and a subsequent series of user surveys demonstrating a strong appetite for change. Since then, a vision and design principles have been developed and the project was widened to include the interconnecting Castle, Frederick and Hanover Streets and the junctions with Charlotte and St Andrew Squares. Further, significant engagement with the public and stakeholders has led to the designs published today.

Key considerations for the project have been putting people first, protecting the area’s heritage, promoting the environment and biodiversity and providing accessible transport links. Elements of the concept design relating to each include –

Putting people first:

Increased pedestrian space; adaptable, landscaped areas with seating, space for play and opportunities for events; space for outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants; better lighting to animate the streets after dark; level access crossings at street junctions for unimpeded crossing; disabled parking bays on George Street and interconnected streets

Protecting heritage:

Retaining symmetry on George Street; removing unnecessary street clutter; removing parking to reduce the dominance of motor traffic; upgrading pavements with high quality materials

Enhancing the environment:

Suitably scaled soft landscaping including shrubs and hedging, reducing the impact of heavy rain and floods; permeably paved areas to allow drainage

Improved walking, cycling and wheeling connections;

Largely car-free; cycling is prioritised in George Street and directly connects with the Meadows to George Street and CCWEL cycle route schemes at Hanover Street, St Andrew Square and Charlotte Square; improved pedestrian crossings at junctions; loading retained for businesses

The George Street and First New Town Public Realm Project responds to and supports various Council initiatives, such as Edinburgh City Centre Transformation, the City Mobility Plan and the Active Travel Action Plan, as well as projects like Trams to Newhaven and Low Emission Zones.

If approved, it is intended to begin construction work on the scheme in 2023, with an anticipated completion in 2025. It is expected to cost £32m, with £20m from Transport Scotland via Sustrans.  

Find out more about the George Street and First New Town Public Realm Improvements Project and watch the 3D fly-through, developed by Luma3D, on the Council website.

Additional comments

Simon Strain, Interim Head of Infrastructure Delivery for Sustrans Scotland said: “George Street is one of the most vibrant and distinctive shopping streets in Scotland, thanks to the insightful planning of James Craig. We are pleased to be supporting the increased space for walking, wheeling and cycling that this project will create, upgrading one of the city’s key travel routes. The new spaces for sitting and relaxing provide both visitors and residents with comfortable spaces where they can rest and enjoy the World Heritage Site.”

Richard Grant, from Spokes, said: “George Street forms a crucial section of the Council's flagship west-east 'CCWEL' cycleroute project, as well as being a major destination in its own right.  The new George Street plans, taking lessons from European "cycle streets," provide a wide central "cycling zone" shared with blue badge and (at restricted times) delivery vehicles treated as 'guests.'   This replaces the previously planned segregated bidirectional cycleroute.

 “This will be an innovative scheme for Scotland, which could be widely followed, and as such the Council must get it right. Given the funding from Sustrans, safe and pleasant conditions for cycling and walking are critical. Spokes welcomes the scheme subject to strict enforcement of the limited number and timings of permitted vehicles, as well as design details.  We particularly welcome the assurance of enforcement, by automated means such as number plate recognition or in other ways, which is essential to success.”

Edinburgh Access Panel

"EAP is aware that George Street currently presents many obstacles for people with disabilities. We are delighted to be involved in a scheme which will remove so many barriers that prevent a significant proportion of the population, both residents and visitors from being able to participate fully in the many facilities that are available in this attractive central city location."

Living Streets Edinburgh

“Edinburgh – perhaps uniquely for a European city of its size and history – lacks any significant space in the city centre where pedestrians really come first.  George Street has been dominated by traffic and parking for too long and is the obvious place to put this right in the heart of the New Town. These proposals offer the prospect of George Street becoming a place where it is finally a pleasure to walk in and linger.”

George Street Association

“There is no doubt that the current pre-occupation of George Street Association members is how to recover when the prolonged coronavirus restrictions are lifted.  However, we have a mutual interest with the City Council and others involved in this ambitious project to deliver the high-quality changes needed for the future success of this iconic street.

“This overdue transformation to the appearance and operation of George Street will impact on our members and affected businesses in the area will need support throughout the inevitable disruption involved.

“We appreciate the opportunity for ongoing engagement with the City Council on the final concept design and thereafter.”

Essential Edinburgh

“Essential Edinburgh welcome the proposed concept designs for George Street which are the result of extensive consultation. It is vital the design works for all its users whether they be retail and hospitality businesses, residents, office workers and people undertaking active travel.  The design takes this into account including issues related to servicing and accessibility and we look forward to continuing to work with the Council and other stakeholders to support delivery of a plan that works for all.”

Edinburgh World Heritage

‘Edinburgh World Heritage is highly supportive of the design for the public realm improvements in George Street as currently proposed. Over time, the proposal has evolved into a simple and elegant design, removing traffic and street clutter, with the potential to enhance the character and authenticity of this significant centrepiece of the First New Town in relation to its existing state. New elements have been carefully introduced and will echo the symmetry and materials of the historic streetscape. Based on the current visuals, we believe these changes will improve the way the street is experienced and valued by putting pedestrians first and allowing them to enjoy the rich heritage which surrounds them. We would like to thank the City of Edinburgh Council for taking our views on board at critical stages during the design process.’


Published: 22nd February 2021