Final stages on the horizon for George Street and First New Town transformation plans

Computer generated image of full length of George Street proposed design

The George Street project - to transform the heart of Edinburgh’s First New Town - has reached a milestone moment in its delivery.

Final developed design elements for the George Street and First New Town (GNT) project, as well as an updated operational plan, have been published as part of the latest phase in the design process - Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stage 3. If recommendations are approved, the project will be able to move to RIBA Stage 4 and, subject to securing all necessary statutory consents, construction is targeted to start in 2024.

Developed design proposals, to be considered by Transport and Environment Committee on Thursday (3 November), have been built on concept design principles approved by the Committee in August 2021. These aim to create more welcoming, people-friendly spaces, support accessibility, walking and cycling and celebrate Edinburgh’s unique heritage.

Amongst the ‘core elements’ of the Stage 3 Developed Design are significantly widened pavements; the creation of a European style cycling street; removal of parking bays (while retaining blue badge and essential resident parking); ‘greening’ plans for planting and shrubbery along the length of the street; and the use of natural stone suitable for the World Heritage Site.

Updated principles for the First New Town operation plan, which will support the area’s transformation, include proposed entry times for non-essential vehicles; access windows for taxis, recognising their role in the night-time economy and protecting public safety; the maintenance of bus services in the wider First New Town; and methods for enforcing the changes. Further engagement and analysis on the plan will be carried out during the next design stage in the process, RIBA Stage 4.

Recommendations for GNT follow years of development, consultation and engagement with residents, businesses and stakeholders. The latest update has been commended by the Council’s Urban Design Panel for its continued positive collaborative approach, reinforced by several recent studies and assessments. Amongst these are a women’s safety audit, a refreshed heritage impact assessment, business and resident operations survey and economic impact assessment – this estimated the improvements will generate a potential £95m Gross Value Added (GVA) benefit to the Edinburgh economy.

Councillor Scott Arthur, Transport and Environment Convener, said: “This is a major milestone for a flagship project to transform Edinburgh’s city centre, where people will be put first and the economy will be supported. We will transform George Street from a place which is dominated by cars to one which is dominated by people. 

“The latest proposals build on years of public and business engagement, all of which has improved the design. As part of this stage of development the project team has carried out a significant package of in-depth assessments to address GNT’s impact on residents, businesses, public safety and the economy, amongst other factors, and to ensure final designs take varied needs into account.

“Once complete, GNT will deliver a world-class city centre worthy of a European capital, highlighting Edinburgh’s stunning architecture and creating a safe space for people to spend time in. By supporting sustainable travel by foot and bike, as well as retaining public transport links, it’s also key to the Council’s plans to reduce travel by car and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2020.”

From Karen McGregor, Scotland Director, Sustrans, said: “Sustrans is proud to be a funding partner for the George Street and First New Town transformation. The design proposals are the result of extensive public engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. The project will facilitate walking, wheeling, cycling and sustainable transport in Scotland’s capital.  But more importantly, it will create a greener, healthier place with people at its heart, where they can relax, socialise, shop, work and enjoy Edinburgh’s beautiful surroundings.”

If recommendations are approved by Transport and Environment Committee, the project will progress to Stage 4, which sets out key processes required for its delivery. This includes the promotion of all necessary statutory processes, such as Traffic Regulation and Redetermination Orders, which will allow construction to commence in 2024. This stage will also deliver the final Operational Plan.

GNT is one of the first projects to be delivered as part Edinburgh City Centre Transformation and intersects with other key schemes supporting travel by foot, wheel or bike in the city centre, including Meadows to George Street (MGS) and the City Centre West to East Link (CCWEL).

Core Elements of GNT Stage 3 Developed Design

  • Wider pavements (approx four metres) on both sides of George Street along the entire street length, increasing accessibility for pedestrians
  • Landscaping confined to planters and low hedges, within sensitively balanced landscaped seating areas where people can relax
  • European cycling street within the central carriageway of the new street, interfacing with both CCWEL and MGS to create a network of strategic cycling routes
  • Redesign of junctions to provide cycling and pedestrian priority while also improving the visual setting around the central statues
  • Integrated Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) allowing surface water to drain naturally via the creation of rainwater gardens
  • Material finishes of natural stone, developed in close partnership with Edinburgh World Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland and the Cockburn Association
  • Designs and placemaking influenced by woman’s safety and Threat, Vulnerability and Risk assessments

Read the full report, George Street and First New Town – RIBA Stage 3 Design and Operational Plan update.

Watch the discussion of the recommendations at Transport and Environment committee live via webcast from 10am on Thursday, 3 November.


Published: 28th October 2022