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May 8, 2013

New slogans, same old ways

Last year Edinburgh announced its ambition to become the Cooperative Council, heralding a whole new era in its modus operandi for running the city – giving citizens and communities much more of an active role in delivering services.  But for a council like Edinburgh that’s a bit like asking an oil tanker to spin on a sixpence.  Unfortunately, irrespective of the aspirations of Council leaders, it is the custom and practice right across the organisation that needs to change as evidenced by this depressing anecdote from Leith.


Blog from Greener Leith –  Leith Walk: Consultation results so good they can be ignored entirely.

Council officials from the “co-operative council” don’t seem to be cooperating.

It’s been several weeks since the council announced its draft proposals for improving Leith Walk, following an extensive public consultation process which hundreds of people took part in.

At the time, council officials highlighted how much they valued the feedback they received, saying: “The Council has been delighted with the quality of feedback received through consultation, which highlighted a range of design concepts that could improve the scheme.”

And in the same statement, Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport and Environment Convener, added: “We had some very useful feedback in our consultation and one of the main things people are keen to see in the final design is for pedestrians and cyclists to be better accommodated. The most challenging section for us in terms of delivering this is at the southern end, around London Road.”

And so councillors waved through a report with a draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk, and pledged to seek extra funding for the “difficult” southern half.

But many people who looked at the detail of the draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk have been disappointed.

Even though everyone – even the council officials – had apparently accepted that there is real public support, and indeed a policy imperative, to improve the whole street for pedestrians and cyclists, the proposed design for the northern half of the street differs very little from the old pre-tram design – a design that we know is dangerous and unpleasant for both pedestrians and cyclists.

Despite officer pledges that they’d publish all the consultation response in full, we ended up having to put in an FOI request to try to get hold of all the consultation responses – thinking that perhaps that council officials knew something we didn’t.

After all, in public meetings, officials were often keen to talk up the difficulty they had balancing “competing” uses on the street, even though it seemed to almost everyone  else that there was far more consensus than disagreement about what people would like to see.

Were there other voices in this discussion that we weren’t aware of, that council officers were too discreet to reveal?

And after a bit of FOI too-ing and fro-ing, and the threat of a legal review to their first response, officials have indeed published all the consultation responses they received on their website.

They make interesting reading. Primarily because there are is virtually no-one opposing cycle lanes, or arguing that the design of the street should be changed to reduce traffic congestion.

And on the other hand the vast majority of people and organisations that responded to the consultation support big changes to the design of the street to make it safer.

Despite this, the draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk still includes a remarkable number of poor design choices, including these blatant fails… To read more about these ‘blatant fails’ go tp Greener Leith by clicking here