At the full meeting of the city council today, Green councillor, Gavin Corbett, asked why the city chambers quadrangle is so often crammed with cars. Below is an edited version of what he said.
For the benefit of the webcast the question I asked was about permitted vehicle access to the City Chambers quadrangle and how that is implemented.
The answer, to paraphrase, is that the area is a no parking area with some limited exceptions such as lord provost’s cars, disabled access and drop-offs.
As all members will know, the city chambers is common good property. It belongs, not to the council, but to the people of Edinburgh, on whose behalf the city council is charged with looking after it.
It is one of the best civic spaces of Scotland’s capital city. We get a glimpse of that at festival time when it is totally car-free and it becomes a calm oasis for the mayhem in the High Street, offering shade, a seat and an opportunity to admire the architecture. We also get a glimpse of how alive it can be, for some civic events like the Spokes Bike Breakfast or a range of events to mark the armed forces and veterans, causes to which I know the Lord Provost is very personally committed.
Those kinds of uses are very consistent with the common good purposes. But they are very infrequent. Most of the time the quadrangle is crammed with cars and vans. Now, I note that there are some legitimate uses of access – for example, for disabled visitors or short term drop-offs.
However, members of longer vintage than I am tell me that the quadrangle was not always as crammed with cars – it is something that has crept up year on year.
And, at a time, when the best cities in the world are discovering that the economic and social wellbeing of city centres depends on reducing congestion, reducing traffic flow, reducing air pollution, and when our historic High Street urgently needs to put pedestrians first, it does no good at all to have the quadrangle used as free city centre parking for councillors and anyone else who does not need to be there.
And this is all the more important as today is World Car Free day. I know we have our own version of that this weekend, with Car Free Sunday. But, in September, from New York to Jakarta and Bogota to Chengdu, cities are celebrating having a bit more space and a bit more chance to breathe.
So, for the Convenor of Finance and Resources, who of course, is also one of the ward councillors for the city chambers area, can members have your assurance that rules about access to the quadrangle will be more firmly implemented; that the quadrangle will see a noticeable reduction in the number of vehicles squatting within it; and that opportunities to appreciate and better use this fantastic civic space will therefore be taken?