Shaping Edinburgh for a green recovery

Edinburgh is still a city where the car is king, says Lorna Slater. Our recovery plans should embrace space for socialising, walking, wheeling and cycling without the fug of toxic traffic fumes.

Although I’ve always enjoyed cycling I must confess that since I moved to Edinburgh in 2004, I have always felt too nervous to venture out on the roads on a bike. I was coming from cities with dedicated and segregated cycle lanes integrated across the city. Vancouver was like this 20 years ago, so Edinburgh felt way behind.

However, I’m determined not to be intimidated off the road. The journey between my new workplace and the gym doesn’t have a direct bus route, so the bike is the quickest option. For short journeys, it’s the best tool for the job.

The first thing I’m anticipating is navigating Edinburgh’s hills on a bike, which I realise is a workout in itself. It’s easy to see how active travel has enormous health benefits.

But if we’re going to encourage more people to do the same, we need to recognise that Edinburgh remains a city where the car is king. Many other European capitals put us to shame when it comes to space for people over traffic jams, but it’s good to see some more robust cycling infrastructure beginning to emerge, especially the temporary segregated routes.

Part of that of course is the influence of green politics in our capital city. Scottish Green councillors work hard for a fairer, greener Edinburgh. Just last week those councillors played a key role in shaping how a revised budget should be spent, with an extra £21m available.

Of course, much of that is needed for schools and waste services, but just like at a national level, this is a moment to plan a recovery from the pandemic that leaves no-one behind and tackles the existential threat of the climate crisis.

Through our finance spokesperson Cllr Gavin Corbett, Green councillors put forward a range of ideas for a green recovery budget, including investing in energy efficiency and transport solutions. Almost all were agreed by the administration.

And Cllr Mary Campbell has secured a commitment to fund nursery places for those children under 5 who want to defer starting primary school for a year. I know Mary is also pushing to make Edinburgh a pilot council for 2022, so that families don’t go through this process again, and we can focus on making sure all the children who would most benefit from a deferred start are encouraged to do so.

I think we need to embed a lot of the things we’ve learned during these difficult 15 months, including space for walking, wheeling and cycling. It’s important we seize this opportunity for a green recovery that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to rethink our city centre and high streets so they are safe and pleasant places to be, with space for socialising without the fug of toxic traffic fumes. And it isn’t just the pandemic that has changed things. Internet shopping has killed big retail, as any wander along Princes Street’s avenue of empty units will confirm.

It’s time for fresh thinking to make our streets pleasant for people, allowing smaller businesses, artists and unique hospitality experiences to lead our economic recovery.