I was the lucky person (!) who said ‘Yes’ to represent Old Town Community Council in an interview with Alasdair Northtop from the Scottish Tour Guides Association. The interview was broadcast on Thursday April 5th 2018, on STV’s Scotland Tonight.
Like most newbies to this experience, when it was all over, I reflected on what I could have said. So before we lose all this attention we’ve been given over the ‘Our Streets’ report, let’s look a bit closer at some of the issues.
A total ban on coaches in the Old Town – really?
This problem is a relatively new one and it’s worth acknowledging how so many of our problems are of our own making. There is nothing essential about this sort of traffic, the Planning and Licensing committees ‘invited’ these businesses into the area that now present us with these problems.
Grassmarket had around £7 million spent on an ‘Environmental Improvement’ nine years ago; The area was part-pedestrianised and a large chunk of public parking was removed; bollards limiting access to vehicles were installed on the north side of the Grassmarket; a recessed bus stop was also removed with the new non-recessed bus stop relocated further up the road; a zebra crossing was installed beside the bus stop and very close to the entrance to the Apex International Hotel car park. Collectively these changes have produced the problems we now have to sort out.
In my view the environmental improvements have damaged Grassmarket, and not just for the people living here. Servicing the businesses of the area has become more difficult: the north side is narrower because of the pedestrianisation and large vehicles struggle to travel safely down it. Two large lorries at one time will block the access for other vehicles. Waste management presents the same challenges with residents being disturbed through the night by noisy lorries uplifting waste from pubs, cafes and restaurants. Many of these businesses were given change-of-use approval by the Planning Department; the result is less retail and more licensed, late night catering establishments generating bigger demands on deliveries and waste management.
On the other side of the road where the tour buses and coaches travel, the two large Apex Hotels were given planning consent in the ’90’s each with conditions attached relating to parking facilities. The hotel applications provided this but have never made use of it for coaches. Parking is reserved for guests who pay for the privilege. Coaches park outside the hotels and disgorge their passengers onto the road – in some instances quite literally to oncoming traffic; European coaches have their passengers doors on the opposite side to ours, coach loads of guests arrive at these hotels taking their lives in their hands as they get off the bus and make their way into the hotel.
Dangerous enough as all this is, the effect it has on the other road users is the really scary part. Drivers behave badly when they meet poorly parked, or double-parked, coaches causing congestion….it does not bring out the best in people.
The location for the zebra crossing is a real mystery. An inspection submitted by the community police officer of the time highlighted the hazards of its positioning so close to a bus stop, a car park entrance and a loading bay. Talk of repositioning it came and went and to date no more has been said about it. Suffice to say that tour buses and coaches park with engines running, on zig zag lines and on the zebra crossing. Locals are wary about using this crossing with good reason!
One enhanced bus service for all
The suggestion that tour coaches are needed for older adults and disabled visitors is an interesting one. We have one of the best public bus services in the UK, in spite of that the Old Town is serviced very poorly, our older and disabled residents will testify to that. By all means increase public buses through the Old Town, small buses that manage to manoeuvre narrow streets and actually deliver people close to their homes. Investment in public resources benefits everybody, residents and visitors alike. And get rid of the tour buses!