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Experiment comes to early end

‘Failed’ city marquees due to be removed

George St marqueeIt looks like the marquees in George Street, Edinburgh will be coming down. Edinburgh City Council appears to have decided to remove them, probably before the pilot pedestrian scheme ends in September.

Iain MacPhail, the  city centre programme manager, has told a community newsletter that the marquees and decking have failed and will not be returning.

They were installed at local businesses’ expense as part of an experiment in better use of space. But they have been largely unoccupied during the colder, wet weather.

Mr MacPhail explains that the street needs attention to ensure it can compete with surrounding areas and, in the longer term, with the redeveloped St James Centre.

In an article for The Spurtle, he says: “The decking and marquees have failed on all of the measures we were testing. There are better ways of animating a civic space year-round. On Light Night (when a record number of nearly 30,000 turned up to see the Christmas Lights turned on) we found that the decking and marquees could not be moved to accommodate this event.

“The marquees have been found to ‘box in the buzz’ and to animate only the private enclosed space, while offering no additional atmosphere to the street around them.

“A third failing of the decking and marquees, in the eyes of the Council, is their appearance, though we would temper criticism by mentioning that decking was only ever a short-term measure as any longer-term approach to the street layout would follow the Grassmarket example by providing a flat and useable paved space for outdoor tables and chairs.

“However, that said, the decking has been hugely unpopular, and does create a barrier to pedestrians entering the space – a lot of contributors have described their impact as making a greater space feel actually more hemmed in than before.

“The decking and marquees can be ruled out as an option for George Street in the long run on account of their overly permanent and private use of civic space.”

The council is to appoint an independent designer to look at four options for the street, including some means of returning to its original symmetry, while accommodating better use of the space and improving the cycle route.

One plan is to install giant, removable umbrellas, or “Jumbrellas” that have their own electricity supply.

Mr MacPhail says: “The Jumbrellas, and similar approaches to Jumbrellas, are a preferable alternative to test because they are not only removable on request, but provide some atmosphere to the civic space around them, which is a prerequisite of any longer-term approach.”

It is not all bad news. Mr MacPhail says the council conducted a series of interviews and found that:

  • More people than ever before have been visiting George Street, since the trial came into being.
  • Those people are lingering longer on the street (spending three hours typically, a long time).
  • They are returning more frequently than they did before (they like the space and the street).
  • A significant majority (more than 75 per cent) want to see more pedestrianisation of the street.
  • People like the concept of pedestrianisation and café culture in the long term, even if the short-term execution of it (the decking, marquees etc.) has not worked in the trial.
  • Car use in the city centre is 25 per cent lower than 2005, yet more people than ever are in town.

For businesses, there are more eyeballs at their shop windows than ever before on George Street, but the top reason for visiting George Street (38% of visitors) was reported as ‘window shopping’ while a much lower number (20%) said ‘shopping’, which was fourth on the list of reasons to visit.

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