RADICAL plans to restrict cars from swathes of central Edinburgh are being put forward in a bid to emulate some of the world's greatest cities.

Officials are advancing proposals to transform Scotland’s capital as they prepare to deal with a massive population increase in the coming decades.

One vision suggests limiting vehicle access in areas such as the New Town and the Royal Mile – as well as building a "second cross-city centre tram link associated with further extensions to the network".

Lothian Road, one of the city’s busiest streets, could also be partly pedestrianised in a bid to create a European-style plaza, with cars restricted or banished completely from Cowgate.

HeraldScotland: Officials are looking at restricting cars on Lothian RoadOfficials are looking at restricting cars on Lothian Road

Council leaders confirmed they are also looking at introducing a free "city centre hopper bus" for residents, workers and visitors, while cars will be banned from a loop of streets taking in the Royal Mile and Holyrood once a month as part of a pilot beginning in May.

But project director Daisy Narayanan stressed the ideas are not set in stone, adding: “What they are is a flavour of how amazing the city could be.”

She said Lothian Road could be reduced from four lanes of traffic down to two – with one potentially acting as a bus corridor – allowing a “civic space” to be created connecting Festival Square to the Usher Hall.

And she insisted there was space for Edinburgh to "experiment" and even pioneer new ways of organising a city.

It comes after a major consultation on proposals to transform Edinburgh’s city centre saw half of the 5,000 respondents backing a more radical approach, while three-quarters supported measures to reduce traffic.

Lesley Macinnes, the council’s transport and environment convener, said its vision for the future was ambitious “and it’s clear from the recent consultation that the people of Edinburgh share that ambition”.

She added: “There is not only a demand for change, but recognition that this needs to be significant in order to achieve an inspiring, healthier and more inviting city in which to live, work and play.

“As one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, it is clear that doing nothing is not an option.

“We must plan effectively and test radical options if we are to get the right balance in the future that will provide a high quality of life and access to opportunities for all residents, in particular those that experience inequality.”

She continued: "No city can stay still. No city can accept that the status quo is the only option from now until forever.”

Edinburgh is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK and by 2040 will have a population of almost 600,000.

Ms Macinnes said this was an “enormous amount” of extra people – and joked that she wakes up “in a cold sweat” worrying about the impact of the population boom if the city does nothing to change.

The council has now appointed a multi-disciplinary team led by Jacobs UK to take forward the development of a city centre vision, delivery plan and business case.

Officials said there has been “considerable national and international interest in Edinburgh’s aspirations which has led to visits at a political and officer level, including to London, Manchester, Oslo and the World Heritage Organisation”.

As part of the council’s plans, an 18-month trial beginning in May will see a small number of roads closed to traffic between 10am and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month.

This looks set to be focused on a loop of streets in the Old Town, including the Royal Mile, Holyrood, Cowgate, Grassmarket, West Port, Lady Lawson St, Castle Terrace and Johnston Terrace.

Ms Macinnes said the proposals were “pretty radical”, adding: “It's about a stepping stone. I mean, you've seen this in European cities all over the place – it's about bringing a different perspective to the city centre.”

Ms Narayanan said a similar scheme in Paris saw traffic temporarily banned from one street in 2015. This was so successful the restricted area has now grown to 25 square kilometres.

A report will go before Edinburgh Council’s Transport and Environment Committee next Thursday setting out three different options for the future – ranging from improving pedestrian facilities to creating “wider zones of connected pedestrian and pedestrian-priority streets”.

A preferred set of proposals and a business case will then go before councillors in May 2019. If approved, they will go out to public consultation.

John Lauder, national director of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans Scotland, said: “The examples shown in the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation report are exactly the type of changes that need to happen if Edinburgh is going to improve its transport network and return the city to its citizens and visitors, making it a pleasant and vibrant place to be.

“We not only want to be learning from other great cities worldwide, but to be leading the way.”

Edinburgh is already planning to introduce a low emission zone in the city centre, banning high polluting vehicles – with draft proposals set to go before councillors in May.