The streets of Scotland’s capital city are usually awash with cars and buses dominating and polluting spaces with noise and fumes.

But Edinburgh residents and visitors were treated to a much more peaceful and cleaner afternoon on Sunday as several of the city’s roads were closed to traffic.

The closures were part of the international Open Streets movement and saw Edinburgh become the first city in the UK to join the global initiative - following in the footsteps of Paris and New York.

The city will close off several of its streets on the first Sunday or every month over an 18-month period in a bid to reduce pollution and create safer, more active spaces for residents.

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Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Macinnes, said: “I’m delighted that Edinburgh will be joining cities around the world to reap the benefits of Open Streets.

“We’ve seen how successful similar schemes internationally have proved by encouraging active travel, improving air quality and creating a safer, more relaxed atmosphere so I can’t wait to see this take shape in the Capital.

“Climate change is a real threat to society, it’s clear that we have to act, and Open Streets is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

“We are wholeheartedly committed to creating an accessible, sustainable and people-friendly city and I look forward to seeing lots of residents and visitors enjoying all that’s on offer against a cleaner, more welcoming, traffic-free backdrop.”

On Sunday, most of the Royal Mile was shut off between 12pm and 5pm, while Victoria Street, part of the Grassmarket, New Street, Cockburn Street, Cranston Street, Niddry Street, Old Tolbooth Wynd, St Giles’ Street and West Bow were also closed.

Residents and visitors took part in a range of organised events in the traffic-free spaces, including a group cycle and walk down the Royal Mile with special guests Scottish and British championships-winning cyclist Lee Craigie and Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Boardman.

There was also Tai Chi, hula-hooping, and graffiti art on the Royal Mile, as well as giant chess, jazz performances and spaces set out for reading, art and drawing in other parts of the city.

The city’s Just Eat hire bikes were also free to use during the closures.

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Walking and cycling charity Sustrans Scotland welcomed the move and claimed that closing streets to traffic can have big impact.

Grace Martin, depute director of the charity, said that during last year’s London marathon, air pollution in London dropped 89 per cent due to the road closures.

She added: “The Open Streets scheme showcases Edinburgh as a city that puts people first, helping make the city centre more accessible to users of all abilities to walk, wheel, cycle, relax and connect.

“Evidence is very clear that vehicle dominance of our urban environment is a major cause of air pollution. In areas where pollution exceeds legal limits, 80 per cent of harmful nitrous oxide gas comes from transport.

“Open Streets is a great initiative to make our city centres healthier, greener and safer places for everyone.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland said the initiative would show people living in the capital what they are missing out on by allowing cars to dominate and pollute public spaces.

The charity’s air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “By giving more people the freedom to walk and cycle safely, we can cut air pollution, reduce our climate emissions and make Edinburgh a better place to live and work.

“Edinburgh council should be praised for leading the way in tackling air pollution by getting to the heart of the problem, which is traffic.”

The council’s ambition is to gradually shut a loop of the Old Town by the end of the 18-month trial which could include Cowgate, Holyrood Road and Johnston Terrace.

Officials are also looking at plans to ban the most polluting vehicles from the whole of Edinburgh in a low emission zone (LEZ).

A proposal was already in place to introduce a LEZ in the city centre, but this would extend the zone to the entire capital.

It comes after mounting pressure on governments to take action on climate change, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declaring a “climate emergency” in her speech to the SNP conference last week.

Earlier this year, Glasgow established Scotland’s first permanent low emission zone. This currently only applies to buses but will be extended to cover all vehicles over the next few years.

While the city council has no current plans to sign up to the Open Streets movement, a spokesman said: “We are currently developing responses to an independent Connectivity Commission, which identified a case for liveable public spaces that prioritise people and active travel.”