CITY leaders have drawn up plans to transform one of the capital’s most iconic streets into a car-free “European boulevard” in a £32 million flagship project.

Edinburgh City Council has published its finalised blueprint for George Street, which runs parallel to Princes Street, and has become a high-end shopping magnet.

But the route, central in Edinburgh’s First New Town and World Heritage Site has become a car park.

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Council leaders have declared a climate emergency and committed that the city will become carbon neutral by 2030 – 15 years ahead of the Scotland-wide commitment brought forward by Holyrood leaders.

The vision for George Street, brought forward by the council’s SNP-Labour coalition, would take all traffic and parking spaces from George Street, except for blue badge holder parking and deliveries at designated widows during the day.

HeraldScotland: Play and seating areas will be created on George Street in place of car parkingPlay and seating areas will be created on George Street in place of car parking

Buses will also be taken off the iconic route, but will continue to cross George Street to ensure north-south connections through the city centre can continue.

SNP transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, said the vision “very much feeds into that European boulevard feel”, pointing to “wide pavements” and “a calmness that will be brought when you remove all of that traffic”.

She added: “George Street has essentially become a parking street – it's a car park.

“We’ve got this phenomenal street of immense beauty that has been obscured and the use of George Street has changed over the years. We are seeing a switch away in some parts of it from retail towards hospitality.

“We’re certainly seeing that spine of people using it as a car park. Why would we not, as a city, want to showcase that beautiful street?”

Pavements will be widened to 6.5 metres – broken down into a 2.5-metre café culture zone and 4-metre clutter free pavements.

George Street, which is home to a flurry of restaurants, pubs and shops and the iconic Dome and the Assembly Rooms venue is expected to be even busier with pedestrians and cyclists in coming years when the refurbished St James shopping centre re-opens and the capital's newest attraction, the Johnnie Walker visitor experience, set to open its doors at the opposite end of the New Town.

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Ms Macinnes said the vision for the overall city centre involves turning it “into a much more people-friendly" location, with a “greater reliance on public transport, on walking and cycling”.

She added that the tram extension, due to open in the first quarter of 2023 will mean 7 million more journeys into the city centre made by a sustainable mode of transport.

The transport convener also suggested that removing car parking from city centres is not an Edinburgh-specific strategy – pointing to moves in Paris and Amsterdam where thousands of spaces have been axed.

HeraldScotland: The removal of traffic can also allow performances to take place on George StreetThe removal of traffic can also allow performances to take place on George Street

Ms Macinnes said: “We have to take big substantial steps towards that to changing the way in which people interact with the city centre.

“A lot of people still think of traffic as something that has to go somewhere. In actual fact, more and more research is showing that in city centres, when you actually make it slightly more difficult for people or less convenient for people to move around in a particular way, a lot of that traffic just disappears – people use alternative methods.”

The concept design for George Street, which has been progressed by a design team led by Tetratech with LDA Landscape Design, follows several years of development and engagement to tweak the vision.

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The overhaul will include landscaped areas with seating in place of current car parking spaces and space for play.

The project, which is expected to start work in 2023 and be completed in 2025 has been helped with £20 of funding from Sustrans.

Simon Strain, interim head of infrastructure delivery for Sustrans Scotland, said: “George Street is one of the most vibrant and distinctive shopping streets in Scotland, thanks to the insightful planning of James Craig.

“We are pleased to be supporting the increased space for walking, wheeling and cycling that this project will create, upgrading one of the city’s key travel routes. The new spaces for sitting and relaxing provide both visitors and residents with comfortable spaces where they can rest and enjoy the World Heritage Site.”