Picardy Place Central Island design proposals

Posted on: October 5, 2022

We suspect that significant changes will need to be made at key junctions and crossing points


In accepting the limitations and constraints of the central island at this point, the site is too constrained and comprised to become a useful new civic space in the city.

Therefore, the main objective needs to be provision of effective active travel connections across the site and to the Tram stop.  The rest of the area should be used for sustainability and ecosystem services, including cloudburst management and biodiversity.  Some opportunities for cultural enhancement are possible but should not add to an already clutters streetscape.

In the medium term, and once operational data has been collected (including an evidence-based review of the tram stop and how it functions), we suspect that significant changes will need to be made at key junctions and crossing points.  A review of the central island, its purpose and its content should be undertaken then.

Cockburn Response



The Association appreciates the opportunity to examine the developing proposals for the central area of Picardy Place.  We understand that the process is well advanced and the scope for both change and further dialogue is limited.  We are disappointed that this is the case.

We also appreciate that, for the purposes of this specific exercise, the wider context for the central island at Picardy Place is fixed.  The Cockburn is firmly of the view that the current arrangements and disposition of the various movement corridors is significantly deficient, in terms of quality of place and in terms of traffic/movement across the site.

For example, there appear to major congestion issues and modal conflict at the top of Broughton Street, which will only be exacerbated by the opening of the new Trams stop on the north side.  A recent site visit by our Policy & Development Committee counted at least 24 sign poles for traffic regulation.  Similarly, the pedestrian/cycleway conflict at the eastern side by the Playhouse is palpable especially when crowds access and egress the building during performances.

As such, our comments on the central island proposals are in the context of concerns, some very significant, regarding the operation and quality of the wider Picardy Place environment.

Broad concept – a non-civic space

It is inescapable that the environment within which the central island sites is a hostile one.  It remains a heavily trafficked, controlled roundabout designed to cater for high volumes of vehicles with up to four lanes of roadway intervening between the central island and the perimeter footpaths.  Many active travel access points are two-phase crossings.  The new tram stop will introduce sequencing issues for pedestrian and cycle movement (as well as road traffic) which makes access to the area less seamless than needed and more of a barrier.

Although it might be argued that these same characteristics can be found in places like St Andrew’s Square, our view is that the density of traffic and remoteness from active edges suggests that this will not be a successful destination or dwell-space.  Its main function will be to connect active routes across the site to Leith Walk, Leith Street, Broughton Place and York Place.

The central island is a small site, only 0.2ha in area (the size of a large house site).  It is the Cockburn’s view that the central island of Picardy Place does not have the scale or qualities to be destination in its own right.

Looking forward – key objectives

Noting the above constraints, the central island can still provide some positive civic benefits.  The first key objective is the facilitation of effective connections across Picardy Place, especially from the north-west corner across towards the Playhouse and from the tram stop to the main areas of activity especially the St James Quarter and Omni Centre.

Secondly, the provision of cloudburst management and ecosystem services should be the next key objective.  The significant levels of hard ground surfaces in Picardy Place will present problems for water run-off management.  Using the central island to help offset this would be positive.  Relating to this, the provision of planting for both biodiversity and amenity benefits would also be positive.  A link to the planting schemes being developed for the George Street Transformation project could provide some landscape design continuity and might be considered.

Additionally, there are opportunities for space to be used for new statues and cultural displays.  The north-east apex has been earmarked for such, but a recent site visit shows a serious congestion of traffic-control paraphernalia.  Adding to this clutter might not be a good strategy.

Finally, it should be possible to provide some dwell spaces and other opportunities (such as locations for statutes or other cultural edifices) but these will need to be integrated into the access/ecosystem infrastructure as a secondary benefit.

Beyond implementation

In both our assessment of the proposals and the current environs of Picardy Place, we are clear that some potentially significant alterations will be required in the medium term, if not sooner.  As already noted, the junction at York Place/Broughton Street/Picardy Place remains very dangerous in terms of pedestrian and vehicular conflict.  At the same junction, street clutter abounds, with 24 signposts for traffic management clearly visible without taking a single step.

It is our understanding that the space in front of St Mary’s Cathedral encompasses the southern section of Broughton Street and remains usable for vehicles including access for worship, weddings and funerals.  Access to York Lane via Picardy Place is also maintained.  The potential for conflict is considerable and efforts should be made now to add both clarity and safety at his point.  We also think that there is an opportunity to add a new cycle lane at this point, linking the east-west cycleway as it joins Picardy Place to Leith Street/Little King Street running parallel to the road between it and the Paolozzi sculptures.

At Leith Street, the mixture of pedestrian footpaths and cycleways will (does) result in increased conflict between active travel modes.  The narrow footpath outside the Playhouse (the largest capacity venue in the city) results in major congestion at showtimes with crowds spilling over into the cycleway.  There will no doubt be a clear desire line from the tram stop to the Playhouse not catered for in the current layout.  These are some of the issues that will need to be resolved in the future.  The implications for the landscape of central area could be significant, and it might be more effective to consider amendments now rather than later.