Closure of historic Edinburgh footpath to be reviewed

The closure of one of Edinburgh’s most famous footpaths is to be reviewed following pressure from access and conservation groups.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is planning to draw up a new management plan for Arthur’s Seat and the Radical Road that runs around it in Holyrood Park. The historic road has been closed to the public for nearly four years because of the risk of rock falls.

Campaign groups met with senior HES officials in June to raise “serious concerns” about the ban on access to Radical Road. They wanted the road to be re-opened as soon as possible, and urged a new management plan for the park “as a matter of urgency”.

The Ferret revealed in April that an internal HES “options appraisal” favoured the permanent closure of Radical Road as the cheapest and safest course of action. Re-opening the road was said to pose a “high to very high” risk to visitors because of the dangers of rocks falling from Salisbury Crags above.

Other options included wrapping the crags completely or partially in wire mesh, building a tunnel, or engineering a new road sticking out from the cliff. But they were all estimated to cost at least £2.5m each.

The prospect of permanent closure alarmed walkers and climbers. They warned it would create “a terrible precedent” and put public health and tourism at risk.

On 11 May 2022 four groups concerned with outdoor access and conservation wrote to HES chief executive, Alex Paterson, about the prolonged closure of Radical Road. They were Ramblers Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, ScotWays and the Cockburn Association.

They said the road was one of Edinburgh’s “premier and historic rights of way” and an “important recreational resource”. HES’s approach to access and public safety in Holyrood Park had been “inconsistent”, they argued.

“The necessary legal processes for closing a right of way have not been followed, denying the public an opportunity to make their views known.”

They called for “a whole park strategic management plan to be prepared as a matter of urgency”, adding that “the process must be open to public consultation and scrutiny.”

The sooner this iconic right of way can be reopened for residents and visitors the better.

Brendan Paddy, Ramblers Scotland

The groups then met with senior HES officials on 23 June to press their case. They were told that HES would publish a draft management plan for Holyrood Park for public consultation in the autumn.

Emails about Radical Road released to The Ferret under freedom of information law disclosed that HES had been “considering a proposal to develop a strategic plan” for Holyrood Park in May. “All of us want to see public access happening,” wrote one HES official, whose name had been redacted.

HES told The Ferret that the plan was now going ahead. “We can confirm our intention to develop a strategic plan for Holyrood Park,” said a spokesperson.

“Consultation with a range of stakeholders, users and interest groups will form a key part of that process. The plan will consider all aspects of the park.”

The campaign groups all welcomed HES’s new approach, hoping that it would lead to the re-opening of Edinburgh’s Radical Road. “The sooner this iconic right of way can be reopened for residents and visitors the better,” said the director of Ramblers Scotland, Brendan Paddy.

Scotways, which promotes public access rights, was “disappointed” that HES had failed to follow the legal processes for temporarily closing a right of way. “Pragmatically we anticipate this to be the beginning of more effective communication with stakeholders about public use of Holyrood Park,” said senior access officer, Eleisha Fahy.

The Edinburgh conservation group, the Cockburn Association, pointed out that Radical Road was just one issue of many that needed to be considered. “We welcome the position, mutually agreed by all, to reopen the route in a safe and proportionate manner in an as soon as practical timescale,” said the association’s James Garry.

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