Inclusive and Equitable Access in Holyrood Park, Part 1

Walking and wheeling on Queens Dr during weekend road closure to private motorised through-traffic.

As a highly visible space adjacent to Scottish Parliament, there is a real opportunity and need to model best practice in Holyrood Park with regards to health and wellbeing, active transport and inclusivity. 

Part 1 of this blog explains how the full closure to private motorised through-traffic improves the park experience for many groups with protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010, especially children, and opens up new possibilities in thinking about inclusivity as well as addresses transport inequalities.

Part 2 of this blog outlines the additional measures we suggest to further enhance inclusive access in a car-free park, including one possible vision of an inclusive access hub.

Is the status quo in Holyrood Park accessible, inclusive and equitable?

Currently, people walking, wheeling and cycling in Holyrood Park, including those with limited mobility, have access to substandard facilities and their journeys and/or park visits are deprioritised by Historic Environment Scotland’s road management policies.

Only private motor vehicle traffic is permitted while public transport and commercial vehicles are not permitted to use the park roads. The prioritisation of private motorised through-traffic using Holyrood Park as a shortcut into the city centre can be seen in various ways:

  • Motorised through-traffic is given access to a wide carriageway, regularly resurfaced, gritted, and ploughed which enables motor vehicles to travel at speed through an SSSI, historic site, and urban greenspace.
  • There is only one pedestrian crossing where motor vehicles are required to give way and there are no other measures designed to lower vehicle speed.
  • The park is easily accessed by motor vehicle from the city’s road network.
  • Drivers are insulated from experiencing the noise and air pollution caused by their vehicle.
  • When the road is reopened to motor vehicles on a weekend, park rangers escort the motor vehicles through the park, asking those walking, wheeling and cycling to leave the carriageway to allow motor vehicles to pass.
Ploughed carriageway, pavements and cyclepaths uncleared.

However, for park users visiting the park:

  • Holyrood Park’s private road network is traffic-free (closed to motorised through-traffic) just 16 hours per week, less than 10% of the time and only at weekends. During these short hours, people can walk, wheel, and cycle without worrying about motorised traffic in a park.
  • Pavements and cycle paths in the park are below the minimum standards set by national guidance. They are narrow, directly adjacent to busy roads, with associated noise and air pollution, often flood in heavy rains, and have very few dropped kerbs. There are no cycle lanes on Duddingston Low Road.
  • There are regular reports of dangerous driving, speeding and passing too close to people on cycles on Holyrood Park’s private road network. See previous blog post about road casualties in Holyrood Park.
  • Public transport access to the park is extremely limited.
  • There are no accessible parking bays in two of the three car parks to ensure those who need to use a private vehicle to visit are able to park when they arrive.
  • There is only one designated pedestrian crossing in the park, which floods in heavy rains. 
  • Many of the park’s pedestrian entrances are not fully accessible; several have short flights of steps with no ramped alternatives, preventing people with limited mobility and those pushing buggies from easily accessing the park.
Paved space for walking, wheeling and cycling regularly floods.

What impact does this status quo have?

A park with a private road network that makes it easy for people to drive through and hard for people to walk, wheel or cycle negatively impacts people with specific protected characteristics as defined by the the Equality Act 2010.

People from minority backgrounds, people with long-term disabilities, and older people are all less likely to have access to motor vehicles, and women are less likely than men to hold a driving license. Access to a motor vehicle is also strongly associated with income and deprivation. Those living in areas ranking as the most deprived according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation are least likely to have access to motor vehicles; those in the lowest income levels also have the highest use of bus transport. All these groups are less likely to have access to a motor vehicle and therefore less likely to benefit from the prioritisation of private motor vehicles in Holyrood Park.

Our group regularly sees the negative impact of the prioritisation of private motorised through-traffic in the park.

Children and Young People

The park is not a place for carefree play for children when motor traffic is allowed to pass through, as seen in the video below.

Narrow pavements: forcing conflict between users

Not everyone can simply walk on the grass – paved space is more accessible and the current set up of narrow pavements and cycle paths creates unnecessary conflict between park users. 

For example, when a wheelchair user and a person pushing a buggy met on the 1.2m wide paved path, one user was forced onto the grass:

Forced conflict between park user pushing pram and wheelchair user caused wheelchair user to be pushed off accessible paved space.
Forced conflict between those walking, pushing prams, and cycling, all sharing a 1.2m wide paved space. Meanwhile, the road width measures more than 6.5m.

In this instance, three park users pushing buggies came into conflict when the road was open to private motorised through-traffic:

Three users pushing prams come into conflict, forcing some onto muddy grass and others toward the road. Users are unable to walk sociably side-by-side without conflict on the narrow pavement.
Park Users’ Safety

Allowing motor traffic in a park also creates an inherent risk for vulnerable road users. The safety of people on bikes is of particular concern. Across Scotland, people on bikes account for 7.5% of road casualties, but account for 37% of road casualties in Holyrood Park – five times the national average. This appears to be increasing; over the last 5 years, cyclists accounted for 50% of road casualties in Holyrood Park.

Many park users have also attested to feeling unsafe walking, wheeling and cycling in Holyrood Park and have reported dangerous driving, speeding, and close passes. See previous blog post on road casualties in Holyrood Park for more information.

Trike user, paused at the side of the road, and toddler cycling – these are the users who do not use the road space when it is open to private motorised through-traffic.
Carbon Emissions and Air Pollution

Allowing private motorised through-traffic on the park roads not only has a direct negative impact on park users’ experience of Holyrood Park, but also contributes to wider negative impacts and inequalities. By operating a convenient shortcut for private motorists into the city centre, Historic Environment Scotland is ‘inducing demand’, the well-studied effect in which increased road capacity causes more people to choose to drive. The negative effects of this are manifold.

Road transport is the single greatest contributor to carbon emissions in Scotland and more motor vehicle trips into the city centre increases carbon emissions and contributes to climate change; we know that climate change will have the greatest negative impact on the poor who contribute the least to emissions. More motor vehicle trips also increase particulate matter emissions which causes poor air quality, exacerbates asthma, and most adversely affects older adults, children, and those with heart and lung diseases. 

How can HES provide inclusive and equitable access to Holyrood Park?

We would suggest the solution is not to tarmac more of Holyrood Park to widen the pavements and cycle paths, but to put the ample tarmac already in the park to better use for the sake of park users. The road is 6.5m wide throughout most of the park, and as we’ve seen in the High Road closure and the weekend vehicle closures, if this road space is available to people, they will make use of it for walking, wheeling and cycling.

…the solution is not to tarmac more of Holyrood Park… but to put the ample tarmac already in the park to better use…

For a few hours on the weekends, the park managers restrict private motor vehicles on the park roads and temporarily present a more equal and inclusive vision for how the network can be used. The changes are immediately visible. 

Mobility scooter user and pedestrian enjoying the road space during weekend motor vehicle closure.
Two mobility scooter users on the High Rd, able to socially experience the park side-by-side.
A family with young children cycle together on Queens Drive. Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
Two park users push prams socially side-by-side. Maternity is a protected characteristic under Equality Act 2010.

During road closures to private motorised through-traffic: 

  • More paved space is available for walking, wheeling and cycling, particularly for wheelchair and mobility equipment users and those pushing prams. These users can travel side-by-side with others for a better social experience.
  • Residents in Dumbiedykes, an area in the third most deprived decile of the SIMD, have safe and easy access to a greenspace. Children on foot or bike are more than three times as likely to be involved in a traffic accident in the most deprived areas in Scotland.
  • Reduced air and noise pollution for all park users, which may have a greater positive impact for asthmatics and neurodivergent park users.
  • A safer park for all vulnerable road users, see our previous blog on road casualties.
  • Pavements remain available for users who prefer them, with kerb separation for white cane user navigation. Those using the pavements have a higher quality park experience because they are no longer next to motorised traffic.
  • Children can safely cross, play, cycle, scoot, and walk near and in the road space.
White cane user on High Road, utilising kerb separation during motor vehicle closure. Some users may prefer to walk and wheel on pavements. People on bikes are seldom found cycling on pavements during motor vehicle closures because it feels safe to cycle in the road space, leaving the pavements for other users.

We believe the weekend vehicle restrictions should be applied permanently: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a more accessible, inclusive and equitable park. This would open the road network for walking, wheeling and cycling that is step-free, spacious and free from worrying about motorised traffic. 

Mobility scooter user stops to enjoy St Margaret’s Loch during a weekend road closure to motor vehicles.

By eliminating private motorised through-traffic and associated air and noise pollution, low lying areas around St Margaret’s Loch will instantly become a more inviting and pleasant space where people linger and want to spend time.

There are additional measures we suggest to further enhance inclusive access in a car-free park, which we outline in Part 2 of this blog post. We would urge Historic Environment Scotland, as we did in August 2020, to engage local accessibility groups in a consultation meeting when planning the future of road management in Holyrood Park.


The most inclusive step Historic Environment Scotland can take right now is to end private motorised through-traffic in Holyrood Park. The status quo is not accessible, inclusive or equitable and results in negative impacts for park users, our neighbourhood, our city, and our environment. After becoming carfree, there will need to be further measures to make the park more inclusive still, one vision for which we have laid out in Part 2 of this blog.


What are Historic Environment Scotland’s duties on inclusivity as a public body?

Under the Equality Act 2010, public bodies including Historic Environment Scotland have a general equality duty, which means they must do the following in the exercise of their functions:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination.
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, particularly by:
    • Removing or minimising disadvantages.
    • Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of others.
    • Encouraging participation in public life.
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

The characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act 2010 are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Historic Environment Scotland is also subject to the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which means they must:

  • Report on mainstreaming the equality duty
  • Publish equality outcomes and report on progress
  • Assess and review policies and practices
  • Gather and use employee information
  • Consider award criteria and conditions in relation to public procurement
  • Publish in a manner that is accessible
  • Publish gender pay gap information
  • Publish statements on equal pay. 

Public bodies and other organisations often complete an Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) to assess how policy changes might impact upon people from protected groups. According to their 2017 Equality Impact and Mainstreaming Report, HES usually only completes a EqIA on new, high-level plans or policies, or in the instance of Tinker’s Heart in Argyll, following a public petition asking for one to be completed.

In August 2020, Car Free Holyrood Park called on Historic Environment Scotland to complete a EqIA on ending motorised through-traffic in Holyrood Park and opening the roads to people walking, wheeling and cycling. There has been no response from Historic Environment Scotland.

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