Looking from the Tollcross end of the Meadows. This green lung in the centre of the city was nearly lost in the 1960s when Edinburgh narrowly escaped a major road-building programme of the kind that blighted the urban landscapes of Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow at the time. The City Engineer and City Planner, who shall remain nameless, proposed an inner ring road which won the full backing of the Conservative-run council's city planning committee. The plan envisaged a six-lane radial highway encircling central Edinburgh. The section which would have crossed the Meadows here, between major intersections at Tollcross and St. Leonard's, would have been raised on concrete stilts above the line of Melville Drive. From St. Leonard's, the so-called "eastern link" was to skirt round the western edge of the Queen's Park, run through a tunnel under the High Street and cross Waverley Station on stilts before bursting through another tunnel (to be the widest in Europe) under the Calton Hill to emerge at another large intersection at the top of Leith Street (an area which ended up redeveloped even after the road was abandoned). From here it was to run northwards through the Broughton district to Canonmills, sweeping away Georgian streets like Warriston Crescent at Inverleith where it would turn west along the Water of Leith to Comely Bank, south of Fettes College. From there it was to turn south again through a tunnel under the Queensferry Road, then through the grounds of Donaldson's Hospital to reach Haymarket and on to Tollcross. Each major intersection would have involved additional feeder roads.
Despite a planning committee which tenaciously argued that the road was the only solution to Edinburgh's traffic problems, the city's traditionally strong middle class began organising a counter-offensive as soon as the plan was revealed in 1965. A North Edinburgh Joint Committee was formed with the leadership and support of the playwright Robert Kemp, the advocate Kenny John Cameron (later Lord Cameron) and the architectural historian Colin McWilliam. In a publicity pamphlet the novelist and New Town resident Compton Mackenzie fulminated against "the plague of motor cars which is sweeping the world like the Black Death in the middle ages". The Architects' Journal listed just some of the intended casualties: Edinburgh Academy, Donaldson's Hospital, East Claremont Street, Saxe-Coburg Place, Howard Place and Warriston Crescent. The 'Scotsman' newspaper joined the refrain of opposition with an editorial on "The Unwanted Road". A public inquiry was held in 1967 at which the planning committee chairman argued that it was "in the best interests of everyone concerned" and the only way the city could be protected against the motor car. After hearing forty-one days of evidence W A Elliott Q.C reported to the Secretary of State for Scotland Willie Ross. Amongst his conclusions he stated that "In the highest scale of human values the preservation of Edinburgh's environment is more important than the speed of a journey to work". Ross announced that the road would not go ahead, but that the proposed eastern link section intended to relieve traffic congestion on "the Bridges" would be retained. However, after another decade of wrangling, this too was finally abandoned in 1979. To date, the Conservative Party which once dominated Edinburgh's local government has never been returned to power.
(The above information has been taken from George Rosie's 'Curious Scotland', published in 2004)