Second ‘trams to Newhaven’ consultation: NTBCC’s response

(The following is the text of NTBBC's submission to CEC's second 'trams to Newhaven' consultation, submitted 7 November 2018)

Trams to Newhaven consultation
Response by New Town & Broughton Community Council

Main points

  • We welcome the progress that has been made but feel the vision for public realm at Elm Row could be more ambitious.
  • We would welcome more detail on the anticipated future of bus services on Leith Walk.
  • There should be comprehensive consultation on traffic management during the construction phase.
  • There are some concerns about the plans for junctions at London Road and Leith Walk.
  • We consider that no use should be made of the 'triangle' at Picardy Place which would prevent the possibility of its eventual incorporation into the public space in front of the Cathedral.

We welcome this further engagement by the Council; evidence of a degree of responsiveness to feedback; and the greater transparency with which the engagement has been conducted. We also welcome the postponement of a final decision to allow for more rigorous scrutiny and clarification of bids received.

The proposals for Elm Row show some signs of progress however the revised plans could, in our view, do more to reflect some of the possibilities discussed at the design workshop held in June.

Business case

We remain of the view that it would be ideal to await the outcome of the tram inquiry to be sure that lessons are properly learned. However we recognise that this may not be practical and therefore believe that the assumptions made in the business case for the present phase should be very conservative. We welcome the further work carried out and look forward to seeing the final report on the formal market consultation, including testing and auditing of the financial model and investigation of alternative funding options.

Overall design

In our initial response we urged that CEC take a bolder approach to promoting permeability and crossing points on Leith Walk. We asked that the design reflect the underlying ambitions of the City Centre Transformation project including traffic reduction, environmental improvement, greater pedestrianisation and pro-active place-making. We welcome the widening of the central reservation to accommodate safe refuges/crossing points for those who wish to cross the road away from crossing points. However the design still only 'accommodates' pedestrians (the Council’s language) rather than prioritises them. We welcome the introduction of more controlled and uncontrolled crossing points along the length of the street to retain permeability. Specific concerns about Blenheim Place/London Road are noted below.

In our consultation response on Picardy Place in December 2017 we questioned whether CEC has made a sufficiently clear case that encouraging bus passengers to switch to the tram at Picardy Place would actually produce a benefit. We think this is still unsubstantiated. In our consultation to the initial tram consultation we sought explanation from Lothian Buses about the number of bus services on Leith Walk after the tram extension becomes operational. We note that the Director of Place met with Lothian Buses in August and it would be helpful to be updated on this issue.

Disruption

We remain concerned about the levels of disruption during the construction phase and reiterate that CEC must make every effort to ensure that disturbance is minimised. It is essential that Community Councils are properly informed of proposals in this regard in good time to consider the implications – something which was not done at the initial stage of the consultation.

As previously stated, while we accept that diversions are probably unavoidable during construction, we cannot give our full support to this extension until we receive comprehensive information from the Council about planned diversions, alternative arrangements for public transport and any planned mitigations for any businesses which may be affected. There should be comprehensive consultation on traffic management plans for the construction phase so that further disruption is minimised. We welcome the promise of a further update.

Elm Row

We welcome the acknowledgement that ideas from the Elm Row workshop on 25thJune may be integrated into the final design. Some appear in the latest version of the revised design however there may be scope to go further.

It was mooted at the workshop that the design was too linear along a North/South axis and we consider that the final design could be bolder in exploiting the cruciform nature of the location to make a connection on an East/West axis between Gayfield Square and London Road/Blenheim Place with a 'green intervention' focussed around the clock at the corner of London Road/Elm Row as a ‘centre of gravity’.

A further suggestion was for the removal of the Elm Row 'road', turning the whole frontage into a 'piazza' with extended pedestrian space between Montgomery St and London Rd; with larger trees introduced for shelter, matching the height of the mature trees in Gayfield Square/Royal Terrace Gardens. It was also suggested that there could be a major pedestrian crossing East/West at Gayfield Square, as a clear statement at the top of the Walk that the pedestrian has priority. Inclusion of these elements in the final design would make an unambiguous statement about the priority of pedestrians, environmental improvement, and the promotion of residential communities over traffic.

Whatever is finally proposed, the views of business in Elm Row should be carefully considered.

We welcome the consultation with local businesses on short term and legacy support measures and look forward to seeing details of these. We welcome the Support for Business package announced for the construction period.

We welcome the commitment by the Council that 'the new public realm will be designed around those trees that remain'. We welcome the decision not to remove all existing trees, thinning out instead; and the assurance that a segregated cycleway will run the entire length of Leith Walk and will form part of the final design proposals. In view of recent disquiet over changes in East Princes St Gardens, we suggest that great care is taken in thinning out any trees and that a comprehensive public information and consultation exercise is conducted before any action is taken.

Junctions

We question whether – at the north of Elm Row, at the Montgomery Street junction – the proposed arrangements for vehicular ingress and egress from Leith Walk are safe for pedestrians.

We have concerns about the proposed vehicular access between Blenheim Place and London Road where an existing pedestrian crossing would be removed. We ask that planners ensure the crossing is safe for all users, and consider installation of traffic lights so that vehicles can enter and leave in a timely manner. It has also been suggested that allowing a right turn from Blenheim Place onto London Road would avoid the need for eastbound vehicles to travel round the gyratory. This would reduce traffic between the gyratory and the Leith Walk/London Road junction with consequential environmental and public realm benefits.

Similarly, westbound traffic from London Road must, under these proposals, use the gyratory to go north via Leith Walk. This can only bring increased traffic volumes and associated disbenefits and we ask that the it should be carefully modelled.

Picardy Place 'triangle'

It is important not to lose sight of plans for public realm at the top of the Walk. We would like to reiterate the strongly-held view of residents that no use should be made of the 'triangle' at Picardy Place which would prevent a move to incorporate it into the public space in front of the Cathedral, should a reduction in traffic make a move to a T-junction viable in the longer term.

7 November 2018