(The following was submitted to CEC on 3 May. We apologise for taking so long to publish it.)
The New Town and Broughton Community Council welcomes the benefits brought by Edinburgh’s tram project thus far in terms of reliability, and in helping to reduce pollution. We therefore support, in principle, its extension to Leith and Newhaven which should enlarge the scope of these benefits and bring them closer to a greater number of citizens.
That said, we are concerned that there may be serious disbenefits to residents and businesses in our area during construction. We are concerned that any restrictions on private or commercial vehicle users on Leith Walk will lead to displacement of traffic into neighbouring residential streets, and we seek assurances that no such restrictions are planned.
Lessons to be learned
Members feel that in view of the earlier history of the Edinburgh tram project, it is imperative that the business case, and the planning, design and management of the construction phase are all as robust as possible. Members therefore feel that it would be prudent to await the outcome of the tram inquiry to be sure that lessons are properly learned.
However, if that is not practical, it is important that management of any new phase is undertaken on the soundest financial footing and under experienced, professional leadership so that the project is completed efficiently and effectively, and that council tax payers get the very best value for money.
We are concerned that the schedule for the tendering process on which the business case will be predicated is potentially unrealistic and is unlikely to allow for the incorporation of any changes resulting from the present consultation. We would welcome assurances to the contrary from CEC. We also feel that the assumptions made in the business case should be very conservative and we question whether estimates of passenger numbers and borrowing costs are realistic.
Route design principles
The tram plans come at a time when CEC is about to embark on a series of important initiatives (chiefly the City Centre Transformation Project) which are likely, taken together, to have a significant influence on the future of the city.
We urge that the design of the tram extension should be aligned with the fundamental principles of these projects which, whatever else they may mean, must surely include the city’s over-arching transport and design priorities of environmental improvement, reduction of traffic, and people-led “place-making”.
We suggest that the design of the extension is thoroughly reappraised in this light.
It is to the benefit of all road users that the design of the route and associated infrastructure, and the ‘grammar’ of the street, is rational, intuitive and consistent.
Route design should ensure that the tram system can perform optimally and deliver maximum social and environmental benefits, however due allowance must similarly be made for other priority road users – pedestrians, cyclists, commercial vehicles and other forms of public transport.
In particular, we suggest that to achieve improved use of road space, it might be more effective to site platforms at kerbsides, rather than centrally.
Leith Walk is one of Scotland’s most attractive and exciting thoroughfares and it is paramount for the city that the tram extension complements and enhances this and preserves its qualities and that of the communities which make it up.
We believe that pedestrians should be given a greater priority over the length of the Walk than they currently enjoy in Princes Street, reflecting the more residential nature of the Walk.
Reduction of general vehicular traffic must be the city’s top priority, and we would urge that the design ensures that the tram extension contributes to this not only by substituting for unnecessary car journeys, but also more widely in promoting a calmer, cleaner atmosphere and a more pedestrian-friendly street culture.
The design of the route should promote the development of micro-communities brought together by the Walk, not divided by it. It should preserve and where possible enhance the frequency of pedestrian crossings which connect both sides of the street, at intervals which clearly demonstrate the priority of the pedestrian over the car user.
We would oppose the use of ‘Pedestrian Deterrent Paving’ which we consider an aggressive, divisive technique which would surely militate against shared use and degrade the neighbourhood character of the thoroughfare. The street space will only achieve its maximum potential if it can create a culture where there is successful co- existence between pedestrians, trams, cycles and other vehicles.
In the design, the opportunity should be taken, as elsewhere throughout the city, to discourage unnecessary vehicular traffic as much as possible.
We also consider that given the levels of disruption experienced in recent years throughout the city (and, especially relevant in this case, on Leith Walk itself during the phase of ‘utility moving’ in preparation for the trams which harmed local businesses), CEC should make every effort to ensure that disturbance is minimised during the construction phase.
There is some local concern at recent reports that during construction much of Leith Walk north bound traffic and half its bus routes may be diverted down Broughton Place, Bellevue, Rodney Street and Broughton Road. Awareness of this possibility came to the Community Council by word of mouth from the Leith Central Community Council meeting.
This emphasises the importance of following proper consultative procedures with community councils, something which was not done in this instance.
Whilst we accept that diversions are an inevitable consequence of building the tramline, 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.
Businesses on Leith Walk and also Broughton Street are a resource for the city especially as they both host so many niche and specialist outlets. These are part of the character of the streets and it is vital that they are preserved. CEC should make this the highest priority in the overall design, and during the construction phase.
York Place/Picardy Place
The suggestion which has been reported that there could be a four-month period when eastbound trams stop at St Andrews Square to allow for the decommissioning of the York Place tram stop and its linkage to a new Picardy Place stop would be highly disruptive, and if this is indeed the case as reported, we would urge that an effort be made to manage the process on a shorter time scale.
We consider it highly questionable to assume that the tram extension will allow for the removal of many bus routes on Leith Walk and would welcome clarification from Lothian Buses of their long-term assumptions in this regard.
As we have already pointed out in the context of diversion routes, there is considerable scope for further improvement in CEC consultation processes. The current administration has, to its credit, acknowledged that there have been shortcomings in this regard in the past. However to be credible, the new administration must set and meet higher standards itself. NTBCC does not consider that it has been properly consulted in the present instance. A planned presentation was cancelled at the last minute towards the end of the consultation period, and an alternative event which was offered was in turn withdrawn.
To win public trust, consultation must be thorough, genuine and timely. There should be comprehensive consultation on traffic management plans for the construction phase so that further disruption is minimised.