MOVES to pave the way for extending the tram route to Leith are set to be approved by council chiefs even before the first services start running between the city centre and the airport.
City leaders are to take the first steps towards running trams to the port and beyond by ensuring improvements for Leith Walk are “future-proofed” for an expansion of the £776 million project.
Residents and traders in the area endured prolonged disruption during preparation works for the trams before the city council decided it could only afford to complete the airport part of the route. Some businesses were forced to close, but Leith has so been left without any benefit.
Now councillors plan to spend an extra £1 million for additional works as part of the Leith Programme – £9.1 million worth of road, footway and cycle improvements – to take account of the possibility of the tram line being extended in future.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “No final decision will be taken on whether or not to take the tram down to Leith until we’ve had a chance to see how passenger services perform.
“However, we want to be pragmatic about this. If there is a desire to install tram tracks down Leith Walk at a later date, we don’t want the community to have to go through a more lengthy and extensive works period than they have to; better to get some tram-proofing done now while we’re already investing time and money transforming Leith Walk.”
The council said operation of the tram would be assessed after the start of passenger services, scheduled for May, and a report on tram performance and the possible extension of the line would be prepared for consideration by councillors in late 2014.
The legislation covering the introduction on trams in the Capital, passed in 2006, required works to start within 15 years, so any extension to Leith would have to get under way before May 2021.
A report to tomorrow’s transport and environment committee said: “As the Leith Programme has been developed, significant effort has been made to ensure that it supports the likely extension of the tram service to Leith, and beyond, at some future point.
“The design team have take opportunities to ‘future proof’ the enhanced design for a tram extension, including changes to kerb position. The roundabout at the junction with London Road has been removed in the enhanced design, to be replaced with a T junction that is compatible with a tram extension.”
It added that void spaces under Leith Walk at Baxter’s Place will need to filled in before any tram construction and this work will be undertaken as part of the Leith Programme to avoid further significant disruption at a later stage.
In December 2011, the then Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil appeared to rule out the prospect of trams going to Leith any time soon when he said moves to take the route further than the city centre would be a decision for “another generation”.
It is not clear how any extension to Leith would be funded.
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