Gina Davidson: Tram can be the talk of the Walk

Tram works badly hit traders and motorists on Leith Walk. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tram works badly hit traders and motorists on Leith Walk. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THERE is nothing which makes the Edinburgh public scream, shout and tear their hair like pre-teen girls at a One Direction concert than uttering the word tram.

It’s understandable, of course. Not since the building of the Scottish Parliament has there been a publicly-funded project which has gone quite so badly in terms of budget, timescale and reached such giddy heights of total incompetence.

The costs alone are a massive problem for Edinburgh City Council, as the over-run is now – and will be for years to come – eating into the budgets of essential services, while the whole debacle has affected the reputation of both the local authority, the councillors who govern us and the city itself.

Without a doubt a public inquiry into what went wrong and how needs to be announced by the Scottish Government as soon as the first tram carries a paying passenger.

It was no surprise then that there would be such a poor reaction to the idea that Leith Walk is to be “future-proofed” in case a tram ever runs from York Place to the foot of the Walk. The reaction of horror mingled with crazed laughter was predictable and understandable.

And yet . . . for once I think the council might have got it right.

West End traders will probably disagree, but I would suggest there was nowhere more badly affected by the tram project than Leith Walk.

Too many businesses went bust, others teetered on the brink of collapse for years doing who knows what to the stress levels of the owners, while their concerns and complaints were treated with scant regard or an off-hand, superior “we know best” manner by a succession of short-lived transport conveners and the staff of the now defunct TIE.

The people who live on the Walk or commute up and down it had their lives badly affected for years. And all for what? For the council to admit that the mismanagement of the whole project – coupled with the fact that the recession had put an end to house building in Granton – would mean the tram would stop at York Place and never a ding ding would be heard at the Kirkgate. What a slap in the face that was.

One of the main transport arteries in Edinburgh, Leith Walk has long proved a headache when it comes to planning its shared use between cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians – and a desire to keep some greenery growing along it.

Right now there are plans to spend some £5.5 million improving the road surfaces and pavements, junctions and crossings, and there will even be new planting. It sounds wonderful, but I think a tram running down the Walk also sounds wonderful (as would one running to the Royal Infirmary) and I believe that the people of the Walk deserve to get it given the upheaval they have all been through.

So when and if – and it’s a massive if – there is money for big transport infrastructure projects again, making sure that the improvements to the Walk being done now incorporate a future tram line should ensure that the people of Leith Walk won’t have to go through such a mess again.

Normally the council doesn’t think so long-term. Normally we’d be here again in ten years’ time saying: “But why didn’t they think about that back then?”

This time they are, so perhaps through all the tram debacle at least one lesson has been learned.

Robson’s input will help church

BISHOP Stephen Robson was my local parish priest when the scandal around disgraced cardinal Keith O’Brien hit the papers.

He was, and I’m sure is, as far as I could gauge, a decent man and, while a traditionalist, seemed to at least understand the conflict between people’s lives and church attendance.

Now he’s one of 12 people on the committee reviewing the “safeguarding” policy of the Catholic Church in Scotland to help protect youngsters and vulnerable adults, but his place there has been questioned given he was a friend of O’Brien for 40 years.

Yet never have I seen a person more crushed and defeated when the news of O’Brien’s sexual misconduct was revealed. It was obvious he was clinging to the hope that the revelations about his friend would prove wrong.

So when O’Brien finally admitted what he’d done he seemed utterly bereft, and indeed later said: “I am now beginning to wonder if I ever knew Keith at all.”

I think he will be of great help to the former Church of Scotland Moderator Andrew McLellan and the rest of the committee.

History lesson for all to know

UP the Line to Death, an anthology of war poetry, was expected reading for O Grade history when I was at school. It was my introduction to Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and the fact that they wrote while recovering from shell shock at Craiglockhart made their words seem more relevant.

Brilliant news then that long-forgotten copies of The Hydra magazine, edited by Owen, have resurfaced. I hope that all children taking history at city schools will get the chance to see them.

We would thrive with tourist tax

INTERESTING to learn that Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission supports the idea that councils could set a “tourist tax” to raise more revenue, something Edinburgh has been keen to introduce.

The argument has been that such a tax would put off tourists. But I can’t believe people wouldn’t come to Scotland’s capital with all its festivals (taxpayer funded), history (mostly taxpayer funded for upkeep), and beauty (taxpayer funded to keep it so), just because there’s an extra £1 to pay for a night in a hotel.

Rome, Venice, Vancouver and even the Maldives already levy some kind of tax or “donation” on visitors, yet seem to be thriving.

Why shouldn’t Edinburgh capitalise on its attractions? Especially if the money raised was fed into the city’s cultural budget, thereby freeing up monies for other essential services.