Is it time to start city on another tram adventure?

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As the Lib Dem election manifesto pledges to extend the city’s tram network to Leith and Little France, Lawrence Marshall and Keith Hales put the cases for and against

Yes

By Lawrence Marshall

Chairman of the Capital Rail Action Group

Are you sick and tired of the tram project and of all the disruption of recent years? So am I.

I’ve always thought, though, that trams would be good for Edinburgh. Not a magic bullet (there isn’t one) to solve our transport and environment problems but a help along the way.

I’m disappointed that we’ve ended up with a tram line that runs only from the city centre to the airport.

Forth Ports pushed initially for Edinburgh to bring back trams – because it was along the waterfront from Leith to Granton that much of the new housing to allow Edinburgh to live sustainably was to be provided. Indeed, a town the size of Falkirk was to be built there.

There’s still a need to develop along the shoreline – and to provide housing that folk want at a price they can afford. And Leith is a really important part of the city.

Buses are great – but trying to shift the numbers involved here would require “wall-to-wall” buses. That’s usually a recipe for a slow journey.

Much of the groundwork to get the trams down Leith Walk has already been done – and the street will look good with trams. I’m relaxed about private funding – but that probably won’t be enough. The Scottish Government paid much more for the five-mile M74 extension in Glasgow than originally envisaged. “Not a penny more” didn’t apply there. It shouldn’t apply in the Capital either.

And what to do with the trams that will still be surplus even if we do get to Leith? Little France is obviously somewhere worthwhile to aim for.

So let’s use some of our trams to run on the underused south suburban railway from Haymarket through Gorgie and Morningside to Cameron Toll and thence on-street to the Royal Infirmary. Network Rail is keen to get tram-trains running in Britain. Opening up new journeys and causing little disruption to build, such a proposal would undoubtedly add value to the costly investment in blood, sweat, tears and treasure already made to bring trams back to Edinburgh.

No

By Keith Hales

Vice Chairman of Leith Business Association

What services are going to be cut to pay for this? Will there be fewer police on the beat, stations closed, more library closures, more community centre closures?

We in Leith have already lost a community treasure in Waterworld. What next to pay for this folly?

Politicians do not always spell out the true cost, hiding behind “confidentiality agreements”, but we on the ground know the true cost. Leith would know more than most.

How are we to pay for any extension? More importantly, how are we going to look after the businesses and communities along the proposed route? If history repeats itself, then “badly” will be the answer.

Leith Walk and its environs saw major disruption for more than two years. Falling footfall, falling sales, staff lay-offs, businesses closing and for what? A vanity project that nobody bar politicians and landowners wanted.

It has been nearly three years since the last major tram works in Leith yet the area looks like it was abandoned only yesterday. There is continuing delay in returning Leith to its pre-tram condition. Those businesses and communities along the tram route are living with the legacy of mismanagement, neglect political point-scoring and abject leadership. What can the Lib Dems bring to the table that they have not done already?

Any future investment in trams in relation to Leith would also require a change in attitude towards Leith, an attitude that sees Leith as a valuable and important part of Edinburgh. The tram project is seen simply as a way of getting people from the city through to Ocean Terminal and beyond as quickly as possible.

What the people and businesses of Leith require is a council that asks: “What is best for Leith?” Not one that carries on flogging a dead horse just to save its reputation.

Tidy up the mess you’ve left and Leith will be happy to look ahead with you to the future.

ales, owner of Leith Walk Barbers Salon and vice-chairman of the newly-reformed Leith Business Association

EXTRAS! READ ALL ABOUT IT

Initial plan was route from airport to Newhaven

Line 1b spur was to connect Granton and Roseburn

Line 2 planned airport to Newbridge route

Line 3 was to link up Little France