Lesley Hinds: Road to recovery must be mapped out by the people

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With the trams fiasco eroding trust, former provost Lesley Hinds says it’s time to put common sense back into transport policy

Trams, transport and trust in the council. At least two of these are vital to the city, but, sadly, at the moment they’re all in the dock.

The most important of those is a collapse in trust, because it harms everything else the council wants to do.

After the fiasco surrounding the development of a tram route through the city, the people of Edinburgh simply don’t trust the council any more to deliver a major transport project.

What’s more, they don’t trust it to even get the small things right as far as transport and traffic is concerned.

That is something I’ve been hearing from more and more people in recent weeks, and is a problem we need to do something about urgently.

Earlier this month I organised a consultation meeting on transport as part of the wider public discussion on Labour’s council manifesto – Moving Edinburgh Forward: Together.

People from all walks of life and with an interest in transport in Edinburgh came to that meeting, perhaps because the opportunity to be heard seemed so rare to them these days.

The response was so positive that today I’m launching my own special transport blog – http://lesleydoestransport.blogspot.com/

The meeting debated 60 different ideas of their own for improving transport in our city, and agreed together on six priorities for transport in our city, which can be seen in the panel (right).

Labour has already committed to the creation of a transport forum. That’s because I believe, if we are to keep Edinburgh in the forefront as a prosperous city, we need to listen to its people about what an up-to-date transport policy would be. And that means that first on the agenda will be those six “people’s priorities”.

It is perhaps most important that an agenda like that will put some common sense – some ‘people first’ sense – back into transport policy, because in all the dismal confusion over the appalling delivery of the tram project we’ve lost sight of the everyday things, the things that make the city a better place to live and work.

However, it is also clear to me, and to most of those who came to the consultation meeting, that Edinburgh must face up to some big transport questions if we are to stay prosperous.

One of the biggest concerns people raised was the fact that it often takes longer to get across the middle of the city from north to south or east to west than it does to commute to the middle of the city from Fife, East Lothian or West Lothian. No wonder people are moving out of the city.

To counter this, we can provide more family affordable housing on brownfield land in the city, but first and foremost we must make it easier and quicker to get about.

The number of people out and about in the heart of the city – what the shopkeepers call footfall – has dropped by more than one third in ten years. That’s a disaster for all of us who want our wonderful historic centre to thrive.

We need to call a halt to edge of the city shopping developments – and persuade the Lothian councils to do the same.

But at the same time we need to make it much easier, safer and more pleasant to get around the city centre, on foot or by bus, and much easier to park too, preferably off-street.

We have one of the most beautiful cities in the whole world. People who come to visit us say what they like doing most is just walking around. At the moment that can be a bit of a hardship.

I want Edinburgh to be a pleasure for everyone to spend time just walking about – and spending some money in the shops too.

To me, and to many at the consultation meeting, achieving all that means making sure our public transport is the best that it can be, offering a real choice to people in how they get into and around our city. It’s important to keeping good jobs in our economy as well as to our everyday lives.

I think we need to look hard at how we can make our buses – which we all own – even better. And, yes, I think we must continue to look at other means too. Even trams.

But transport is too important just to leave it to the experts. That’s what has got us into the mess we are now.

It’s time for the politicians to say – let’s make sure the people are heard too.

• Councillor Lesley Hinds is a former lord provost for the city and speaks on transport for the opposition Labour Party in the council.

Where to now?

A recent consultation meeting with members of the public agreed six priorities for transport in the Capital:

• Provide good quality and safe pavements for pedestrians, paths for cyclists and roads for motorists;

• Reassess the bus routes in and out of the city and the possibility of routes around the suburbs;

• Co-ordinate the utilities that want to dig up pavements and roads, and enforce – through legal action if necessary – the quality of their work;

• Improve the speed of buses;

• Expand the 20mph limit to all except the main roads in the city;

• Set up a transport forum, open to everyone and not just experts, to consider the future of public transport in the city.