‘Things will be different with tram project this time’ says new transport convener

Lesley Macinnes says the second phase of the tram project will be a lot different. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Lesley Macinnes says the second phase of the tram project will be a lot different. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE city’s new transport leader has called on residents to trust the council as it pushes ahead with proposals to extend the Capital’s tram network to Newhaven by 2022.

Despite fears over the scheme’s potential impact on roads and businesses, council transport convener Lesley Macinnes said she was confident there was “sufficient clear blue water” between now and the previous project.

Her attempts at reassurance come as councillors prepare to consider an outline business case for the £165.2 million project to extend the 1A line from York Place down Leith Walk to the north of the city.

Should the case be approved, the council could then move to invite bids from potential contractors. A final decision on whether to go ahead would then be taken in autumn 2018.

Cllr Macinnes said she fully supported extending the line – provided the business case was sound – but understood why some might have reservations.

She said: “I can appreciate why people are cautious, I understand that viewpoint very clearly. But what I would say as a bit of reassurance is I’m reassured that there is sufficient clear blue water between what happened before and what we’re looking at now.”

In its election manifesto, the SNP said it supported the tram extension in principle but warned it would be looking carefully at the business case before pressing ahead.

Cllr Macinnes said it was vital to continue investing in public transport, and added: “We have the opportunity now to study the numbers in more depth before deciding on whether to progress, taking into account the needs of the city’s taxpayers, and ensuring we learn lessons from the past.”

Trams are just one of the many issues Cllr Macinnes will have to contend with after being catapulted into one of the most challenging positions in the council just months after first being elected.

Today (Thursday, August 10) she will preside over her first transport and environment committee, which comes after weeks of preparation to get to grips with her new role since she was elected to the council in May.

The 56-year-old admitted she felt a degree of trepidation at taking on such a crucial role in addition to representing her constituents in Liberton/Gilmerton ward.

“It’s daunting first of all to be a councillor because the responsibilities that sit behind that title are enormous,” she said.

Born in Skye, Cllr Macinnes was brought up in and around Glasgow in what she described as a “Labour voting, left leaning family”.

The daughter of two teachers, her father was also a Gallic writer and playwright.

Having gone on to study business, Cllr Macinnes lived in the Capital in her early 20s before moving back west where she went on to start a family. She is now mother to a 24-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter.

She is now just over a month into her new post and despite there being a host of issues to grapple with she said the process has, so far, been “exhilarating”.

“When I was put into this role I knew it was going to be a really broad brief but what I found fascinating is how deep and wide that brief is and [that] everything is interconnected.

“I was looking for a challenge, no question about that, and I wanted to bring some of my professional and transferable skills into whatever role I had.

“Once we realised that we were going to be part of the administration and the coalition there’s inevitably a sort of scouting around in the group to see who is best suited for which role and this is one that came up for me.

“It’s one that requires an enormous commitment that I was very happy to give. The reason why I’m happy to be doing this [is] it’s all about keeping the city working.

“Transport and environment may not be the world’s most glamorous set of topics but it’s one that impinges on people’s lives every day.

“Everybody is affected by whether their bins get collected, whether their environment looks good and whether or not the transport system is working for them.”

Among the challenges awaiting her and her committee deputy – Labour city centre councillor Karen Doran – are the ongoing 20mph rollout, due to enter its third phase on August 16 – which has proved divisive since the onset.

Another item high on the agenda is parking, while cycling infrastructure and encouraging the use of active transport are also priorities.

It is the latter which Cllr Macinnes sees as one of her biggest challenges and something she is keen to pursue.

“If we can get more people making their way to work, to leisure, using those methods of bike, walking [and] all the methods of active travel, it will make an enormous difference to our city”, she said.

Priorities on environmental issues include the Capital’s ongoing battle against litter – as highlighted in the Evening News’ Bin Watch campaign.

There is also the state of the Capital’s roads and pavements, recycling and air pollution to consider, with Edinburgh currently vying with Glasgow to be granted the opportunity to introduce Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone.

It is a lot for anyone to have on their plate and while Cllr Macinnes is new to the field, she says she has the skills to bring to the table.

She settled in Edinburgh in 2012 after just over ten years living in Switzerland, where she worked in a senior management position at a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dealing with landmines and cluster munitions.

She said her time with the NGO equipped her well for life at the council, giving her an insight into how to make progress on often large and complex projects.

“I came back and realised very quickly that I had to find something to direct those skills and the energy that I had brought from that situation,” she said. She did so by joining the SNP, signing up immediately after the 
referendum.

“I realised immediately as the result came in that I didn’t want to take a step back from being part of where my country was going to,” she said.

“I felt the SNP was the best home for that energy for a variety of reasons and that’s why I’ve ended up as a councillor, because I wanted to deliver progress on a local basis.”

She initially worked as a branch secretary in Bruntsfield, near where she was living at the time, and it was speaking to other councillors which eventually led to the process of dipping her toe in the water herself.

But she admitted she could not have predicted quite how things would work out.

“When I came back in 2012 I had no idea that less than five years later I’d be sitting in here in charge of the transport and environment brief,” she 
said.

“It’s been a very short journey for me in many ways but I’m absolutely ready for the challenge.”

florence.snead@jpress.co.uk