Edinburgh north-south tramline: Public meeting hears plea to drop Orchard Brae route and go for Roseburn Path

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An option for building Edinburgh's new north-south tram route up Orchard Brae and across Dean Bridge should be dropped because it is "not feasible", a former city transport convener has said. 

Ex-Labour councillor Lesley Hinds told a public meeting the original "line 1b" plan to run trams along the former railway which is now the Roseburn cycle path was the only viable route.

Lesley Hinds addresses the public meeting on the tram routeLesley Hinds addresses the public meeting on the tram route
Lesley Hinds addresses the public meeting on the tram route | TSPL

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The city council is to consult the public on the two options as part of its planning for the proposed new tram line between Granton and the Royal Infirmary and beyond.

The prospect of losing the cycle path in its current form has sparked a campaign against the Roseburn option, although the council has indicated it would provide a reduced walking and cycling path alongside the tramline.  

The public meeting, at Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge, on Wednesday evening, was organised by Spokes to hear the case for each of the possible routes. Up to 180 people attended the meeting, with others having to be turned away.  

Ms Hinds put the case for the Roseburn Path option, arguing it would mean quicker construction, with less impact on businesses, buses, other traffic and residents and avoid problems with underground utility pipes and cables.

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It would give better journey times and reliability, was expected to have lower capital costs, lower operating costs and deliver better value for money. The Roseburn Path route had been approved by the council and Scottish Parliament in 2006 as line 1b.  "The whole line is protected and has been agreed - and line 1b is supported by Edinburgh Trams."

She said cycling and walking would be retained, but acknowledged there were "challenges".  "There is obviously real concern regarding greenery and the wildlife on line 1b. I don't think anyone can deny that.  It is an issue that has to be dealt with."

The on-road Orchard Brae option, she argued, would be more complicated during construction because of the utilities issue and would result in more congestion.  Safe cycling would be difficult across Dean Bridge and the junction of Queensferry Street, Princes Street and Lothian Road was complex and "potentially undeliverable".

She also argued against the idea of taking the route off the Roseburn Path and along Telford Road for a bit to get nearer to the Western General Hospital, pointing out it did not have parliamentary consent.

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She said: "We should spend no more time or money on the on-road option as it's not a feasible one.  In my view, line 1b is he only option that addresses both cycling and walking and also delivering public transport links to the waterfront and all along the way - because unless we invest in public transport our city will come to a halt and our children and grandchildren will have the worst pollution and the worst air quality that we can have."  

Putting the opposite case, Euan Baxter, of the Save Roseburn Path campaign, argued the former railway line had now become established as a well-used local park. He said it was a key part of Edinburgh's active travel network, which encouraged more people to cycle.

"But the Roseburn Path is not just for cyclists. Losing this urban green space would be devastating for residents, wildlife and climate change."

He said the council knew it would have to provide space for active travel next to any tram route, but he said council reports indicated that would involve the demolition of five bridges and complete removal of an existing nature habitat. "It's hard to do everything - there is not enough space."

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And he argued the Orchard Brae option was the best route for the tram because it served a larger catchment area and was better for social inclusion. "The on-road option takes more people on more journeys. The trams  should replace cars on the road, not pedestrians, cycles and nature in a local park."  

Mr Baxter said he had asked the council for the budget for each route, the revenue case for each route and the number of passengers  “The way transport planning is done you come up with the benefits first and then you work out the costs later on. Unfortunately not a single budget or a detailed engineering report has been done on the route.”

And, answering questions from the audience, Alex Robb, of the Spokes planning group, said the council had indicated that under the Roseburn option, the pedestrian and cycle path alongside the tramline would be a tarmac path, 3m wide or most of the route, with a small barrier, but it could come down to 2m at pinch points.

The council’s public consultation is expected to start in late summer or early autumn.

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