Edinburgh Council's net-zero carbon emissions drive looks set to create roadworks bonanza – John McLellan

With what feels like temporary traffic lights for roadworks at every second junction in Edinburgh, readers may be concerned to learn that the pace of change is set to accelerate.
Roadworks have been underway for some time at RoseburnRoadworks have been underway for some time at Roseburn
Roadworks have been underway for some time at Roseburn

The experience of Leith Walk, up for four years for the tram line completion, and the cycleway work on Roseburn could be shared by main roads across the city as the council presses on with its commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

A report to today’s transport committee effectively says that work carried out over the past two decades has not been adequate if the target is to be met, and the council’s roads programme needs be implemented 12 times faster. You read that correctly, 12 times faster after years of disruption and a raft of new policies, and in eight years.

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In the previous 20 years we have had the Princes Street car ban, a slew of closures and permanent diversions, the tram, 20mph speed limits, cycleways, Summertime Streets, more controlled parking now going into the suburbs, City Centre Transformation, with low-emission zones to come. Who knew none of it comes close to realising the council’s ambitions?

Just as the 2030 net-zero target is 15 years earlier than the Scottish Government’s goal, the council’s habit of trying to show off by setting more “ambitious” aims has been repeated by trying to reduce the miles driven in Edinburgh by 30 per cent, compared to the national 20 per cent target.

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Using a programme adopted in Amsterdam as an example, a “circulation” plan is to be drawn up to show how it’s going to be achieved. It will not just affect the town centre but the whole city, with the hope of making main thoroughfares like Corstorphine and Morningside more pleasant for pedestrians.

Producing the plan alone will cost £150,000, to be funded by the Scottish Government-backed active travel “charity” Sustrans, which was heavily involved in the design of the Spaces for People programme at the start of the pandemic, and works so closely with the council on developing its transport policies that it’s practically a full-time arms-length department.

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It sounds like the “20-minute neighbourhood” schemes promoted by both the council and Scottish Government, and it’s fair to assume the “circulation” blueprint will be similar to the Spaces for People changes, the vast majority of which are still in place, and which caused local businesses considerable disruption as both suppliers and customers found them more difficult to access.

Nor should anyone think the budgets will be small. Spaces for People was only supposed to be temporary, but the cones and lane dividers still cost £5m. The total bill for the Airport-Newhaven tram line will be well over £1bn, and more trams is part of the overall strategy.

In fact, the changes will need to be completed in less than seven years because the circulation plan won’t be finalised till August next year, and there is no explanation about how legal requirements which take time can be circumvented.

There will be readers who agree it’s the right course of action, and maybe it is, but as the Leith Walk and Roseburn traders will testify it comes at a cost which is beyond project budgets, and residents as well as businesses need to be braced for what’s coming, accelerated or otherwise.