Edinburgh Spaces for People: Let's hope sorting out traffic schemes problems doesn't take as long as the tram inquiry – Robert Aldridge

It is now seven years since Alex Salmond appointed Lord Hardie to lead the inquiry into Edinburgh’s trams, promising that it would be “swift and thorough”.

I can’t comment on how thorough it has been but it certainly hasn’t been swift.

It has already taken longer than the hugely complex Chilcot Inquiry into the Irag War. In fact it has taken longer than it took to construct the original tram line. And there has still been no word of when we might expect it to be published. Meanwhile the cost of the inquiry keeps rising.

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Don’t get me wrong, I was, and remain very enthusiastic to learn the lessons of the initial tram project and called for a full inquiry from the outset. It is extremely important that we understand what went wrong and how to avoid problems in future projects. It does need to be thorough and as politicians we must not interfere with it in any way.

But my concern is firstly that the tram extension is being built (and may well be finished!) without the benefit of any recommendations from the inquiry.

Secondly, there are a large number of individuals who have left the council (whether as officials or councillors) – some almost ten years ago – who still have the uncertainty of whether they will be criticised in the final report hanging over them.

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Not only is it a burden to them, but it also makes it extremely unlikely we will be able to either exonerate them or hold them accountable.

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Edinburgh needs to work out which parts of the Spaces for People traffic scheme to keep, change or abandon (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

We, and they, need to move on. Given that it has taken so long and cost so much, I am sure we must expect it to have considerable and far-reaching recommendations. But it is time, at the very least, that we got clarity about when it will be finished.

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As a city, we also need to move on cautiously out of the Covid restrictions. It is right that the council will review all of its Spaces for People (SfP) projects, as we consider which will be needed or are helpful as the city’s traffic returns to more normal levels. For example, balancing the needs of pedestrians and cyclists with those of people who commute by bus where bus lanes have been reduced is just one of the issues.

I trust in the light of the tragic accidents involving cyclists linked to SfP bollards that the safety and design of these will be examined. I hope that those which are not used or cause unintended negative consequences can be removed, leaving the popular and constructive schemes (especially some around schools) in place.

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For it to be successful there will need to be a change in attitude from telling us what is good for us to listening to the constructive comments by citizens and making changes which they know will work.

And to get the city moving safely for all, whether on foot, cycle, bus or car (or wheelchair) let’s focus on basic maintenance of our paths, pavements and potholes.

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Robert Aldridge is councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle and leader of Edinburgh Council’s Scottish Liberal Democrat group

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