Last week, Edinburgh’s councillors approved the Outline Business Case for taking the tram to Newhaven, signalling a desire to move towards a transformed vision for transport in the capital.
As the fastest growing city in Scotland with a burgeoning jobs market and annual steady stream of tourists, it’s obvious that we need to reassess the way we manage the flow of people moving around.
It is now more important than ever that we provide a first-class, fully-integrated transport system. For many decades, our award-winning Lothian Buses service has carried so many people who work, visit and live here and we’re, quite rightly, extremely proud of it.
Since launching in 2014, Edinburgh Trams has worked to complement this and both services have seen a continued rise in patronage, alongside near perfect customer satisfaction ratings.
A tram to Newhaven would not only provide a direct link for the people of Leith to the city centre and out to the airport, but would connect a series of key employment and travel hubs along the route. By completing the original vision for the first phase of the Edinburgh Tram network we would be tapping into a large swathe of the city for housing development and employment opportunities.
Increased reliance on trams will also help us to reduce air pollution by providing efficient, sustainable transport solutions. It’s in this spirit that we’ve committed to investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, as well as public transport. Just last week, two of our active travel projects were awarded millions in Sustrans Scotland funding, enabling us to create attractive and convenient cycling and walking routes.
This is very much the theme of our proposed plans for the Picardy Place junction, which (if approved by the Transport Committee next week) would see a far fairer share of road space devoted to cyclists, pedestrians – and trams. Feedback so far is that the proposals offer a clear improvement on the current lay-out. But we do acknowledge the views of some groups who feel we haven’t gone far enough and will look at ways to incorporate their suggestions as far as possible.
These projects, in addition to an expanding network of protected cycle routes, the roll-out of 20mph limits to create safer, more welcoming streets and public realm improvements across the city, are about opening up people-friendly transport links for individuals and communities from all walks of life, proving that all road users are equal.
Now it’s time to look to the future of transport in Edinburgh. We are acutely aware that there is still a great deal of work to be done before we see the tram line progress beyond York Place. Last week’s decision was not taken lightly, and followed months of preparation and analysis. Our journey forward will continue to be measured and steady, rather than a race to the finishing line.
We fully understand the implications of taking this forward, and the apprehension some people will feel but we have learned lessons from the previous project.
We’re taking our time to build and maintain two-way relationships with local residents and businesses so we can understand and tackle head-on any issues which might arise along the way, as well as working closely with stakeholders to properly test traffic management plans for the works.
We want to provide a service that will benefit communities both along the route and across the city. These next 12 months will be crucial, as we build and hone our business case, allowing us to make a confident, fully-informed decision next autumn.
Councillor Lesley Macinnes is transport and environment convener at Edinburgh City Council.