Edinburgh Council to 'explore potential' of linking tram to Fife and Lothians in future regional strategy

Transport bosses in the Capital have warned that it will be "essential" to develop a transport network on a regional level amid a suggestion the tram would be sent over the Forth to Fife in the future.

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 6:00 am

Edinburgh’s controversial tram network could be extended across the Firth of Forth to Fife in the future as the Capital’s transport chief insisted it’s “essential” to draw up a regional strategy.

Last week, Edinburgh City Council revealed its draft city mobility plan – a 10-year strategy setting out how people will move around the Capital in the context of an expected population rise and a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The document, which is set for an extensive public consultation if councillors approve it on Thursday, includes potentially extending the tram network to Granton, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Newbridge – west of the airport. The plans also include pedestrianising George Street, redesigning the city’s bus routes, improving cycling infrastructure and widening pavements. The authority’s city centre transformation plans, approved by councillors last year, also points to a potential tram link across the city centre and closing Waverley Bridge, Cockburn Street, Lawnmarket and Victoria Street to traffic.

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But the city mobility plan also points to a commitment to “explore the potential” of extending either the tram or mass rapid transport network to Fife and the Lothians – while the council also says it will “support the retention of the Forth Road Bridge as a dedicated public transport and active travel route”.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “There’s no question that we need to make bold, transformational decisions if we are to become carbon neutral by 2030, while delivering a truly accessible and sustainable transport system. Of course this vision doesn’t stop at Edinburgh’s boundary, and it’s essential that we consider travel to and from the city from neighbouring areas as part of our plan.

“These proposals are part of a long-term strategy but we want to know what people think of them. If approved this week, I look forward to hearing the views of residents and those who travel into the Capital to work and visit as we progress a finalised city mobility plan.”

Any future expansion to Fife or the Lothians could take another form of transport including bus rapid transit or another form of road use.

The Scottish Government welcomed the council’s commitment to the bridge being continued as a public transport route.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Forth Road Bridge has been in operation as a public transport corridor since January 2018 and we welcome Edinburgh City Council’s ongoing support for this measure.

“We are already seeing successful outcomes from the public transport corridor with an increase in demand at Ferrytoll and Halbeath park and ride, increased bus patronage and an average 500 buses using the FRB each day.

“Journey times between Ferrytoll and Newbridge are up to 40 per cent better for bus users at peak times when compared to the car. These improved journey times and reliability, along with the increase frequency of bus services, should encourage more people to use public transport.”

Work to extend the current tram-line to Newhaven, where the original route was supposed to finish before problems hit, is now underway – with the £207m project expected to welcome its first passengers in the first quarter of 2023.

Opposition councillors have welcomed the ambition – but warned the council should focus on ensuring that the current bus provision runs more smoothly.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Cllr Kevin Lang, said: “It’s right that the council thinks long-term about the opportunities which could come from an expanded tram network. However, given the legislation required for a major extension and the costs and complexity involved, there is simply no chance of anything like this being delivered in the next 10 years. It also would need massive funding from the Scottish Government, something it has seemed unwilling to do.

“If we are to meet our 2030 targets and turn Edinburgh into a carbon neutral city then solutions will need to come from elsewhere. In fact, there is a risk these aspirations simply end up distracting the council from more immediate and deliverable improvements around our bus services network and prioritisation.”

Although projects for the Edinburgh and region city deal have already been earmarked, leader leader Cllr Adam McVey, said a joint transport project could be brought forward by authorities in the Lothians and Fife.

He said: “The city deal was a chance in process and a change in work of working so that regionally, we work much closely together on a whole host of things. I think having the Scottish Government and the UK Government in those discussions has helped those relationships be formed.

“The door is never closed to future discussions. If we as a region and a city can make the case for strategic investments that we are struggling to afford on our own, I think the discussion can continue with other partners.”