Extending Edinburgh's tram and transforming George Street 'uncosted and reheated ideas'

Politicians and campaigners have been mixed in their reaction to Edinburgh City Council's plans to encourage more people to use public transport in a 10-year vision.

Saturday, 11th January 2020, 7:45 am

Council bosses have been accused of drawing up a “wish list of uncosted and partially reheated ideas” in a new 10-year strategy of how people move around the Capital.

Conservative councillors have blasted the city mobility plan, which includes potentially extending tram lines to Granton and to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and pedestrianising George Street, for lacking in detail.

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Edinburgh City Council has unveiled plans to overhaul how people move about the city

But the plans have been welcomed by walking and cycling campaigners, who has labelled the citywide approach “vital” in eliminating carbon emissions from Edinburgh by 2030.

Lothian Buses, who will play a key role in encouraging people out of their cars and onto public transport, announced on Thursday that fares will be increasing – along with Edinburgh Tram fares. But the company has welcomed the council’s transformative vision.

Richard Hall, Lothian’s managing director said: “We welcome The City of Edinburgh Council’s commitment to a greener, healthier, better connected capital.

“Offering environmentally sustainable and best value travel continues to be a priority for Lothian and we look forward to working in partnership with the council on the next stages of the city mobility plan.”

Tory councillors, who opposed the current £207m tram extension to Newhaven, have questioned whether the vision will reduce traffic and help the city’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Conservative transport spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, said: “When it comes to transport policy, the Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour council is great at generating additional hot air in the city, without actually delivering much.

“After being told the recent city centre transformation lacked key financial details as it was a ‘high level strategy’ the council have proceeded to pile an apparently higher strategy on top of it.

“Again it is largely a wish list full of uncosted and partially reheated ideas.”

But the council’s transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, has warned that Edinburgh “can’t afford to ignore the future”.

She said: “I’m delighted to bring this strong direction of travel forward. It reflects an in depth journey that we have been undertaking since the start of this council administration.

“The plan clearly expresses the scale of and need for the changes to mobility in the city but will of course be augmented by all of the debate to come about its many aspects. We can’t afford to ignore the future – it’s shouting loudly at us to do the right thing.”

Liberal Democrats have also warned that the strategy “throws up more questions than it answers” amid worries over a lack of funding for big capital projects.

Lib Dem transport spokesperson, Cllr Kevin Lang, added: “It’s clear that Edinburgh needs nothing short of transformational change when it comes to our public transport. However, I remain unconvinced that this strategy adequately responds to the scale of the challenge.

“Too many people are faced with expensive and overcrowded trains – yet, the strategy’s three stage vision offers nothing new on train services. Park and ride sites are full to bursting yet the strategy suggests commuters could be left waiting years for improvements. Some communities now have fewer bus services than they did five years ago but the strategy offers no guarantee of any new routes or any greater frequencies.

“ It‘s also unclear how improvements will be paid for, especially with council budgets being cut to the bone.”

Active travel campaigners have welcomed the vision for the Capital’s future.

Sustrans Deputy CEO John Lauder said: “We are pleased that this ambitious and long-term plan not only looks at the city centre, but the suburbs too and addresses how we travel in and out of the capital on direct, fast, convenient routes by walking, cycling and public transport.

“This is vital if Edinburgh is to tackle congestion, accommodate the growth of the city and jobs and meet its laudable target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

“We look forward to taking part in the consultation and urge everyone to have their say on Edinburgh’s plans.”

Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, added: “A largely car-free city centre by 2030 is essential if Edinburgh is to tackle air pollution, congestion and health issues associated with inactivity. The fresh thinking in the mobility plan offers a brighter future for Scotland’s capital, offering citizens more attractive options to travel around – by foot, bike and public transport.

“Creating space by removing traffic will need further development of Edinburgh’s well-regarded bus service and more strategic tram routes. Substantial investment is needed, so new funding sources such as the workplace parking levy are vital. Experience from other cities suggests the inevitable challenges of transition, from a city focused on cars to people, will be worth it.”

Green Cllr Claire Miller said: "There is a huge amount to welcome in the draft plan which could and should improve quality of life in the city in so many ways: tackling congestion, pollution, poor health, social isolation and road safety. As the examples within the plan from across the world show, there is only one credible direction for Edinburgh. The status quo simply leaves the city further behind as other cities take dramatic steps towards public transport and cycling and walking.

“So the challenge now is to make it happen. Edinburgh has struggled a lot to get even some basic bike schemes up and running and developing a single tram line has been fraught. That can’t continue. The city will need to invest in project skills to deliver along with strong leadership. And the draft plan will need to shift thinking in other big strategies too. It will be hard to achieve the vision if planning decisions simply result in more car-dependent suburbs or out-of-town services. The city region deal too needs rethought, with £120m going in to a single roundabout at Sheriffhall. That just does not add up.

“The prize is a much better Edinburgh. I really hope everyone gets behind it.”