Leith Walk set for 18 months of tram extension disruption

Artist's impression of a tram on Elm Row
Artist's impression of a tram on Elm Row
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Leith Walk would be set for 18 months of disruption if the tram extension is approved – despite being overhauled during the problem-hit first phase of the project.

The city council has published its final business case for taking trams to Newhaven – ahead of the authority’s transport and environment committee considering the plans on Thursday.

If councillors approve plans to push ahead with extending the tram-line to Newhaven in March, with a £207m budget, the entire 2.9-mile route will need to be dug up in order to remove around 1,200 “utility conflicts” that remain from the original work.

Three lanes of Leith Walk will be closed for around 18 months and the route will be one of several starting points for the construction work. The construction on the new line is set to be completed by the end of 2022, and is expected to open to passengers in the first quarter of 2023.

During the first phase of the tram construction, businesses and residents in Leith Walk complained of massive disruption with roads dug up and diversions in place, leading to falling footfall, staff lay-offs and some traders being forced out of business.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “It will deliver enormous business opportunities in the north of the city. It will deliver safe, secure, sustainable travel for large numbers of passengers – in the first year of operation we are looking at 16m passengers, and those are pretty conservative estimates.

“We have built a lot of caution into every step that we have made. That should build some degree of confidence that the processes that we have gone through to get to this stage.”

“We are Scotland’s fastest growing city and although we already enjoy award-winning bus and tram services, we must work hard to evolve our whole public transport infrastructure. Trams are not just part of the overall vision of an Edinburgh that truly has people at its heart – a more active, healthy and connected city with active travel and public transport at the forefront.”

As part of the final business case, a £2.4m fund has been allocated to support local businesses during the construction process.

Cllr Macinnes added: “It’s all about minimising disruption as much as possible – that has been the whole basis of the plan and design around this.

“We are very conscious that Leith Walk has a long history of being disrupted in the past. A lot of work has gone into trying to minimise as much as possible the impact on individuals and businesses’ lives as we go through this process."

Edinburgh Trams had more than 7m passengers last year, and is expecting that 16m will use the extended service once it is open.

The Leith area has some of the highest population densities in Europe and the Leith corridor has low levels of car ownership, compared to the rest of the Capital.

There are several large-scale housing projects underway in the Newhaven and Leith Port areas – contributing to the expected population growth of the city over the next 20 years. By 2040, it is thought that Edinburgh could have a population of 600,000.

Vice transport and environment convener, Cllr Karen Doran, added: “We have to respond to the pressures our growing city faces – managing congestion and improving air quality, making it easier to walk and cycle and creating an inclusive city for people of all ages and abilities.”

But Green councillors want more answers before pledging support to the extension.

Cllr Chas Booth, Edinburgh Greens transport spokesperson said: “Greens have always said that we support the tram extension in principle, but need to be satisfied that the business case adds up, the council has learned the lessons from the previous mismanagement, and that the extension delivers high quality walking and cycling infrastructure along the route.

"The new design for Leith Walk is certainly a big improvement from the previous proposals with improved provision for pedestrians and cyclists. However, the increase in costs is a concern, and Greens are still examining the tram reports in detail, and will decide in the coming days whether this proposal is best for our city.”