Survey finds public split on plan for Leith tram extension

Picture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
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EDINBURGH is divided on plans to extend the tram line to Leith, an exclusive Evening News survey suggests today.

A total of 43.5 per cent were against the plan to take the current route between the airport and the city centre down Leith Walk to Newhaven, while 42.2 per cent backed the proposal.

Some 12.5 per cent said they neither agreed nor disagreed and the rest did not know.

The city council has backed the £165 million extension in principle but will not give the final go-ahead till next autumn.

Critics said today they were surprised there was not a bigger majority opposed, while the council promised to liaise with residents and businesses in developing the project.

The survey, answered by around 2,200 readers, asked people to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the proposed extension of Edinburgh’s trams to Leith.

The results from the tram survey

The results from the tram survey

Almost a third – 32.7 per cent – said they strongly disagreed and another 10.8 per cent disagreed compared with 22 per cent who strongly agreed and 20.2 per cent who agreed.

Men were more likely to be in favour of the extension – 47.5 per cent agreed or agreed strongly while 41.1 per cent disagreed or disagreed strongly.

Women were more likely to be opposed – 46.4 per cent disagreed or disagreed strongly while 35.8 per cent agreed or agreed strongly.

“Strongly disagree” was the most frequent response among all age groups over 18, except for 30-39 year-olds, where there were marginally more people saying “agree”.

But when agree and strongly disagree were combined and compared against disagree and strongly disagree, the divide was much more finely balanced in most age groups.

Those aged 21-29 came out 44.3 per cent against and 41.6 per cent in favour; 30-39 year-olds were 44 per cent in favour and 38 per cent against; 40-49 year-olds 42.5 per cent in favour and 42.2 per cent against; 50-59 year-olds 45.3 per cent opposed and 41.1 per cent for; 60-69 year-old 47.4 per cent in favour and 43 per cent against; and over-70s 49.1 per cent against and 33.8 per cent in favour.

Gordon Burgess, owner of the Bed Shop in Leith Walk, who lost half his trade during the works carried out for the original project, was surprised there was not a bigger majority opposed to the tram extension.

He said: “You will get people who just think it’s the only way they’re going to get it to make money and they have gone so far they might as well complete it. But the majority of people I meet down here think it’s a complete waste of time and money when there are lots of other more important things they could spend the money on, like hospitals and education.

“It will get the go-ahead anyway, we know that. They will blunder on regardless.”

Harald Tobermann, vice-chair of Leith Central Community Council, said: “The question about the tram extension is whether the council is competent to do it because they have had a series of failures and there are some very damning things coming out of the tram inquiry. Everyone says they have learned the lessons, but I very much doubt they have.

“The existing tramline cannot possibly wash its face in the long term, so it needs to increase its capacity. So on the one hand they have to do it to salvage the existing line, but maybe they are not capable of doing it properly.”

Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said the survey findings laid bare the divisive legacy of the trams. “Combined with the spiralling costs of the multi-million tram inquiry, it comes as little surprise that a third of respondents strongly oppose the tram extension,{ he said. “If the council has any respect for council tax payers, it should place its extension plans on ice until the conclusions of the inquiry can be carefully considered.”

Chas Booth, for the Greens, said given the way the tram inquiry was exposing the “disastrous way the first construction project was handled” the survey findings were not surprising. “If anything, it is encouraging that almost half of respondents recognise the case for an expanded tram,” he said.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM Road-Smart Scotland, added: “It shows the height of the mountain the city council has to climb to convince people the tram extension is a good thing.

“In transport theory it is a good thing. People like trams and will use them and this would be going somewhere that is actually useful.

“But people are so fed up with what happened last time they don’t trust the council not to make a mess of it again.”

Transport convener Lesley Macinnes, said: “We do understand the public’s concerns, which is why we’re taking great care as we proceed with proposals, obtaining independent advice and taking into account outcomes from Lord Hardie’s ongoing tram inquiry. That said, with a rapidly increasing population we must look to develop our public transport.”