Leith divided over tram extension plan

Trams are not yet in full service along Princes Street but already the prospect of extending the line to Leith has been raised. Picture: Esme Allen
Trams are not yet in full service along Princes Street but already the prospect of extending the line to Leith has been raised. Picture: Esme Allen
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MOVES to extend the tram route to Leith have received a mixed reaction in the port and across the Capital.

Businesses which have already suffered the nightmare of tram works in Leith Walk warned any new construction programme must be handled differently – and some said they did not want the trams at all.

But the city council’s signal that it wants to press ahead with the original route to Newhaven was also welcomed as a chance for people who had put up with earlier disruption to enjoy some benefit from the controversial project.

The Evening News revealed yesterday that city leaders planned to pave the way for the route being extended to Leith by “tram-proofing” improvement works for Leith Walk and minimising future disruption.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of Port of Leith Housing Association and chairman of Leith Chamber of Commerce, said: “I look forward to the day I can take a tram ride to Leith.

“I’m an unapologetic supporter of the tram. Having to live through disruption is always a difficult thing and Leith has had its fair share of that, but I still think it would be extremely beneficial for both residents and visitors to have a fast tram route to Newhaven.

“People who have been disrupted for a prolonged period will obviously be very anxious about this happening again.

“The chamber has not taken formal soundings on extending the tram, but when we did a survey of key priorities, connectivity was an important one.

“The logic of the tram in Edinburgh will only make full sense to people if it comes not only to Leith but also to Little France.”

Philip Contini, managing director of Valvona and Crolla, said his business had been badly affected by the tram works in Leith Walk.

He said: “In theory we are all for extending the tram line down to Ocean Terminal – but with the proviso that businesses in Leith Walk are given a period of time to recoup and get the benefits of the city moving again.

“Tram works should not start until 2016-17 and then, to take into account the problems for traders, they should be done in small chunks to allow for the continuation of traffic, so the public perception at all times is that works are going on but it is still easy to get access.

“On these conditions, we would wholeheartedly support it, but if that’s not done we would be vehemently against because we are talking about the survival of our business.”

Gordon Burgess, who runs The Bed Shop in Leith Walk, set up the Leith Business Association in 2008 as a result of the disruption caused by the tram works. His turnover plummeted by 44 per cent and he was nearly forced to close.

“I’m sure there will be people who would like to see trams down Leith Walk, but I have seen what it has done to my business and you don’t get anything back from that,” he said.

“This area could not cope with any more disruption. Businesses are only just recovering. All I want is for them to do the reinstatement works we were promised.

“They did not handle the original project well and there’s no reason to think they would handle this part any better.”

He said the promised public inquiry into the trams debacle should take place before any move to extend the line.

Alex Wilson, chairman of Leith Business Association, said the concept of extending the trams to Leith was right, but proposing such a move would just aggravate a lot of traders in the area.

He said: “Traders will remember full well what happened to them and will not want to go through the experience again in a hurry.

“Trams will soon be running to York Place, fine. Are they a white elephant? Very likely. Why would you make it a purple elephant by continuing it down Leith Walk?”

Transport convener Lesley Hinds said officials would report back by the end of the year on extending the route and what funding might be available from Europe or 

She said: “We have always said the next stage would be to finish off the line. We have got the rails and the trams to go down to Newhaven, but for this to go ahead, we need public support and we also need resources.”

Lennie Freedman, who runs the Picture Framer shop in Antigua Street, said the tram should be extended, but he was far from enthusiastic at the prospect.

He said: “We nearly went out of business. If we didn’t own the premises, we wouldn’t be here now.

“The tram is definitely good for the city, moving people around quickly, but it’s the way they do it.

“It has to be extended – it’s no good just as the one line. But they made a complete mess of it.

“If it had been project managed properly it could all have been done for the money and it would all be in place by now. It’s sad.”

Rod Murray, of Leith Cycles on Leith Walk, said any more disruption for the trams would be too much. He said: “Leith Walk has had enough. They should just fix the road and be done with it.”

But Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald was delighted there were moves to extend the tram route to Leith.

She said: “They have bitten the bullet and they are to be congratulated.

“People like Lesley Hinds have done a great job because the ball was put in their court and they have picked it up and run with it.”

‘You’d think they’d fix potholes first’

News of moves to extend the trams to Leith sparked many comments on social media. Here’s a taste of what people had to say:

Gerard Malloy: You think they would focus on getting the potholes fixed on roads at the minute.

Paul Foley: Excellent news. Given that the utilities have already been moved it makes perfect sense.

Jim Crawford: And how much will that cost the taxpayers, and how many shops will they put out of business this time?

Deborah Mullen: This is great news! A tram that takes folks from Leith out to useful places like the Royal or the Western would be a huge gain for the city and cut traffic.

Angela Smith: After all the disruption there was when previous work was started and stopped I’m glad I don’t live in Leith any more.

Joseph Noon: Here we go again, who really wanted trams in the first place? I sure didn’t. It’s just more of taxpayers’ money wasted. Just going to mean Leith is going to suffer chaos.