Tram extension threatens vitality of Leith Walk, says heritage watchdog

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THE vitality of Leith Walk is under threat from the council’s tram extension proposals, Edinburgh’s heritage watchdog has warned.

The Cockburn Association said it supported the extension in principle but not the current plans. Their response to the consultation on the tram extension said: “What is presented to us is not a civic vision or a new, exciting expansion to our world-famous places. It is an engineering project that attempts to subjugate Leith Walk to meet engineering needs.”

Edinburgh trams are reporting delays this morning, Picture: Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh trams are reporting delays this morning, Picture: Ian Georgeson

The submission said the plan to use “pedestrian deterrent paving” was “wholly unacceptable” and criticised a reduction in on-street parking, disabled parking and loading bays.

It argued against banning any existing right turns along Leith Walk, insisted all existing pedestrian crossing points should be retained and complained no in-depth study had been carried out into 
pedestrian movements along the route and there was no information about the impact of the extension on bus services.

The document said: “Leith Walk is one of the most diverse and dynamic streets in Edinburgh, with a range of shops, restaurants, and businesses seen nowhere else. The tram project must create an environment that increases the vitality and vibrancy.”

The Cockburn said pedestrians given priority along the route, with adequate width pavements and crossings.

It called for a continuous two-way cycle route along one side and short-stay parking to acknowledge the loading/customer needs of the many small businesses along the street.

It described the lack of cycle parking at the Newhaven terminus as a missed opportunity.

And it said trams should have exclusive use at all times of their reservation – or share it with buses. “Allowing general traffic to use it completely negates the advantage of the tram system in not being caught up in general congestion.”

But the submission warned: “Leith’s existing local culture and identity is unique in Edinburgh. No other part of the city has quite the same mix of people, local enterprise and community groups.

“The tram line and other traffic elements, including cycle lanes, must support the vitality and livability of the Leith community and of Leith Walk. Our concern is that both vitality and livability are being forced to conform to a transport driven design proposal.”

And the Cockburn took a swipe at the council over the consultation itself. “The present exercise comes over as simply a ‘this is what we are doing’ information assignment rather than as genuine public consultation, in which views received will be assessed, tested, and if worthwhile, incorporated into the final scheme.”

Meanwhile, Lothian Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour has called for a debate in the Scottish Parliament to ask that no decision should be taken by the council on the tram extension until after publication of the tram inquiry findings.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, has finished taking evidence. Two days of final submissions are scheduled for later this month but no date has been set for him to report.

Mr Balfour said: “We must wait for the publication of Lord Hardie’s inquiry and take time to reflect on his recommendations. The then First Minister called the inquiry once the tram finally got running in 2014, but the current SNP/Labour led council seems hell-bent on pushing ahead with the next phase of the project without paying heed to the findings.”

Transport convener Lesley Macinnes said: “Some commentary on our consultations on major projects provides the impression the council is simply going through the motions. That is not the case. We have put together an extensive, open consultation process providing many opportunities for over 3000 individuals, businesses and organisations to feed their views, ideas and concerns into the design and development process.”