Recent council papers seem to have confirmed rumours that serious thought is already being given to extending the Edinburgh tram line to Leith, despite senior Scottish Government figures previously insisting it wouldn’t happen for a generation.
But first, there’s the reinstatement works to be got through.
A tender for the next phase of these works covering the Foot of the Walk to Pilrig Street is expected to be finalised within weeks, even though aspects of the design remain in dispute. Work is expected to take eight months, which means it might, just about, be finished in time for next spring.
The ludicrously arcane nature of the Roads Scotland Act means that the unresolved disagreements between local traders and the council can only be sorted out by a £20,000+ public hearing.
Most of the outstanding objections focus on the provision of loading bays and parking spaces on the northbound side of the street.
Businesses including Junkadelic and Woodland Creatures objected to the proposals on the basis that they needed a loading bay nearby in order to receive deliveries. In the case of Woodland Creatures this objection seemed particularly reasonable given the weight of beer kegs – they’re not easy things to lug around.
A funeral director on the street has also threatened to move from the street entirely as a consequence of the new design of the street.
The council responded to these objections by offering to install an extra loading bay just down the hill at 226 Leith Walk, and including extra parking spaces elsewhere, but as some of the businesses still do not deem the proposals acceptable, the council now plans to simply build around the disputed areas in order to avoid any further delay.
Officials estimate that the legal processes associated with the public hearing could slow progress on the reinstatement works by 18 months if they did not take this approach.
If the hearing finds in favour of the council, could the businesses in question have scored a spectacular Pyrrhic victory as this would apparently mean the council would have to come back in a second pass to finish the job?
Leith Walk reinstatement budget passes £10million
On the other hand, perhaps those Leith businesses might know something we don’t.
If the tram route is to be extended down Leith Walk relatively soon perhaps holding up the improvement works is a sensible idea, as all the building works may end being done at the same time.
Afterall, it seems to be anyone’s guess whether the reinstatement workers who are scheduled to work their way up from the Foot of the Walk to Picardy Place over the next few years could end up meeting the tram workers laying rails coming down the street from the New Town.
Politicians still maintain that no formal decision to extend the tram line into Leith has been taken, but papers reveal that the reason for the latest budget increase in the Leith reinstatement process is that further works are to be undertaken to “tram proof” the street.
Specifically, “voids” discovered under the road at Baxter’s Place apparently need to be made safe for trams to run over them at a cost of £1million. This new £1million cost follows the allocation of £3.4million to the Leith Programme by the Scottish Government – ostensibly to remove the London Road roundabout to make it safer for cyclists.
It just so happens that removing the roundabout also fits nicely with the tram design too.
Lastly, perhaps the biggest clue that trams might be coming to Leith sooner rather than later is that officials have admitted that they plan to use a thinner than normal road surface on Leith Walk where the tram rails will run, in an effort to ‘minimise abortive costs.’ This would seem to suggest that council officials expect it to be dug up again almost as soon as it has been laid.
Would all this be happening if any tram extension had really been shelved for another generation?
Whatever happens the council has confirmed it has until 2021 to start work on the Leith line before their planning permission runs out, and the Leith Walk reinstatement works aren’t due to be completed until the Winter of 2016, as the works timetable above shows.
In the meantime, expect months and months of more road works. Leithers can also look forwards to the end of 2014, when “a report detailing…the possible extension of the line will be prepared for consideration by Committee/Council.”