Leith Walk 134
As a crunch meeting of the full council looms in December, where councillors are expected to make a decision on whether to extend the tram further down Leith Walk, it would appear that all the draft designs for improving the southern end of the street have been ripped up.
Greener Leith readers with long memories will recall that extensive campaigning on the future of design of Leith Walk ultimately led to the Scottish Government agreeing to provide £3.6m extra towards the cost of repairing the street.
When the money was awarded, the Transport Minister, Keith Brown, said: “The City of Edinburgh Council’s ambitious plans for improving Leith Walk aims to deliver an exemplar commuter corridor. Subject to finalising designs, the Scottish Government is pleased to be able to offer support for this project which has significant potential for promoting much enhanced levels of walking and cycling by across the city.”
And fundamental to producing this “exemplar commuter corridor” were proposals to incorporate a dutch-style segregated lane running from Pilrig Street to Picardy Place, via a much-improved London Road junction where the ‘cyclist blender’ round-about had been removed.
You can see an extract from the draft design in the photo above.
This would take cyclists out of traffic altogether on the steepest, uphill part of the street.
But it would seem that councillors plan to extend the tram rather sooner than some may have thought down Leith Walk, and this means that the road engineers have been forced to rip up their draft plans and go back to the drawing board.
A lengthy email sent by Transport Convenor Lesley Hinds responding to concerns raised by local stakeholders explained the current council position. It’s worth reproducing extracts of this email at some length.
In the email, Cllr Hinds explains that no work has been undertaken at the southern end of Leith Walk so far because, “major changes to Picardy Place” with the beginning of work on the new St James Quarter, “would impact on the operation of the junction at London Road and therefore the redesign of London Road roundabout could also not be progressed.”
She then says: “It has become clear that there is a possibility of a tram extension on Leith Walk in the not too distant future and this would clearly affect the detailed design for the Leith Programme between Pilrig Street to Annandale Street.
“It was not considered prudent to progress the detailed design for this section, which would have involved consulting on and promoting various statutory orders, when there was a very real chance that the design might have to change significantly within a few months, were a decision were to be taken to extend the tram beyond Picardy Place.
“Instead, we have been working on trying to ensure any design for a tram extension incorporates as much as possible of the aspirations of the Leith Programme.
“A further consideration in scheduling construction for the Leith Programme would be the expected construction dates for road works at Picardy Place roundabout, which are likely to commence by summer 2015, and a need to avoid major road works sites operating concurrently, in close proximity.
“A layout design setting out the layout of the pavements and road for the section between Pilrig and Annandale Streets was developed, but this has not been developed to detailed design stage as discussed above.
“However I can confirm that until the outcome of the report in December is known, further design work on this section will not be taken forward. The reason behind this is that it may be that, based on what the Committee decides, the design will need to incorporate some physical features, and adapt aspects of the layout, to support tram operations. As discussed above, a separate, joint group involving representatives from the Leith Programme and tram teams has been exploring various design requirements and options that might be available if there is a decision to extend the tram line.”
The statement from Lesley Hinds would appear to lend some weight to unconfirmed rumours published in the Evening News earlier this month.
The paper suggested that if a decision to extend the tram to Leith is taken “in the not too distant future,” a revised design for the southern half of Leith Walk could include an ‘extra’ tram stop on Leith Walk, possibly at Elm Row or MacDonald Road.
Of course none of this answers the question – if the tram does come down Leith Walk and a new stop is built at MacDonald Road, what will happen to the proposed dedicated cycle lane from Pilrig Street?
And it may not mean that dedicated southbound lanes are lost entirely, at least if Sustrans have their way. They’ve already published an outline of how they see Picardy Place being redeveloped. Remember this?
Either way, we’ll know in a few months time by the looks of things.
Locals have long expressed a desire to see street clutter removed from the main streets of Leith.
As far back as 2009, our consultation on barriers to Active Travel identified poor ‘pedestrian infrastructure’ as among the main barriers preventing people from choosing to walk more often, and in 2012, de-cluttering Leith Walk by tackling trade waste bins, emerged in the top 10 of our Vision for Leith Walk Consultation.
Therefore, we’re pretty sure most people, although not all local traders, will welcome news that the council has managed to cut the number of trade waste bins on Leith Walk from 116 to just 12. It’s made a huge improvement to the appearance of the street, although it’s been somewhat masked whilst the street is in the midst of another round of roadworks.
The cull was achieved after the council decided to start actually using its powers to control street bins properly. Officials made sure traders did not store their waste bins permanently on the street – as essentially some businesses were treating their huge trade waste bins as an extension of their premises.
Instead local businesses are now required to put their waste out for collection only during designated collection windows.
After the success of the Leith Walk pilot, the city council has agreed this month to extend the crack down on trade waste bins to other areas of the city. So, it looks like other Leith streets could also soon see a significant reduction in trade waste bin clutter.
A new report from the City of Edinburgh Council shows that low-emission hybrid buses have played a key role in reducing air pollution in Leith.
Officials claim that increasing use of the buses on key routes in Leith has helped to reduce Nitrogen Oxide levels on many Leith streets where this pollutant has historically been a problem.
Nevertheless, poor air quality is said to lead to around 205 early deaths per year in Edinburgh alone, according to Public Health England.
And despite official attempts to talk up air quality improvements, the actual data shows that illegal levels of NOx were still recorded on Great Junction Street, Easter Road, Leith Walk, London Road, and Bernard Street.
Indeed there is a notable difference in tone between the main report which suggests that there may be scope to roll back Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s must be designated where dangerous levels of pollution are found), and the appendices to the report which bluntly state that all the existing AQMA’s “remain valid,” because legal limits were breached in each one.
The reports also reveal the impact that vehicles with large diesel engines have on local air quality. On London Road for example, buses make up just 8% of the total traffic volume but generate 56% of the dangerous NOx air pollution on the street.
On Bernard Street, it’s HGV’s which cause the majority of the air pollution. Although HGV’s account for just 5% of the traffic volume of the street, they’re responsible for generating 38% of the NOx air pollution problems there.
The main report acknowledges that extending the city centre Air Quality Management Area into the Southside will be necessary and it also concludes that an Air Quality Management Area on Salamander Street is likely to be set up later in the year once research work has been completed.
This year Salamander Street was among the first streets in Scotland to break air quality limits for particulate emissions, an issue Greener Leith looked at in detail in this earlier blog post.
On Salamander Street officials report: “Salamander Street AQMS did not meet the tighter Scottish Government PM10 annual objective of 18ug/m3. Currently modelling work is being undertaken by air quality consultants in order to define an AQMA boundary to deal with industrial, transport related and other particulate matter sources near the Salamander Street monitoring location.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling on the council to do more to tackle air pollution in the city. They propose establishing one or more Low Emissions Zones which would see the most heavily polluting vehicles, such as older HGV’s and buses, banned from some parts of the city.
Indeed, for streets where HGV’s are a significant problem, like Bernard Street, this might be the only way to decisively control pollution.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said, “Every day people in Edinburgh are forced to breathe in toxic gases and particles from traffic. Air pollution is worsening our health, with more than 200 people in Edinburgh dying from this invisible killer each year. The Government now says that Edinburgh will only achieve clean air standards by 2020. This means many more people suffering preventable deaths and health problems.”
She added: “We are seeing some improvements in certain areas where buses have upgraded their fleet to have lower emission exhausts. This demonstrates that that air pollution can be successfully tackled and that low emission public transport is part of the solution.”
“The areas of increasing pollution show that the Council needs a more holistic approach where emission standards are improved across the whole city. It should introduce a Low Emission Zone similar to the one in Copenhagen or Berlin, where the most polluting vehicles are banned from parts of the city. It also needs to revisit the idea of congestion charging and continue its investment in walking and cycling.”
Commenting on the report, which will be considered by councillors on the 26th of August, Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “Monitoring carried out allows us to see the invisible effects traffic has on our environment, but I am heartened by the general positive trend in air quality.”
“Work carried out by bus and freight companies is having an undoubted impact on emissions, and I am certain that our approach to integrated transport will continue to have an effect.
“However, it is clear that there is still a lot to be done to reduce harmful emissions in Edinburgh, creating a cleaner, greener city for everyone, and we are committed to continuing this work with partners.”
If you would like to see councillors bring air pollution under control before 2020, then you you might want to consider emailing councillors on the Transport, Infrastructure and Environment committee. They will be meeting this week to consider what action to take to tackle the problem.
Image Credit: Kim Traynor | CC | http://bit.ly/1pijWfl
UPDATE: This post was updated to take account of further detailed information on air quality posted to the council website.
Many of us may still be feeling the impact of the banking crash and the recession that followed, but a flurry of activity on local brownfield sites suggests that property developers are suddenly feeling more positive about the future.
All over Leith, sites which have seemingly been mothballed for years have suddenly seen some kind of action. It looks as though thousands off new homes are set to start moving off the drawing board and into reality over the coming months.
As the photo above shows, the diggers have started preparing the ground at the former Eastern General site at Seafield. There are 155 new homes proposed for this site, or which 70 will be for social rent, and 70 for “mid-market rent.”
At Shrubhill, both the adjacent Shrub Place site and the site at Shrubhill House have been sold to new owners in recent weeks.
Although Retties, the sales agent for both sites, wouldn’t confirm it, they also didn’t deny the rumour that the Shrub Place site is likely to be developed by one or more housing associations.
Despite an earlier plan hatched by the council with local housing associations to build around 340 homes for mid-market rent on the site falling through, we’d not be surprised if a similar plan with a marginally different financing model, involving the same organisations and possibly Retties themselves, is announced in the coming weeks.
Retties are no stranger to these sorts of deals. As we previously reported, the firm is already a partner in an existing deal with Forth Ports and the City of Edinburgh Council to develop a site at Western Harbour for more “mid-market rent” flats.
Meanwhile, demolition work has already begun on next door Shrubhill house, where new owners Ziggurat Student Living say they will have completed a new development on the site comprising 260 student bedrooms and five commercial units in time for the new 2015 academic intake.
Whilst many are happy to see the derelict shell of “The Big Society Headquarters” come down, disquiet has also been expressed at the uninspiring design of the new building that is set to replace it.
Student flats are a bit of thing in the Leith walk ward, although arguably they’re not yet as contentious in Leith as they have become in other parts of the city. As well as the 260 student flats under construction at Shrubhill Place, Ziggurat are also building around 276 student bedrooms at nearby Murano Place.
Further up Leith Walk at Haddington Place another proposal for a development incorporating around 200 student bedrooms is in the process of gaining planning approval. And of course this development will be just over the road from the 155 student flats on the old Gateway Theatre site.
Another long standing derelict site on the edge of Pilrig Park, at 18 Tenant Street, is also the subject of a planning application for 49 homes. The proposals have attracted objections from Leith Central Community Council and the Friends of Pilrig Park. You can read their comments in the latest set of draft minutes from LCCC.
And lastly, the Evening News revealed this week that Cala Homes, who have a history of building where others couldn’t in Leith, are to set to take over where Baratts failed at another long standing brownfield site in the area – the former Royal Mail sorting office site at Brunswick Place.
Early indications suggest Cala are going to go for a plan that involves 180 homes on the site, down from the 241 flats proposed by Barratts. According the Evening News, Cala will reveal more details of the intial plans for the site at public consultation events at two public exhibitions.
The first will be held at McDonald Road Library on Tuesday from 4.30pm to 7.30pm, and the second event will take place on August 23 from 11am to 2pm.
Have you seen any other signs of building work in Leith recently? Get in touch to let us know.
Active travel charity Sustrans have released an “ideas” document outlining their vision for the future of Picardy Place.
The designs show an extended tram line running down Leith Walk with a stop at Picardy Place.
Instead of a huge round-about, traffic arriving at the top of Leith Walk must navigate a cross-roads at the top of Broughton Street.
In these plans Leith Street would be restricted entirely to buses, cyclists and pedestrians, save for vehicle access to the St James Quarter via Calton Road.
The plans provide space for excellent quality public transport interchange facilities on Picardy Place, and seem to elaborate on earlier proposals from the charity that sought to cut the number of buses that use Princes Street. The idea being that good quality integrated public transport interchanges make it far easier to cut the number of “through routes.”
To some these plans may seem radical, but Sustrans do hold some sway at the council.
There are already proposals to do away with the roundabout in its current form, and some form of hotel on the site looks inevitable to accommodate the King James Thistle Hotel whilst the St James Centre is rebuilt, even if locals have reservations about the size of it.
Additionally, the council is to commission investigative work as part of a £300,000 study (half-funded by Sustrans) into how the new dedicated cycle lanes on George Street can be linked with the Sustrans funded lanes which are to be built between Pilrig Street and Picardy Place on Leith, with a view to seeking further match funding from, yes, Sustrans to help pay for any final design proposal.
And of course the council has also been given the green light to borrow £61m from the “not a penny more for the Edinburgh tram” Scottish Government, in order to fund public realm improvements in the area.
Given all this, it would seem that some of the ideas in this Sustrans discussion document might actually fly. What do you think of them?
Get our weekly news
Join Greener Leith
Like what we do? Help us do more of it.
It costs just £5 per year to join Greener Leith. Click the paypal button below to join online.
If you are a Flattr user you can make a smaller donatation using this button: