Following our recent post about Leith Walk which expressed concern over the way that the council was responding to the hundreds of consultation responses that have been submitted, we’ve been sent an email response via a Leith Ward resident from Councillor Andrew Burns, Leader of the City Council.
Cllr Burns was invited to write a guest post for this site in response to the article, but he declined. However, he has given permission for this email to published more widely and it has already been published elsewhere.
Greener Leith Chair, Charlotte Encombe, has also penned a further reply to his email, which picks up on some of the points he raises. Her response follows this email from Cllr Burns. He writes:
Many thanks for your various tweets over the weekend about the issue of the Leith Programme consultation and design.
You’ll hopefully know that this was all reported to the Transport and Environment Committee back in March 2013 … for information, that report can be found here:
And you were highlighting concerns, with me, that were being expressed in a Greener Leith blog-post; here: http://greenerleith.org.uk/blog/leith-walk-public-consultation-so-good-ignored-entirely-2573
Firstly, I think it’s really important that for all viewing these designs (that have appeared on an external website to the Council) that their status is properly understood. They appear to be drafts which were produced back in February 2013, but their draft status seems to have been removed from the images shown in the Greener Leith blog. They are not in any way indicative of the current status of the designs and should not be viewed or represented as either final or approved designs.
The design process for all sections of Leith Walk is still constantly evolving, with the next internal design meeting for the sections between Pilrig Street / Iona Street and the Foot of the Walk (referred to as the northern end of Leith Walk in this blog post) scheduled for the 10th May.
Work is also ongoing to develop designs for sections between Picardy Place and Pilrig Street / Iona Street (the southern section). One set of designs is being developed in partnership with Sustrans, as the Council wishes to apply for external funding in order to deliver a much enhanced scheme that will deliver significant benefits for pedestrians and cyclists. These cost of developments is beyond the available Council budget for the scheme. A second set of designs is being developed just in case funding for the section can not be identified, this design will not include enhanced elements but is deliverable within the Council’s existing budget. This process was summarised in the report to the Transport and Environment Committee of 19th March, link as above.
At the Transport and Environment Committee of 19th March it was only final designs for Constitution Street that were approved. This can be verified in the report ‘The Leith Programme: Consultation and Design’ or in the minutes of that meeting. You can control+click to follow those underlined links.
Prior to the Committee Councillor Hinds had chaired a meeting on 25th February with key local stakeholders (including Greener Leith who attended) and local Ward Councillors, who were able to discuss the designs for Constitution Street and check their adherence to findings from consultation process.
For the northern part of Leith Walk, the Committee agreed an outline design only, with the final design to be approved through an oversight group of the Convener, Vice Convener and local Councillors.This meeting of this oversight group is yet to be scheduled.
However, at the request of Councillor Hinds (Convener of Transport and Environment Committee) last week, ahead of any approval of designs by the oversight group being given, a further meeting with stakeholders and local Ward Councillors has been arranged for 6th June 2013, this time to review the draft designs for northern sections of Leith Walk, and also preview evolving designs for the southern sections.
The purpose of Councillor Hinds’ meeting on 6th June will be to seek feedback from stakeholders on the designs, and stakeholders are due to receive an invitation to that event later this week.
The final point worth noting is that all feedback from the consultation process was published on the Council website on 13th March 2013, so that live links from the report which was considered by the Transport and Environment Committee on 19th March 2013 could be followed. A response to an FOI enquiry in April regarding public availability of this information re-iterated that, and provided these links again. They are and will remain available as downloads (control+click) from the Council website, or from links in the report.
Anyone is free to review the content of consultation findings, and they will be able to see the full range of responses.
As a cautionary note, any designs appearing ahead of the meeting with stakeholders 6th June 2013 should be viewed only as further evolving draft material, even if they do not appear to be marked up as such, and any concerns regarding the status of any drawings which have made their way into the public domain can be referred back to the Leith Programme project team, via the City Centre and Leith
Neighbourhood, for checking or any questions, on 0131 529 7061.
Thanks again for raising your concerns directly with me – please don’t hesitate to pass on this information as you best see fit.
Labour Councillor for Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart Ward
Labour Group and City of Edinburgh Council Leader
Tel: 0131 529 3287 (w) or: 07880 502 212 (m)
And Charlotte Encombe, Chair of Greener Leith replies:
I’d like to thank the Leader of the Council for providing a prompt response to our recent blog post on the draft design proposals for Leith Walk, “Leith Walk: Consultation results so good they can be ignored entirely”.
I would like to respond to his email as follows:
Regarding the supposed easy availability of these consultation results, I must disagree with Cllr Burns and would like to emphasise that Greener Leith would not have gone through the trouble of a Freedom Of Information process if the consultation responses in question had been readily accessible on the Council’s website.
As Cllr Burns asserts, they may theoretically have been available, in practice however they were virtually impossible to find. I am however very grateful to Cllr Burns for highlighting the relevant links so that others too can take note of the responses to the consultation.
Furthermore, as he no doubt is aware, the formality of an FOI request acts as a “fact checking” mechanism that has given Greener Leith the reassurance that we have indeed had access to all the relevant consultation responses.
Draft or Final plans? Cllr Burns suggests in his email that the designs presented in our blog post are represented as final or approved designs. This certainly is not the case. The word ‘draft’ appears five times in the post and it is made clear at the start that these draft proposals were already several weeks old. The post also concludes that Greener Leith is looking forward to much improved finalised designs.
With regard to the plans that we used in the blog post, these are details of the drawings published by CEC on 25th February 2013. They have been cropped on the blog for ease of reading. The actual word ‘draft’ on the plans, usually in the far right bottom corner, has been left off in favour of a more accessible image online.
It is reassuring however to hear that the designs we reviewed are likely to improve and we look forward to seeing the revised proposals at the earliest opportunity.
Most importantly, however, the Greener Leith article wasn’t published with the intention of getting bogged down in the semantics and time-keeping details of the Leith Walk Improvement Programme. We are looking for clear answers to the questions raised in the blog post. For example, we would be very interested in seeing evidence of those voices that are arguing for a more “car-centric” design on Leith Walk. We certainly were not able to find any.
For the same reasons we would like to see evidence of any requests for the staggered pedestrian crossings that are now dotting the designs; evidence of folk in favour of the left filtering turns for buses so that there is no space for dedicated cycle lanes. We couldn’t find anyone asking for those in the responses. What we did find were hundreds of people commenting on the need to improve safety for cyclists on Leith Walk.
We would also like to see more evidence that the design principles for Leith Walk are aligned with Scottish Government and council policy (such as Designing Streets and the Active Travel Action Plan) and will aid to promote Leith Walk as a successful place and an enjoyable destination in its own right.
Because, for anyone reading the comments, it is abundantly clear that there is an overwhelming consensus in favour of a street design that not only prioritises the safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists, but that also gives Leith Walk back its sense of place.
Given this very clear outcome the City of Edinburgh Council really ought to reassure the many local groups and individuals that have got involved that it is indeed ready and willing to listen and act on the extensive feedback they’ve received.
On behalf of Greener Leith I would like to thank Cllr Burns again for taking the time to respond to our concerns. We look forward to the opportunity to comment on the next phase of the reinstatement of Leith Walk,
Chair Greener Leith