In 2010, when the tram project was first cut short to end at Picardy Place, there was just £2.3m in the council kitty to fix Leith Walk and Constitution Street.
When people complained that that budget seemed barely enough to resurface the road properly, at first folk were simply told that there was no more money.
When it became clear that even this money would not be enough to make the road safe, locals were told again there was no more money – and that to put in place a design that even began to reflect local priorities it would require more money from the Scottish Government.
This week, the Scottish Government finally announced a further £3.6m pounds for Leith Walk, bringing the total budget for the regeneration of the street up to £8.6million
Apparently, a key reason that the budget has more than tripled is that so many people and civic society organisations – both local and national – worked together to support an ambitious future for Leith Walk, one that should make it more prosperous and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Announcing the extra Scottish Government cash today, Keith Brown, Transport Minister 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 responding, Transport Convenor Lesley Hinds said: “Today’s announcement means that we can now deliver on our commitment for an enhanced design from the Foot of The Walk to Picardy Place. This will prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and sustainable modes of transport as well as creating a vibrant and lively thoroughfare which will benefit local residents and businesses as well as those visiting the area. The design was developed following extensive consultation with the local community and I welcome the opportunity to deliver on the aspirations expressed by locals during the consultation process.
“We have draft designs and we will work over the next few weeks to finalise them. As well as working with Sustrans we will ensure our stakeholders are updated with our plans.”
Charlotte Encombe, Chair of Greener Leith also welcomed the news. She said: “This is terrific news for everyone who share our ambition to come up with a more sustainable design for Leith Walk. I’d like to thank all the individuals and organisations who have worked hard to make this happen. With this money in place we can now look forward to a more people-friendly Leith Walk.”
“It will be easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists, whilst the public realm improvements should create optimal conditions for local shops and businesses to thrive.
“It is an extremely complex project if you take into account the many demands and expectations for this road. No doubt the devil will be in the detail when it comes to finalising the design, but with everyone pulling in the same direction I am confident that this much-needed investment into Leith Walk will go a long way to help improve this great street.”
Other local politicians welcomed the news too. Deidre Brock, Leith Walk councillor said she was “delighted,” on Twitter.
— Deidre Brock (@DeidreBrock) September 24, 2013
Leith Councillor, Chas Booth said: “The Scottish Government announcement of funding to improve the cycle infrastructure on Leith Walk is good news, and will be welcomed by current and future cyclists in Leith.
“I have long supported calls from local community groups for modern, safe cycle infrastructure on Leith Walk so I’m very hopeful this funding will allow that to happen. Leith Walk is currently a horrendous cycling experience, and was recently named one of the worst streets for cycling in the whole of the UK. So investment in improving cycle facilities is long overdue.
“In the council’s recent consultation on the future of Leith Walk there was also overwhelming support for improving conditions for cyclists; this funding should allow the council to respond to that public demand.”
What this means for Leith Walk
The council has already produced an “enhanced” design for Leith Walk that could cost at least £8.6m to deliver. You can see part of it here.
Proposed improvements include:
- A segregated uphill cycle lane running from Pilrig Street to the Omni centre.
- Wider pavements and re-designed junctions to make it safer and more attractive to pedestrians.
- The removal of the “cyclist blender” roundabout at London Road, and replacement with a signalised T-junction.
- More crossing points for pedestrians, including zebra crossings, on the section north of Pilrig Street.
- “De-cluttering” of the street – including moves to manage the number and placement of bins.
What happens next
The council is likely to move fairly quickly to finalise the design of the whole street so that the work can be put out to tender.
Despite this, we believe that there is still room to improve the plans. For example, we’re keen to see the segregated bike lanes that keep cyclists away from the traffic extended so that people travelling north can make more use of them.
Crucially, designs for many of the junctions – such as the Foot of the Walk, and the junction at Pilrig Street – are also still to be finalised, and there remains a preoccupation in some parts of the council with “traffic flow,” when planning laws dictate that wider placemaking concerns, such as the needs of pedestrians, shoppers and cyclists should take precedence.
For our part, Greener Leith will continue to push where we can for a design that reflects the priorities set out in our “joint consultation response” that was also supported and put together with the help of hundreds of local people, members of several local community groups, all three local community councils, and groups such as SPOKES, Pedal on Parliament, Living Streets and The Cockburn Association.
As for when the works will actually begin, officials say they plan to work their way up the hill to Picardy Place from the Foot of the Walk, starting next year.
It’s not known when the bunting will go up to celebrate the works completion. Or, for that matter, whether the works at the top end of Leith Walk will end up happening at the same time as building starts on a proposed hotel on the roundabout at Picardy Place.
Photo credit: Jungle Boy