Even before it became clear that the council had scrapped plans to build trams down Leith Walk for the foreseable future, there’s been a debate over what the future might hold for the street.
Ray Perman called for the council to set out a vision for Leith Walk in May 2011, and in July 2011 Ross Armstrong called for something to be done about the street clutter – a call we reiterated a couple of weeks ago, because if anything, it’s only got worse in the intervening months.
Also in July last year we wondered why the council seemed to be exacerbating the effect of the economic recession and the collapse of the tram project by disinvesting from Leith.
In September, our Chair, Charlotte Encombe called for immediate action to improve Leith Walk, and more recently it has emerged that the owners of the derelict Shrubhill House have put the site back on the market once again.
We’re pretty sure therefore that we’ll not be the only ones to be delighted to learn that the City of Edinburgh Council has at last announced that they are to consult the public on putting together a ‘Vision For Leith.’
This is a vision that could influence how more than £3million that is earmarked for Leith Walk will be spent, so there’s actually some cash to back up people’s aspirations.
The big debate really is whether people just want Leith Walk put back to how it was in 2008, before tram chaos descended, or do you think it could be improved upon?
If you attend this event, here’s three ideas that the council could pursue. If you agree with them, be sure to tell your councillors and council officers – at this event, or by email.
1. Extend plans to provide free wi-fi to cover the entire length of Leith Walk.
The council is due a guaranteed share of the £100million Urban Broadband fund announced by Westminster.
As the map above shows, the first draft of the Edinburgh proposal extends free wi-fi coverage to cover the Tram route, the city centre and indeed the Meadows. However, it is only propsoed to extend the free wi-fi coverage as far as Pilrig Street.
If one of the purposes of the fund is to create ‘super-connected’ cities and promote economic regeneration, leaving the poorer end of the Leith Walk out of the plan would seem counter productive.
Given how much tram pain Leith has suffered for absolutely no gain – perhaps this is one way the council could make ammends.
2. Design Leith Walk for pedestrians, cyclists and buses.
This video from New York shows how streets are being redesigned to accomodate all the people in the neighbourhood – including pedestrians, cyclists and bus users. If it was possible to fit two way tram tracks on Leith Walk – it must surely be possible to redesign the street to include dedicated and physically seperated cycle lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and better quality pedestrian crossings.
There are several good reasons to do this:
- Leith is one of the few parts of the city where only a minority of local households have access to a car. Most people get about in other ways.
- Most of the main roads in Leith are either breaching, or at risk of breaching, air quality laws.
- A crash map of the area shows that most serious accidents happen on main roads. Coupling a redesign of the street with a 20mph speed limit would make the street far safer for all road users.
Making these changes may require that some car parking is removed from the street, and the people who most vocally oppose these moves are local traders. Yet research by SUSTRANS shows local traders consistently overestimate the role of the car in bringing custom to their shops. In fact, they show that most local businesses would benefit from having a more pedestrian friendly environment.
Our own local consultation shows that Leithers view putting dedicated bike lanes on main roads, and making the street more pedestrian friendly – by adding trees and flowers – as high priorities.
3. Make a register of commercial property owners available to the public.
This isn’t our idea. It’s 23rd in the list of Mary Portas’ 28 recommendations for revitalising Town Centres.
In Leith, we have some of the 28 in place already, but this one could be vital to making it easier for people to set-up pop-up shops and temporary retail outlets.
The first barrier to anyone doing anything with an empty shop unit is establishing who owns it, and who they need to get permission from. Perhaps if this was made easier we might see more great projects like Leith Lates helping to make Leith Walk an exciting vibrant place.
It could even help to name and shame owners of shops units that have been allowed to fall into virtual dereliction.
The council could help make this information available to the public. We’d be delighted to publish it.