Leith Walk renovations must start as soon as possible

A recent Leith Central Community Council meeting became quite heated when Leith Walk renovations came up for discussion. In no uncertain way several members expressed their displeasure with the lack of progress, with some going as far as to say that they ‘had lost trust in Edinburgh Council’. This provoked many comments on social media, e.g. the Broughton Spurtle, a petition against the reduction of parking started by a number of local traders and Greener Leith.

Considering it is now nearly 8 years that Leith Walk since been on the receiving end of tram works, it is understandable that people are losing patience. Businesses on Leith Walk are suffering, pedestrians and cyclists are dodging potholes. It is evident that the current state of the road prevents the local economy from thriving and deters tourists from venturing beyond Elm Row. In contrast it is particularly galling to see that in other areas of Edinburgh where the trams will actually run, top quality heritage materials are being installed. No wonder that in some quarters it is said that the current state of Leith Walk would simply not have been tolerated elsewhere in the City Centre.

Having said that, a brief history of the tram works on Leith Walk shows that current council officers in charge of the project have only relatively recently become involved; on 31st July 2012 the Leith and Central Neighbourhood Partnership was tasked with taking care of the tramworks shambles and implementing the Leith Walk Improvement Programme. A budget of £1.5m was allocated, to be spent almost entirely on a new road surface. This option would have been relatively quick and cheap but would have produced a traffic artery rather than a new heart for the community.

Picking up on local grumbling about the lack of a better plan, a campaign was launched on the 6th of January 2013 to do more and make Leith Walk a safe pedestrian/cycling route. Once responses from some 450 individuals and 11 local organisations – including contributions from all Leith community councils – were collated, this provided Edinburgh Council with all the right arguments to ask central government for more money. And although these negotiations have delayed the project by about 6 months – about which everyone was warned by council officers – there is now a budget of £9.1m to renovate Leith Walk.

The scheme will see improvements to the pedestrian environment, more pedestrian crossings, wider pavements, better lighting and improved trade waste arrangements. Cyclists too will get safer routes and hopefully business will thrive once again. It has not been easy, there are opposing ideas about what should be done, but there has been progress. The first tranche of the works, Constitution Street and Bernard Street junction, was completed on 18th of November and the renovation of the northern-most part of Leith Walk is due to start in the next few months. Clarity about these coming road works, however, is at the centre of the current dispute. Some traders believe that they have not been sufficiently informed about the number of parking places that will be lost to waste storage and cycle lanes – even with consultation outcomes in favour of these measures -, others feel that the works are simply progressing too slowly. In addition, even with regular stakeholder meetings with the Council, exact factual information such as technical specifications, transparency on decisions and precise construction dates have been hard to come by, despite LCCC’s repeated requests.

There can however be no doubt that everyone involved wants the project to be successful and finish as soon as possible. It also has generally been recognised that the only way forward is to keep soldiering on. LCCC, however, would like to see a few improvements to the current reporting of the stakeholder meetings*:

  1. Prepare and publish agendas well in advance
  2. Make audio recordings of the meetings.
  3. Publish minutes of the meetings.

LCCC believes that in this way there can be no argument over who said what, so that all can concentrate on the tasks in hand. No doubt there will be more frustration with the coming road closures as construction takes place, but it is in everyone’s interest that this project is completed as soon as possible so that Leith Walk can flourish again.

There is still time to express your views on whether wheelie bins should be permanently moved to parking spaces.  This will increase pedestrian access and reduce clutter on the pavements and reduce the number of parking spaces by a total of 34.   There are currently no plans to regulate parking on Leith Walk beyond the ‘Greenways’  parking scheme.  This is detailed in Draft Traffic Order Regulations for Leith Walk  on which you can comment until 6th of January 2014. Details on how to do this can be found here. A draft TRO gives information on proposed changes in traffic management or parking controls. They also describe who can use a road or even just a part of it. Edinburgh Council use them to place restrictions such as yellow lines, parking places or bus lanes.

*The stakeholder meetings  are attended by local councilors, council officers, reps from Leith Central CC, Leith Links CC, Leith Business Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and Greener Leith.