End of Trams?

Posted by chdot on May 5, 2007

tram + bike
Interesting times. The Scottish Parliament now has only one Independent – Edinburgh’s own Margo MacDonald – and two Greens (including their very first MSP, former Edinburgh teacher Robin Harper), five fewer than before. The Council has three Greens (up from zero) and twelve SNP Councillors (previously one). This may merely reflect the fact that the Council was elected by proportional representation for the first time and Labour is also relatively unpopular at present.

One policy where the SNP is at odds with all the other parties on City of Edinburgh Council – and which may have helped it pick up votes – is the provision of trams. The SNP clearly campaigned with the promise that if it gained power in the Scottish Parliament it would scrap Edinburgh’s ‘expensive’ tram plans. They now have a month to create a coalition (or try to govern alone as the party with the greatest number of seats – one more than Labour).

Generally environmental and cycling groups are in favour of trams as they would provide good quality public transport. In some parts of the world they are successfully persuading people to abandon their cars for many journeys. Lothian cycle campaign Spokes, took a decision to back trams in spite of unease about the loss of the Roseburn Corridor in its present form. Spokes had secured guarantees that if a tram line were built from Haymarket to the Waterfront on the former railway line, a walk/cycle path would be created alongside – though this would not be useable while construction work was proceeding.

Planned changes to this leafy part of the North Edinburgh Cycle Network were too much for some people who resigned from Spokes. The reluctance of the Council’s transport company tie to enthusiastically embrace the idea of carrying bikes on trams and, more importantly, to plan properly to accommodate cycling along Princes Street, has not endeared it to some people who would like to be more enthusiastic about the idea of trams.

IF the SNP still wishes to stop the tram schemes (and deal with any contractual issues) there will be money available for spending elsewhere. SNP MSP Kenny MacAskill who is now the Member for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh (previously a Lothian List MSP) may be a key player. Last year he was calling for a referendum. “Council taxpayers in Edinburgh are entitled to a vote on whether or not they want their hard-earned money spent on trams and to be paying for them for decades to come.” In spite of some vociferous opposition, it is far from certain that people in Edinburgh would vote against tram plans.

IF the trams are cancelled (with or without a referendum) it is important that the money is not just transferred into other ‘BIG Projects’ – road building or a new high speed rail line to Glasgow. Smaller scale projects, such as re-opening Edinburgh’s South Suburban Line (which runs through MacAskill’s new constituency) to passengers, would be more useful. Smaller scale projects improving conditions for cyclists and pedestrians and providing universally available Cycle Training for primary school pupils would be highly cost effective (and socially and environmentally beneficial). ‘Safe Routes to School’ should also be a basic part of a rational transport/Active Travel policy. Kenny MacAskill was the SNP’s first Transport Spokesman in the Scottish Parliament (1999). At that time he was a parent at Sciennes Primary which was a highly effective ‘Safe Routes’ pioneer in Edinburgh and he took a keen interest in ‘Safe Routes’ issues.

But most things will still be decided and implemented locally. The make-up of the coalition may be decided behind closed doors this weekend (Evening News story). Three former councillors who had expected to be re-elected, are Trevor Davies (high profile, and sometimes controversial, Planning chairman), Sue Tritton (keen on recycling and reducing light pollution from street lights) and Lawrence Marshall (Public Transport campaigner – especially on rail). Their expertise will be missed.

More than half of Edinburgh’s new councillors are new to the Council, (you now have three or four depending which ward you are in). They will no doubt need helpful advice on what should be done to make life better for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users – who are NOT three distinct groups of people.

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