It Could Be Leith

Posted by chdot on May 14, 2008

Councils throughout Scotland are waiting to hear if their “Smarter Choices, Smarter Places” bids have been successful. This new funding stream from the Scottish Government is for what have also been called ‘Travel Demonstration Communities’. (Background)

Initially it was assumed that Edinburgh would be ‘too big’, but the guidelines made it clear that any ‘recognisable community’ up to 100,000 would be eligible. Various options were considered, mostly in the north and east of the city.

It was clear that “Leith” was both a well established/recognisable area and also a good candidate for this programme. It’s on the edge of path networks heading both east and west and is also having a tramline built through the middle. This is due to be completed in 2011, which will coincide with the third year of this (initially) three year funded initiative.

The precise boundaries of “Leith” are open to interpretation. It once had fixed boundaries as Leith was a town until 1920. One line was drawn across the middle of Leith Walk. As a consequence, the Boundary Bar (now called The City Limits) had different closing times in each half!

Various possible boundaries were considered by the Council for its bid. The catchment area of Leith Academy was a possibility. Adding Trinity Academy’s catchment was another option. This would have demonstrated the importance of schools (particularly the feeder primaries) in changing travel habits. City of Edinburgh Council has a long standing Safer Routes to Schools programme which mixes physical measures – traffic calming, speed restrictions etc. – with ‘softer’ initiatives including producing School Travel Plans.

The area settled on for the bid is that of the (relatively) new Leith Neighbourhood Partnership (one of twelve across the city) which covers the Leith and Leith Walk wards (population about 44,000). This is sensible as it will involve an existing dedicated team with responsibility for, or oversight of, many areas that are crucial to this demonstration project. As well as improvements to infrastructure – improved walking and cycling routes and the extension of the bustracker scheme, significant effort is planned to go into marketing the many alternatives to private car use.

This will include Travel Plans aimed at large employers and ‘destinations’ and also smaller ones for families. The purpose of the project isn’t just to substitute one means of transport for another on existing journeys. The idea is to also improve and/or highlight local amenities such as parks and path networks. These are places where people can go for fun and exercise as well as ‘transport’. Places where children can practice riding their bikes and adults can gain the confidence to consider using their own bikes for journeys – perhaps to work.

One positive spin-off from the bid process (even if it is not successful) is that there is now a recognition within the Council that not only do existing paths have to be promoted more – not least with appropriate signage – but money has to be spent on maintenance. Too often in the past ‘capital’ money has been spent without enough thought for the ‘revenue’ implications. One proposal is for a “ranger team” for the path network. This would have paid staff and not just rely on the excellent Sustrans Volunteer Rangers!

To add weight to their bids councils are expected to find partners and supporters. Greener Leith, (which has campaigned for improvements to the off-road path links in Leith), is one organisation that is supportive – and has even offered to help finding “matching money”. Alastair Tibbitt, Chair of Greener Leith, has told the Council that it “wholeheartedly supports the City of Edinburgh Council’s bid to the ‘Smarter Choices, Smarter Places’ project. There is no doubt that Leith needs investment in the local transport infrastructure if it is become more sustainable. As the regeneration of the docks proceeds, together with a number of other key sites, such as Shrubhill, the existing transport network is being placed under increasing stress. We hope that the Scottish Government will shortlist this project and we wish CEC every success in its bid. We would hope to be able to work with the council to seek further match funding for some capital improvements, should you be successful.”

Other partners include Spokes, Transport Edinburgh Limited/Lothian Buses, NHS Lothian, the Police and Sustrans. A decision is expected shortly.

Leith through to stage 2

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