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City Deal curate’s egg – and the sad bit is transport

From a sustainable transport perspective – and indeed a general sustainability perspective – the £1,000,000,000 Edinburgh City-Region Deal disappoints badly…

Yes, some aspects of the City Deal, notably the many digital technology plans, are truly exciting and hugely innovative, but on transport the proposals are depressingly familiar.

More generally, nowhere in the 8-page Executive Summary of this massive £1bn agreement, which will transform many aspects of our area for years to come, do terms such as environmental sustainability, climate, public health or active travel appear – hardly believable and so disappointing from a government and councils for whom these are supposed to be vital considerations.

As far as active travel is concerned, and perhaps even sustainability in general, it looks like the usual story – ‘big’ decisions on economic growth, road construction, etc, are taken, and only then is it attempted to fit in ‘minor’ considerations such as getting about on foot or by bike.  A pattern which has failed so badly so often in projects such as the layout of Edinburgh’s tramlines – or designing the Bathgate-Airdrie rail line to connect to nearby towns only by road, leaving the local council to pick up the walking and cycling pieces as and when it can raise the cash.

CYCLING DEVELOPMENT ??

On transport, the centrepiece of the Deal is £120m from the Scottish Government for Sheriffhall roundabout.   Not to mention the fact that the Government has already selected a design acknowledged to be the least satisfactory for walking and cycling of the 3 options considered – and now the subject of a Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee hearing and a concerned motion by Alison Johnstone MSP.

Incidentally, since the government had already promised to rebuild Sheriffhall, either the £120m will be transferred to the City Deal from the trunk roads budget, so is not really new money, or, if it comes from another budget, this will be yet more trunk road spending but which manages not to appear in the trunk road books.

More positively, there should be the cash to allow high quality cycling infrastructure as part of major housing and/or other developments in West Edinburgh, Winchburgh, Blindwells, Edinburgh’s Waterfront, Calderwood, Shawfair, Tweedbank and Dunfermline.

For West Edinburgh, Council Leader Adam McVey tweeted that 40% of the £20m transport expenditure planned there would be for public transport, walking and cycling (presumably 60% for roads).  And for our public meeting on Benefiting Business through Cycling last year, former Transport Convener Lesley Hinds prepared an article suggesting the City Deal would bring cycling infrastructure in West Edinburgh, the Waterfront (where 12,000 homes are planned) and at the Little France BioQuarter.

However the extent and quality of infrastructure – and indeed if there will be any at all in some areas – is far from guaranteed and is likely to need strong pressure and keen ongoing attention from concerned people in all the above areas.

We are far from the only body to express concern.   The Cockburn Association, Edinburgh’s building watchdog, states,

“almost half of the money is earmarked for roads, which is likely to increase traffic and emissions” and it promises The Cockburn will be scrutinising the implementation, happy to congratulate when results show clear regard for the character of Edinburgh and the quality of life of citizens, but also critical when these vital matters are sacrificed to the god of GDP.”

Green Councillor and  Spokes member Melanie Main says…

“On transport, the priority should be dramatic improvements to public transport, walking and cycling; instead the centrepiece is the Sheriffhall roundabout.”

Labour Councillor and Spokes member Scott Arthur confirms our point that the Sheriffhall cash is double-counting by the Scottish Government, and on the new housing he says that it …

“must be energy efficient, sustainable and set within developments which have consideration for active transport at the core of their design.”

Sustrans Scotland earlier this year made a submission to the Scottish Parliament on City Deals, commenting as below.  They can hardly be happy with the Edinburgh City Deal!

“So far the transport priority (in Scottish City Deals) has been vehicular movement at the expense of active travel.  If this continues it could undo significant progress across Scotland.”

WHAT WE HAVE MISSED

A City-Region deal in which active travel, public health and climate change were considered top priorities would include…

  • High quality cycle infrastructure linking Edinburgh with all the surrounding authorities – perhaps based on the SEStran Cross-Boundary Cycle Development report
  • A big City Centre rethink to give high priority to walking and cycling in the central area and notably in Princes Street – like Glasgow‘s City Deal is doing, first in Sauchiehall Street and then more widely across the centre

    Princes Street, Scotland’s premier street

  • Town centres across the Region made more people-friendly to attract local trade and reduce car-domination.

    Linlithgow High Street – just try crossing it or cycling along it.  And there are more cars than people on the footways in this picture.

More generally, Spokes member Councillor Gavin Corbett last year convened a seminar on developing a Green City Deal, to foster a more environmentally sustainable City Region.  His report…

“offers a flavour of the kinds of ingredients which could make the Edinburgh City Region Deal a trailblazer, both as the most sustainable City Deal yet seen in the UK and as a model of the low carbon economy on which our most progressive international competitors are already well-advanced.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO
  • Contact your Councillors to offer your views on the City-Region deal, and whether they have found the best way to invest £1,000,000,000.  Find them here.
  • There will not now be a change in the overall thrust of the Deal, but with enough pressure there could be some good cycling infrastructure in the areas above.  Tell your councillors the type of major changes that are needed in the areas which are to get heavy investment: West Edinburgh, Winchburgh, Blindwells, Edinburgh’s Waterfront, Calderwood, Shawfair, Tweedbank and Dunfermline.
  • If the Sheriffhall roundabout proposals concern you, read our article and follow up the actions suggested there.
  • Also on Sheriffhall ask your MSPs (you have 1 Constituency MSP and several Regional ones) if they will sign Alison Johnstone‘s motion S5M-06714.  Two local Regional MSPs have already done so – Neil Findlay (Labour) and Andy Wightman (Green).
  • Retweet our tweet of this article

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