May 2022

Edinburgh Council 2022 & Active Travel

Rather unexpectedly, given the results of the election on 5 May, the City is now run by a minority Labour administration, replacing the previous SNP/Labour coalition. What does this mean for active travel? (AT)

Election outcome

The election, operating under the single transferable vote, produced the following numbers of councillors, roughly proportional to the votes cast…

PartySeats wonGain/Loss

There was initial expectation that the previous SNP/Labour coalition would continue (the only combination now to have an overall majority) or perhaps be expanded into a ‘rainbow’ coalition with the Greens. However, partly due to Scottish Labour’s wish to avoid coalitions, Edinburgh Labour councillors proposed a minority Labour administration based on Labour’s manifesto; whilst SNP and Greens drew up a combined programme for a minority SNP/Green administration.

At the crucial May 26 Council meeting, LibDems and Conservatives supported the Labour proposal, which therefore won the day. It is a minority administration, not a coalition, and Labour is clear that it intends to implement its full manifesto; whilst others fear that Labour will be in hock to LibDems and Conservatives and will retreat on issues such as AT. Only time will tell who is correct.

Given the similarities between the Labour, SNP and Green manifestos on AT and many other policy areas Labour hopes for cross-party agreement and support on shared ambitions. Conversely, LibDems and Conservatives make clear that they are in oppostion, not coalition, and will vote against proposals they disagree with from the Labour administration.

Given that Labour is in a very clear minority it is possible the arrangement will prove unstable when problems arise, as they always do; but on the other hand we may see a new model of cross-party working based on voting issue by issue. Again, only time will tell!

Finally, we pay tribute to outgoing Transport Convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, and her Deputy, Cllr Karen Doran. Without these councillors, it is unlikely we would now have 40km of main-road protected cycleroutes; or the policy background which should lead to a more people-friendly and climate-friendly city, albeit implementation so far has proved slower than we hoped.

Active Travel Policies

The Labour manifesto is here, and our comparison of party manifestos here (pdf table here). Overall we found the Green manifesto best for AT. However, both Labour and SNP were very good although they differed in that Labour came out particularly well on AT funding, whilst SNP had the strongest policies on car-use reduction.

With Labour now forming the administration, they will attempt to implement their manifesto. The relevant pages are pasted in at the end of this article, but on AT they include..

  • Increase AT spending to 15% of the transport budget – and new Transport Convener, Cllr Scott Arthur, reaffirmed this in his speech to Council.
  • Increase the footway maintenance budget by 20%
  • Increase the pedestrian crossing budget (which includes toucans) by 20%
  • Improve and extend the network of protected cycleroutes, filling current significant gaps
  • Developing LTNs, with local community involvement

Traffic reduction will be a major challenge and a fascinating test for Labour on climate and creating a more liveable city. To take a controversial example, although Scottish Labour opposed a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL), Edinburgh Labour did not mention it in their manifesto, thus leaving themselves the option of going either way. Existing Council policy has already instructed officiers to report on a possible WPL for the city, and with the Lib Dems potentially supporting it, and thus a possible SNP/Green/LibDem majority for WPL, Labour would be hard put to join the Conservatives in opposing a well thought-out scheme.

Transport Convener

The new Transport Convener is Scott Arthur, Labour councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead, although he may not be in post for many months as there is talk of a Committee reorganisation in the autumn once new councillors have gained experience.

Cllr Arthur is a regular utility cyclist and also a strong advocate of bus, walk and, for those who need a car, the car club. He has been widely criticised on social media for a lukewarm attitude to Spaces for People [example] but more recently has urged faster progress on the ETRO process [experimental traffic order] which will make the schemes permanent following public engagement.

It is also noteworthy that in 2018, when the SNP/Labour coalition voted *against* continuing the Leith Street uphill cycleroute (and a wider footway) up to Princes Street, Cllr Arthur broke the Labour whip and supported a Green amendment on this by Cllr Chas Booth (which sadly was defeated 8-3).

We are particularly pleased to see that Cllr Arthur has already raised the issue of staffing for AT work, which has been a major issue in the delays we have seen. There have been significant improvements in the last year, but it is certainly a matter that needs continual attention.

Lib Dem future

The attitudes of a party group can alter very significantly when there is a big turnover of councillors. We saw this, for example, two elections ago, when an SNP which had fairly traditional views on transport and active travel became much more positive thanks to the retiral of some of the ‘old guard’ and an influx of new blood. Might we see similar with the Lib Dems in the new Council, now up from 6 to 12 councillors, given that several of their young influx are very enthusiastic about cycling and walking, whilst their veteran leader is now the Lord Provost and so largely out of politics?

The party’s timidity on cycling during the last Council could also be considered something of an aberration given that it was Lib Dem councillor Gordon Mackenzie who, as Transport Convener in 2012, introduced Edinburgh’s then UK-leading policy of allocating 5% of the capital and revenue transport budgets to cycling, then rising by 1% a year to 10%.

What you can do

  • Whilst the Council has a Labour administration, it is very much in a minority and will need the votes of other parties to get any of its policies through. So it is essential to keep up pressure on all your councillors, not just the Labour ones. Tell them what you’d like to see from the new Council. Find them here
  • See the briefing note we send to all councillors shortly after the election
  • Retweet our tweet of this post

Relevant extracts from the Labour 2022 Council election manifesto

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