New tram line opens at last as attention turns to next phase

Wednesday June 7th 2023

Edinburgh TRams Open

Transport convener Scott Arthur (on the left) and council leader Cammy Day at the launch of Trams to Newhaven.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Edinburgh’s long-awaited tram line through Leith is here at last but already attention is turning to the next extension, which the city’s council leader hopes will complete the “north loop”.

Speaking on the eve of the launch of passenger services to Newhaven, Council leader Cammy Day said plans could be brought forward in the next 12 months to lay more track on the capital’s streets – backing a link to Granton in his ward.

Cllr Day pointed out the council already has the necessary permission from the government to crack on with a Haymarket-Granton line, known as ‘1b’ under the original proposals, adding it would be “right to finish the north loop” first.

He said: “What we need to get to is a business case for that and the exact route we might now take. I would like to see in the next year that we bring forward a plan for the north of Edinburgh.”

He said it was also “absolutely incumbent” to explore options for south of the city too.

“The Granton spur should be first, and we have an outstanding commitment in the council to look at whether we can take the tram past the airport into Newbridge, so that will also be looked at – but there’s a solid case to get it out to the south,” he added.

The latest addition to the city’s tram line opened to the public today although work is far from finished on the £207m scheme, as a two-year programme to address remaining defects gets underway.

The opening means that nine years on from trams returning to Edinburgh for the first time in nearly 60 years – which came to little fanfare after the route delivered was less than half the length and more than double the cost originally planned – the section which was due to be included in that initial, disaster-struck phase is finally operational.

It is anticipated the impact will be enormous and wide-ranging for communities which now have access to services running every seven minutes between the airport and one of Scotland’s most densely populated neighbourhoods – providing reliable transport links, cutting pollution and boosting investment and tourism in the newly-served areas.

But the benefits now set to be reaped have been far from cost-free for businesses and residents around Leith who are still recovering from the four-year construction saga which has taken its toll.

“For the community it’s been a massive imposition on their lives and we didn’t shy away from that as we’ve gone through construction,” said Hannah Ross, the council’s senior responsible officer for the project.

“The culture on the project has been absolutely key, we’ve worked really well together across the contractor group.”

Ms Ross was among officials, councillors and others involved in delivering Trams to Newhaven who took an exclusive ride ahead of the big launch.

“It’s been a huge part of my life and from a personal perspective I feel a huge sense of pride and appreciation of everybody I’ve worked with both within the project and the wider council and community,” Ms Ross said shortly after the service departed Picardy Place at noon on Tuesday.

Gliding past the shops and bars which have endured through tough times over the past four years, and the occasional tourist waiting at tram stops unaware the new line was yet to open, she reflected on how despite initially spelling disaster for her team, the pandemic was where the project “really came into it’s own”.

She said: “The problem solving we had to do to shut down the site and reopen it, and the ways that we had to reopen it was really important.”

She added: “Like any construction contract we’ve got a two-year defects period for anything that goes wrong and needs to be corrected.”

Harald Tobermann, a spokesperson for a group of community councils representing residents living along the construction route, praised Ms Ross’ management and said compared to the previous tram fiasco this phase had gone “quite smoothly”.

However he said things haven’t gone so well “around the edges”.

He said “a lot more work and money needs to be spent” to “get things right”.

He added: “In terms of the defects we have what I would call design issues. Major things need to be changed; one of the biggest examples is Elm Row which is a real dog’s breakfast.

“The famous bicycle path up and down Leith Walk was in principle a good idea, but it was a really cack-handed way of implementing it. So that all needs tackling – and it needs money and resources in the council which to this day are not in place.”

A freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service found there were 590 defects that needed to be fixed as of February – the council was unable to provide an updated figure when asked last month – with the vast majority to do with ‘hard landscaping’ along the route.

Mr Tobermann said Edinburgh would “a better city” with trams going through Leith but added: “Those improvements we’re calling for need to be there as well.”

The community councils are pushing for Ms Ross and other senior officers who have led the scheme since construction began to be kept in their roles, at least on a part-time basis, whilst snagging issues are dealt with.

However transport convener Councillor Scott Arthur said they would now move on to other jobs in the council, adding the team could play a role in the next phase “to Granton or down towards Dalkeith”.

Cllr Arthur said trams were “really going to change things in Leith”.

He added new housing developments and businesses along the line were there “because people knew the tram line was coming”.

Council leader Cammy Day said he was “confident” the new transport link would be well-used and promised to keep engaging with communities as they adapted to the changes and any remaining defects were fixed.

He said: “There’s already an enhanced parking attendant scheme on Leith Walk who have been aware of some vehicles parking on the pavement and that becomes an issue if there are buses, trams or cars trying to pass so we have a team who will keep control of that.

“I absolutely accept there will be some delays until we get into a new way of working and people respect that the tram takes precedence over the streets now.”

It is expected a public consultation on the next phase will be launched by the council in the summer.

Tweet Share on Facebook  

Subscribe to the Midlothian View newsletter

Support Midlothian View from as little as £1. It only takes a minute. Thank you.

Comments are closed.