The long-lasting disruption caused by trams in Leith has become “intolerable” for many locals, said Labor councilor for the region, Katrina Faccenda.
And she told fellow councilors that local businesses struggled and were sometimes forced to close despite the support offered by the council during the construction of the York Place extension in Newhaven.
Speaking to the transport committee, Cllr Faccenda congratulated the tram team for the progress of the line. She said: “Clearly lessons have been learned from the first phase – we can see the project is on schedule and on budget, which is quite an achievement given recent circumstances.”
But she continued: ‘My main concern is that as a council we always underestimate the impact that the work in progress is having on the people of Leith. As a city, we clearly recognize the importance of well-kept public spaces, but the people of Leith have been living in a permanent construction site not for months but for years. And these are sites that are not always kept as clannish and tidy as they should be. Many of them act as waste traps and many are used as stockyards for the long-term storage of materials. Many businesses have asked me why this is happening, why materials that won’t be used for months are already stacked and stored, like pavers, right in front of their businesses. They really cannot understand that there is no alternative to this.
Cllr Faccenda reported problems with buses and crossings. “I’m really not sure anyone who doesn’t regularly travel to and from Leith can appreciate the level of stress people go through on a daily basis. Negotiating public transport has become almost impossible if you don’t have access to a smart phone and even the bus app is of limited use as it cannot keep pace with diversions. Buses change routes every hour, there are changes in the bus stops served and we are now entering winter without many bus shelters – ironically we have shelters but they are tram shelters.
She said Leith had even lost a bus service, No 22. “One of the reasons, it is reported, is reduced usage. A big part of the reason buses have been used less in Leith is again because people who can walk or ride use this option even when they prefer to use the bus, simply because they never know if the bus will come and in which direction it will go.
The business support program had been well received by many companies, but it had not been sufficient for others. “Well-established businesses are closing and last week another business, a small independent bar on rue Bernard, announced its closure. Cash flow is vital for small businesses and when you get an evening of voucher payers, it won’t do much.
“I know everyone understands that life in a city is going to involve roadworks and the occasional disruption, but for a part of the city, having to put up with so much for so long has become intolerable for many. We need to recognize the level of disruption and stress the people of Leith have. We have to thank them for persevering through it all, and we have to recognize that our strategic plans for the city must also be balanced with the well-being of citizens in all parts of the city.
An update from the committee said the tram extension remained on schedule to become operational in spring 2023 and remained within the £207.3m budget. “All major construction, including the full electrification of the line, is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, ahead of a period of testing and commissioning which will begin in January 2023.”
Two-way traffic is expected to be back on Leith Walk and Constitution Street before the end of the year.