“NEXT stop Dalkeith” is something future tram commuters could be hearing if ambitious plans to extend the controversial travel network out to the Midlothian town are realised.
City officials have revealed they are planning future growth around a tram line extension potentially being built out as far as Dalkeith.
But the ambitious vision – revealed here before the present line to the airport is even finished – has already been labelled “fanciful”.
One Transport Scotland spokesman said that given the current plan has already been severely cut back to just the eight-mile airport to city centre route, it appears to be a case of town hall bosses running before they can walk.
“It seems fanciful to be talking about taking the tram to Dalkeith when the council have already had to curtail the plan for the current line, which was originally to go to Newhaven,” a spokesman for the Government transport body said.
The news that a “safeguard” of land is being set aside for a spur of the tram network to stretch as far as eight miles to the city’s south-east was made by Edinburgh planning convener Cllr Ian Perry, just four months from the targeted finish line for the £776m project.
He said it was a future “ambition” for the route to eventually run out to Dalkeith – a destination not part of the original tram network proposal first floated in 2001.
But he said an expansion was for a future council administration to address, with no existing plans, timeline or funding set aside to build an extension in the next five years.
“When it [traffic] starts to reach a critical mass, my view is that the tram line will have to go down Leith Walk,” he said. “There is even an ambition to take the tram out to Dalkeith eventually.”
Details of the long-term vision emerged as the council continues to face vitriol from businesses and the public over a limited Edinburgh Airport to York Place line that is heavily over-budget and over-time.
A proposed south-east spur of the tram network would run up tio the Royal Infirmary and onward towards Sheriffhall.
Safeguards for potential tram lines running through Leith to Newhaven, out to Granton and past Edinburgh Royal Infirmary towards Dalkeith are already included in the city’s proposed Local Development Plan [LDP].
The plan will guide the city’s expansion from 2015-20, setting policies on how land can be used and where new housing and infrastructure can be built.
Council leader Andrew Burns, inset right, said: “We don’t want to do anything to prevent the possibility of the tram route extending in the future but, at present, there are no plans to extend the line beyond York Place.”
Under the original trams network proposal, three lines would have been built, with a circular route running around the northern suburbs and connecting Granton, Newhaven and Leith to the city centre.
The spur to Granton was scrapped in 2009 amid financial constraints, with the project scaled back further two years ago to omit the Leith link.
Discussion of a future line to Dalkeith, which would require the co-operation of Midlothian Council, was dismissed by the Scottish Government today.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Ministers have repeatedly stated that any decisions on extending the scheme would be for the council to decide on and fund.
“The Scottish Government did not back the tram project when Parliament voted in favour of pressing ahead with it. Following the vote, ministers declared that they would support the project, but would not provide additional funding beyond the £500m already committed – that position still stands today. Our immediate focus, and that of the council, should be on delivering a tram project that will help erase the memories of what has gone before, and breathe new life into the Capital.”
But Ruth McKay, Edinburgh chairwoman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said members were ready to have a “conversation” about the possibility of expanding the tram project. She said the contentious subject had been raised at recent meetings to discuss the city centre’s development, with business leaders keen to debate the merits.
Ms McKay said: “There’s been a huge amount of focus on the city centre – an enormous amount of money has been put into that, which is rightly so – but we want to say ‘that’s great, but what about the rest of the city?’ The general feeling is that the business community do want a conversation about future tram lines.
“We can’t see really how people who work and live in the city are going to benefit from a tram line that runs from the airport into town. It’s great for businesses in the West End and for getting people into town – fine. But an extension of the tram line would be of far more interest to us because it will link up other parts of the city . . . it will be of more interest to businesses.
“Obviously they felt it was political suicide to mention doing anything with trams again. I’d have to say I probably thought that myself except that people are having that conversation.
“Now that the trams are coming, people are saying ‘well, actually if we link up other parts of the city and it went to Leith or to the Royal Infirmary it would be of great benefit’.You would hope that we’ve learned the lessons from the first time.”
The tram as a commuter tool could open up the region – while solving Edinburgh’s housing provision nightmare.
The proposed route would be close to major housing regeneration sites earmarked for Edinburgh’s south-east at Curriemuirend in Clovenstone and Moredunvale Road, Moredun.
Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg with their fast growing number of aspirational commuters could also benefit.
Neil Harrison, head of marketing for Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, agreed building a tram line into the city’s south-east toward Dalkeith would attract developers.
He said: “If there is something there that is going to make that part of the city more appealing and they’re able to buy land now at a more favourable price than when a tram line is up and running, then certainly there’s an opportunity there for developers.
Colin Beattie, SNP MSP for Midlothian North & Musselburgh, said there was a good economic case for extending the trams to Dalkeith, but a big question mark over how it would be paid for.
He said: “I would be delighted if the trams came out to Dalkeith and specifically to the Shawfair park and ride. The big development that is gradually coming to fruition there would benefit hugely.
“However, I’m very sceptical about the practicality of it happening”.
Support for future expansions came as the council revealed businesses would continue to be charged a tram developer contribution for new projects along the abandoned Newhaven line.
The decision is likely to raise the ire of some parts of the business community, with no immediate plans to extend the tram line down Leith Walk.
But those wishing to develop on the route will still be expected to contribute to the pot which would help pay future expansion in the area.
Lack of action on sheriffhall delays development
FUTURE transport and housing developments in Edinburgh’s south-east near Dalkeith hinge on a major overhaul of the busy Sheriffhall Roundabout, the city council has said.
Plans have been submitted to develop the Edinburgh BioQuarter next to the Royal Infirmary into an employment and innovation hub with 12,000 workers in 20 years’ time.
Proposed major housing developments at Craigmillar and Shawfair are also part of a Strategic Development Plan [SDP] that has been signed off by six councils, including Edinburgh.
All three projects lie on or near a proposed tram route that could one day run close to Sheriffhall and through to Dalkeith.
But city planning convener councillor Ian Perry said the lack of action on the major Sheriffhall junction was holding up development in that part of the city.
He said the roundabout was already “near capacity”.
The Scottish Government is yet to commit to building a flyover or underpass at Sheriffhall. A spokesman said any improvements would be designed to limit conflict between vehicles using major arterial roads like the Edinburgh Bypass and local traffic.
Long journey ahead
THIS vision of a £2m tram hurtling down Dalkeith High Street could become reality under the broad vision, outlined for the first time here today.
But to make it a reality will take years of planning – and further capital expenditure.
Leaving the proposed shuttle’s route earmarked on the plan is just the first step on a long journey towards a broader vision of the region built around the transport network.
We recently revealed how the council is planning to build thousands of new homes around the tram line by opening up huge chunks of green belt land for development.
The blueprint of Edinburgh at the end of the decade shows up to 2000 new homes are expected to be built at Maybury and Cammo, with more planned for South Gyle and the International Business Gateway.
The south-east of the city will also see more development, with 1000 homes built at Broomhills, Burdiehouse, Gilmerton Dykes Road, Gilmerton Station Road and The Drum.
City planning chief, Councillor Ian Perry, said at the time: “It is estimated that Edinburgh needs 16,000 new affordable homes over the next ten years and the LDP will help the council and other housing providers to meet this need.”