Leith Walk braced for 18 months of chaos amid triple roadworks misery

Leith Walk is to be dug up yet again for an 18-month project of works – at the same time as the ongoing city-centre tram work.

The announcement sparked fears of major disruption for city residents, with track-laying at York Place and utility diversions at the Foot of the Walk happening simultaneously.

Long-suffering Leith residents have demanded more detail about the project and warned the council it must be properly managed.

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The work on Leith Walk will run from now until Christmas 2013 and is expected to cause significant disruption for motorists and bus passengers.

Three projects – one tram, one utility, and one street improvement – will take place between York Place and the foot of Leith Walk at the same time.

Contractors moved into York Place and Picardy Place this month to lay tracks and build the transit hub where trams will switch tracks.

A separate utility works project to build new manholes to the water network is already being rolled out along Leith Walk. And a third £5.5 million reinstatement project – intended to repair the district after the tram route was cancelled – has now been announced.

Transport chiefs at Edinburgh City Council today assured local residents that disruption would be kept to a minimum. But many locals spoke of unease at the return of the works which blighted the area for nearly two years, and concerns over the lack of detail being provided.

Keith Hales, who owns Leith Walk Barbers Salon and is vice-chairman of the Leith Business Association, said residents accepted the work had to be done, but demanded sound management, which was absent from the first project in 2008-10.

He said: “In their report today the council insisted they’d stick to three sites at a time. But we were made these promises before and within three months the tram works were behind schedule and they began opening up multiple sites to avoid falling further behind.”

Extensive road resurfacing, improved footpaths and pathways and the return of famed artworks such as the Sherlock Holmes statue, the London Road Clock and the famous pigeon statues are all planned for the reinstatement stage.

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However, Mr Hales added that local residents had not yet seen exact details of the restoration work and were keen to be given assurances that Leith Walk will be returned to its former condition.

“We’ll all be prepared to accept a bit more pain to restore Leith Walk to what it was, but we want to see it managed 
properly,” he added.

The newly-announced works 
programme will be considered for approval by the city council’s finance and resources committee on July 31.

Reinstatement works costing £3.2m were first announced by city chiefs last summer.

However, following meetings with traders and local residents a much wider scheme of improvements was sought and a further budget of £2.3m has been requested for this purpose.

Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith, said residents were furious more utility diversion work was still needing to be done.

“There is deep frustration among Leithers that we have had to put up with so much disruption with the trams already and we are now set to have more disruption because they apparently didn’t move all the utilities the first time,” he said. “It beggars belief that the tram project has been managed so badly.”

Tracy Griffen, who has a fitness studio off Leith Walk, also voiced concerned about the timescale of the project.

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She said: “Businesses that have survived the tram works are a bit sceptical about whether all this nice stuff about replacing statues and planting trees will actually happen. I would like to see start and finish times for specific areas of Leith Walk. Just saying it will start in the autumn is not adequate for businesses to alert their 

Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said there was “a huge responsibility on the council not to let Leith traders down again”. She said: “They have put up with an awful lot over the last five years only for the trams to be cancelled in their part of the city.

“The council must make sure the impact of these works on local residents and businesses is as small as possible.”

She also voiced concerns about the launching of the Leith Walk works at the same time as York Place is closed.

“I would worry about the impact that will have. Any further disruption to bus services will be met with a fierce response from the public.”

City transport leader Lesley Hinds, insisted the investment in the area was a positive move which would improve the lives of those in Leith.

She said: “This is the kind of boost that this important route needs and a vital investment in the area’s future.

“Residents and businesses have been affected by the tram works so I think it’s only fair that this iconic street is now returned to its former glory. This programme goes even further than that to provide environmental improvements such as landscaping and general upgrading that will provide a significant benefit for many years to come.

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“We will continue to meet with members of the local community to make sure that our plans meet with their expectations and we will work with them to reduce disruption as far as possible.”

Follow the timetable

UTILITY works will commence in

Constitution Street in September and be completed in December. Utility works in Leith Walk are expected to be completed by the end of March next year.

Reinstatement works and carriageway resurfacing will then start in January and be completed to Constitution Street in April.

Works to Leith Walk and Constitution Street involving public utilities, carriageway resurfacing, footway and environmental improvements and installation of artwork will be completed by Christmas 2013.

Some works around Picardy Place cannot be completed until after the York Place tram works are finished in September 2013.

Crack shuts road

A BUSY stretch of road outside Dalkeith where a large crack appeared could remain closed for weeks, council chiefs have warned.

The A6106 at Lugton Brae – part of the old A68 – was shut to traffic late on Tuesday afternoon because of subsidence.

Police were called in to divert drivers away from the problem road, while council officials tried to ascertain what had caused the problem. It was later admitted that officials had been monitoring the road since small cracks appeared two weeks ago over a 30-metre stretch.

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Temporary repairs were carried out but a decision was taken to close the busy stretch of road when the ground continued to deteriorate.

Now a specialist ground investigator is being called in to advise on what is causing the problem, and determine what can be done to fix it. It was suggested that the crack may have been caused by the recent extreme weather.

A council spokesman said there was no history of subsidence in that stretch of road.

He said: “We don’t know exactly yet what caused the subsidence.

“We’d anticipate the heavy rain was certainly a contributing factor but until we carry out further investigations we won’t know if other factors came into play.

“Obviously safety is paramount and we won’t be reopening the road until all the necessary repairs have been done. This could take some time, possibly weeks.”

In the meantime, a diversion is in place along Melville Gate Road then along the B6392 and A6094.