Gordon Mackenzie: Getting city fit for the road ahead

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City’s continued investment in transport is starting to pay off, says Gordon Mackenzie

There are no cheap and quick fixes for Edinburgh’s roads after years of neglect. By 2005-6 our roads were the second worst in Scotland – more than 50 per cent of the city’s roads were in need of substantial repair.

From 2007, the new Lib Dem/SNP council invested heavily in resurfacing the worst-affected roads. In the past four years more than £70 million has been spent, the biggest-ever sustained investment in Edinburgh’s roads. This is vital part of building a better future for Edinburgh and it’s starting to show dividends.

Today Edinburgh is in the top third of the Scottish league table in relation to the underlying condition of our roads. The number of roads in need of substantial repair has been reduced to 31 per cent. This year, in order to accelerate the rate of progress, we have substantially increased the funding for pothole repairs.

Our award-winning Right First Time initiative clearly demonstrates there are significant long-term benefits to fixing potholes properly at the first time of asking but at a higher up-front cost. This year we are investing around £3m in Right First Time repairs, to provide a long term solution for the 50,000-plus potholes across the city.

Of course, Edinburgh’s transport isn’t just about roads and cars. It is also about walking, cycling, buses, trains, trams and air travel. It is vital for the city that we get the balance right.

Edinburgh Council has been central to the campaign for including Scotland in the high-speed rail network. Maximum economic and environmental benefits for the UK can only be delivered if Scotland is included. Analysis shows the shift from air to rail travel will be significant once journey times are under three hours. High speed rail would free up domestic flight slots at Edinburgh Airport for international routes, making us better connected in the global economy whilst better protecting the environment.

Bus services are the backbone of good, local, public transport and council-owned Lothian Buses is the best bus service in the UK. We guarantee to retain Lothian Buses in council ownership and to support bus services across Edinburgh. We continue to provide funding to ensure socially necessary services survive. We have also completed the ring of park-and-ride sites around the city, invested in bus tracker signs and an award-winning mobile phone app to make bus services more attractive.

Edinburgh is setting new standards when it comes to cycling provision. SPOKES, the non-party political Lothian cycle campaign, has described Edinburgh Council as having “taken a remarkable decision on cycling investment” in our 2012-13 budget, “setting a completely new standard for other councils”. In future, at least five per cent of our roads and transport budget will go on cycling. Surveys show that between five per cent and nine per cent of people travel to work by bike in Edinburgh and numbers increased by 15 per cent last year. There’s no doubt that Edinburgh is one of the most progressive areas in the UK for cycling. Not only will this bring health benefits to the many Edinburgh residents who cycle and encourage others, it also helps to cut congestion.

The links between better transport and the local environment are at the heart of our approach. Resident priority parking areas provide a solution to parking problems in areas beyond the controlled parking zone. The first has been established in southern Grange with several more planned over the next year. Next month we are implementing the South Edinburgh 20mph pilot area, which will convert a large, mainly residential, part of the city to a 20mph limit but at a fraction of the cost of conventional 20mph zones and with far fewer speed bumps and the model could be used in further residential areas throughout the city.

These transport initiatives and achievements are often overshadowed by the tram project. There is no doubt that all political parties have to accept some responsibility as we all voted for it at one time or another. This administration welcomes a public inquiry into the project on the basis that it is the only way that the full circumstances can be openly and independently examined. What is clear is that the decision to call for mediation has resulted in much improved operational arrangements with better governance and management oversight. As part of building a better future for Edinburgh, the tram still has a positive value and the decision for the first phase to go to St Andrew Square, rather than Haymarket, was the right one.

Over the next few years Edinburgh will experience many more challenges in the transport arena, such as stricter pollution controls, but I am confident the foundations laid and tools developed over the last four years will help build a better future for Edinburgh.

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie is transport leader on Edinburgh City Council