Edinburgh City Bypass (A720)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31st May 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

I thank Miles Briggs for bringing forward this important issue as a members’ business debate.

The Edinburgh city bypass is the most used road in my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh, whether that is for commuting to work, family travel or even sports fans travelling to grounds to play or to support their team. That means that, at any time of the day during any day of the week, there are vehicles using the road, causing delays and queues. The people of Midlothian North and Musselburgh meet the queues of traffic heading on to the bypass on the main roads around my constituency before they are even near the bypass, which causes more congestion and air pollution around Midlothian and Musselburgh.

I note that my colleague who represents the adjacent constituency of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale is unable to take part in the debate, as she is in the chair. However, I put on record her continuing concerns, which she has raised frequently, regarding the proposals for the Sheriffhall roundabout, which cyclists call “the meat grinder”, and I ask what measures will be put in place during the upgrade to give cyclists safe passage.

On the early morning radio traffic news, there are always reports of delays on the Edinburgh city bypass, because of an accident or just the sheer volume of traffic. The fact that that happens daily is a clear sign that a change needs to happen as soon as possible. One of the more drastic options that could be considered is the approach that was taken in Bangkok, where the main roads are double stacked, meaning that cars travel in one direction on one level and in the other direction above them. When those changes were made, the level of the cross-city light train track was also raised—the trains and the stations that serve them were suspended well above ground to make commutes quicker and to allow trains to move faster.

Following on from that thought, and continuing consideration of the changes that are required on the Edinburgh city bypass, I believe that the real solution is to more carefully examine our public transport services to see whether there is any way to improve and extend those services and reduce the number of cars that are using the bypass. Quite simply, having fewer cars means less congestion. Public transport in Edinburgh and in Scotland as a whole is of a very high standard, but there is always room for improvement. To ease congestion on the city bypass, it may be worth considering extending the route of the Edinburgh city trams to include towns with larger populations such as Musselburgh and Dalkeith. That would give commuters a fast and direct link into Edinburgh without having to sit in traffic on the bypass. It may even be more cost effective than building new roads, double stacked or not, and putting in place expensive flyovers that will only move traffic more swiftly into the next traffic jam.

The bypass currently has two lanes in both directions. That has been its configuration for 30 years, since it was built. The cost of expansion to three lanes would be eye watering. We would have to pay landowners to give up land to enable the extra lanes to be installed. There would also be the construction costs, of course. Expansion would take away scarce arable land that is at the side of the bypass and would threaten the already endangered green belt in Midlothian.

As we look into making any of the changes that might be required, it is important that we consult different agencies, including Lothian Buses, ScotRail and Borders Buses, as well as our constituents who are most affected by the current issues with the bypass.

I am pleased that the Government has announced that a flyover is to be installed at the Sheriffhall roundabout, which is often the scene of congestion and significant queuing, particularly at morning and evening peak times, as I have experienced. The flyover will improve road safety and journey times for many people who travel on the bypass every day. However, more improvements need to be made along the full stretch of road.

A possible idea is the introduction of a bypass bus. The bus would take a route along the bypass from Musselburgh to the Gyle, stopping at the park and rides at Sheriffhall and Straiton and then at Hermiston Gait before terminating at the Gyle. Such a bus route could reduce the number of commuters taking their cars along the bypass and help people to reach their destinations more easily without having to change buses. Discussion with many different bus companies would, of course, be needed, and Government officials would need to look into the matter.

Given that we have a fast-growing population in Midlothian and Musselburgh, we must take a serious look at the situation on the bypass and put in train the changes that are required as soon as possible, so that the bypass can handle the volume of traffic, which seems to be increasing drastically each year.

There is a problem on the Edinburgh city bypass, which, given the growing population and the increase in car use, can only get worse. We must take a sensible approach and look at all the ways in which we can improve the current situation on the bypass and help our constituents to travel safely and securely.