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Dear Holyrood: The A720 Isn’t Fit For Purpose

The Scottish Government has a fundamental misunderstanding of population growth and it’s bringing South East Scotland to its knees.

It’s very simple logic:

Thousands of new homes + their associated cars = Increased traffic flow on the road network

In total, the current iteration of the South East of Scotland development plan (SESPlan), forecasts that the region will require 103,000 new homes to cater for the forecast rise in population. However, what is distinctly lacking in plans, is the urgent need to improve existing infrastructure to deal with this influx.

Over the next decade in Penicuik alone (it is echoed throughout the region), housing developers will construct one thousand new homes. This will be replicated again throughout the West Midlothian corridor (Bilston, Roslin and Loanhead). So all in all we could be looking at an additional 1750-2200 cars heading out onto our already saturated roads. One would expect there to be plans already in place to combat this but the answer is far more frightening; there are no plans at an advanced stage of planning to increase capacity on the A720, A702 or A701. This means that whilst housing developers are allowed to continue erecting their thousands of new homes, to fulfil Scottish Government quotas, the road network is being left behind to rot, alongside GP practices and other over capacity services. In five years time, we could well be looking at a situation where our town, alongside others, is out with the 60 minute commutable zone to Edinburgh.

That’s why on Saturday I launched The Penicuik Cuckoo’s campaign to make the A720 fit for the future.

This isn’t a selfish act to make Penicuik a much better place to live, it is much bigger than that. I feel the pain of our neighbours, of those in East and West Lothian, the residents of southern Edinburgh and beyond. We’re all tired of losing hours of our lives stuck in never-ending queues on a trunk route that is not only failing the capital city but has also failed the South East of Scotland. The Scottish Government should be ashamed of their neglect.

Of course the developers of the 1980’s also lacked vision, creating a city bypass that had very little scope for expansion, even though it was an inevitability. Today, that means we are faced with a trunk route operating at up to, or perhaps over, 140% capacity during peak periods. No wonder congestion can occur even with the slightest touch of someone’s break pedal, let alone when an accident closes the A720 and the entirety of the southern Edinburgh road network grinds to a halt. Steps need to be taken as a matter of urgency to increase capacity on the thoroughfare and by end of this term of the parliament, plans should be in place to upgrade the road to motorway standards; the M720.

With the Edinburgh and South East of Scotland City Deal forthcoming, now is the best chance we’ve had in decades to secure the funding required to upgrade the Edinburgh City Bypass and its subsidiary routes but if we fail to shout loudly enough, we stand a real chance of being forgotten about, again. Did you know that in 2008, Transport Scotland acknowledged the A720 had immediate capacity problems? Instead of acting upon the information uncovered in the Strategic Infrastructure Projects review, Project 29, as it was known, was shelved due to lack of funding. Well, now we have the chance to receive the funding that we deserve. No more costly tram lines or other white elephants; this money cannot be squandered away in the City.

All that in mind, this is what I call upon the Scottish Government to do:

  1. Commence strengthening works on the hard shoulder that currently runs in both directions between Lothianburn and the Water of Leith Bridge at Barberton, in order for this to be used as a third lane during peak times. Install gantry signs and relevant other works to allow this stretch of the A720 to act as a “Smart Motorway”. As the vast majority of infrastructure already exists here (the road is already wide enough) this should be operational as soon as possible.
  2. Instigate works Lothianburn to Straiton, in both directions, to add a hard shoulder (third lane). This will require carriageway widening and so will take longer to deliver, but should also be undertaken as a matter of urgency, considering this is one of the most congested stretches during morning peak commuting. Once complete, this stretch would also be operated as a “Smart Motorway”.
  3. Accelerate plans to eradicate the Sheriffhall roundabout, instead creating a flyover or underpass. Plans for these already exist but with development shortly commencing at Shawfair, Scotland’s largest new town, these now need to move at a quicker pace.
  4. Complete the feasibility studies for the Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route and implement, if viable, once a third lane runs alongside the entire length of the City Bypass. Residents should be urged to commute by rapid bus rather than car, perhaps introducing a London style £1.50 hourly travel ticket that would allow a free connection at any of the park and rides.
  5. Investigate other transport options by commissioning feasibility studies into the reopening of the Penicuik (or Peebles) and Edinburgh suburban railway lines.

The Scottish Government must take a multi-modal approach: Increasing the City Bypass’ capacity for north-south travel and logistical transportation, adding an Edinburgh Orbital Bus service to encourage greener commuting from west-east and reopening former railway lines to cater for direct to City centre commuting for the south of Edinburgh and west of Midlothian. Unfortunately this isn’t going to be cheap but it is necessary to prepare the region for the population growth that is coming. If only we hadn’t been neglected for this long…

Sign our petition today and call upon the Scottish Government to urgently upgrade the A720 to make it fit for the future.

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