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Comment: The Road to Disaster

Midlothian Council are to progress with their ill fated plans to create the A701 bypass. Our editor argues that even before it has left the drawing board, the project is doomed for failure.

Why would one seek to build a new road? Perhaps it’s to increase capacity in the road network? Maybe it’s to reduce the congestion inflicted upon poor commuters? No. In the mind of Midlothian Council the reason to build a new dual carriageway through the greenbelt, is merely to offer developers the opportunity to seize what little is left of the county’s green barrier between us and Edinburgh.

Don’t get me wrong, I was a proponent of the A701 bypass in principle. That was in the days before Scotland’s first purpose built film studio was given permission to build over the preferred and most sensible route. Now, the bypass must swing even further west into the greenbelt, infringing on ancient woodland and established communities and also crossing unstable and unsuitable land. This of course is not a concern to the administration, it is a financial boon. The further west the A701 goes, the more land that is released to create the “Midlothian Gateway” a retail park to rival the likes of Livingston’s Almondvale Centre. I’m sorry but how is exactly is that going to help Penicuik’s commuters?

In green lighting the A701 bypass, Midlothian Council has also shown that they are ill prepared for the works to come. Just last year, the film studio developers smacked down the council for having little more than a pipe dream to create the new route. At the meeting of the council this week, those fears where confirmed. There is no certainty in route. There has been no detailed ground analysis. Ultimately there has been little planning beyond a feasibility study in 2012. What could this all result in? A route widely different to that safeguarded in the new Local Development Plan or a colossal overspend (initial estimates were £7M-£14M) or maybe even both. Both don’t end well for the county’s taxpayers.

When the A701 bypass heads west it also endangers Damhead and Old Pentland. How many residents could fall under the path of the new road? They would face compulsory purchase orders and the eviction process could be lengthy, ending in unnecessary court battles, and monotonous delays. Again, exactly how is this going to help Penicuik’s commuters?

As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, there is an infrastructure problem in south east Scotland, not tomorrow but today. The A701 bypass as planned offers little more than 1980’s nostalgia, after all that is when it was first proposed. Nostalgia isn’t going to fix the problem. An unknown route, through land of questionable quality, connecting to a City Bypass that cannot cope, is going to create more problems than it is worth.

So, Midlothian Council, you have to let it go. Pull the plug on the bypass whilst you can. Come up with a solution from the 21st century or beyond. Talk with your neighbours in Edinburgh City Council and your bosses in the Scottish Government and fight for a City Bypass upgrade. This will alleviate congestion on the A701 and A702 instantly, no A701 bypass needed. Once this is completed ask yourself, how can we create a sustainable transport network in the county? Blow the dust off the Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route proposals and take a long hard look at light or heavy rail options. If we’re heading for Greater Edinburgh then we need better infrastructure. A single new road isn’t going to cut it, it’s much too late for that.