Feature: Connecting West Midlothian
A strong infrastructure is needed for ambitious development plans
Housing and landmark developments may be the focus of this year’s local development plan but behind it all are proposals to create a stronger infrastructure.
Commuting has been a painful process over the past few months, more so than it usually is. Even now that major debilitating roadworks on the A701 have completed, the region is stuck in tailbacks. It is apparent that Midlothian, and Edinburgh’s, infrastructure is not ready for growth. We can therefore ask the question, how will South East Scotland cope with thousands of new homes and vanity projects? In two words: it won’t.
So, what are Midlothian Council going to do about it? Below we look at the planned additions to west Midlothian’s road and public transport network.
In March, Midlothian Council will put their masterplan for the region out to public consultation. Their latest iteration of the Local Development Plan is notable for its proposals to open up a large section of the greenbelt for development. On top of that, there have been further housing allocations throughout the A701 corridor. All this additional development means the A701 bypass, or realignment, is back on the table. Below we look at the major infrastructure interventions, including the A701 bypass, the A702/Mauricewood Roundabout, the north Penicuik link road and the Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route.
The A701 Bypass
Since the creation of Midlothian Council, there have been talks to create an A701 bypass. Councillors would suggest the development, the public would hold meetings, the media would get into a frenzy and … nothing would happen. Why should it be any different this time? There is no reason to suggest it will be any different, in fact the main land owner, who would subsidise the road’s construction, is in administration. That aside, the current councillors are keen to get policy support for the bypass. To do this, the road is included within the Local Development Plan (LDP) and the associated “Action Plan”. Controversially, it comes with the allocation of one hundred hectares of greenbelt land to commercial development, a move the council says is necessary to fund the road. Here are the important details:
- Cost – Ranging from £7.18m to £13.5m – dependent on the exact route and whether the road would be a single or dual carriageway
- Length – 2.8km to 3km
- Funding – Mainly from developer contributions from those building throughout the A701 corridor (as far south as Penicuik). Small council contribution and government funding possible.
- Construction impact – Limited impact to commuters initially, however there will be disruption when constructing the end roundabouts. The community of Damhead could face years of disruption depending on the chosen route.
- Benefits – Technically it should remove the pressure on the current A701 and the A702, however the road is to inspire growth in the region. With additional houses, come additional commuters and as such the route could become saturated. Careful planning and public transport incentives would be required to make sure this does not happen. Furthermore, the City Bypass is operating well over capacity (130%). Until this is resolved, the connecting roads will remain congested.
- Impacts – Loss of greenbelt land, increased pollution from additional car journeys and the potential distruction of known wildlife habitats.
- Deliverability – Should policy support be given this year, and developers are inspired to commit funding, the road could be operational by early next decade.
The A701 bypass is very much a work in progress and the exact route is not yet known. Four options exist for the routing, along with a further four depending on whether the road would a single or dual carriageway. The two more expensive options (£13m+) give more land to the east for development, but would be more difficult to construct, thus delaying the opening date. A willingness for development is required to get the project off the ground but an over-reliance on developers could prove troublesome.
A702/Mauricewood Road Roundabout
This is the intervention the region will see first. The proposal is to upgrade the A702/Mauricewood Road T-Junction to a major three-arm roundabout. To do this, the junction would be moved north east slightly, changing the routing of Mauricewood Road. A substantial roundabout would then be constructed over the current route of the A702, creating a new junction. Improvement works would continue down Mauricewood and Belwood Roads, widening the carriageway and adding full length pavements. At the bottom of Mauricewood Road, traffic signals would be added. Details:
- Cost – £1.2m for the roundabout and associated works alone. Further improvements could push the budget to between £1.5m and £2m.
- Size – The roundabout would be a comparable size to those on the A702 at Lothianburn. Street lighting would be required.
- Funding – Taylor Wimpey will fund the upgrades.
- Construction Impact – There will be many months of disruption. Developers could create a relief road to allow the A702 to remain open during the entire build, however, should they not do this, the positioning could result in complete closure of the A702 for at least part of the works.
- Benefits – The arrangement may make it easier for traffic to leave the Mauricewood Road junction more regularly. A roundabout should reduce the number of road traffic accidents.
- Impacts – HGVs could struggle on the approach during wintry conditions. There will be a high impact during construction.
- Deliverability – The construction is a prerequisite for house building in the north west of the town so must be delivered early in the build process of Greenlaw Mill. Taylor Wimpey are still unsure when building will commence but the roundabout should be operational by the end of next year.
North Penicuik Link Road
This development will be a relief road between Mauricewood Road and Rullion Road, serving the new housing development to be constructed by a consortium of MacTaggart & Mickel, Cala Homes and Bett Homes. It would run between the Mauricewood Steadings and just south of Deanburn. Technically it would be a residential road, so speed calming measures like speed humps would be likely and roundabouts and access points to “home zones” would also feature. Details:
- Cost – £1.5m to £3m
- Length – About 1km
- Funding – Developer only
- Construction Impact – Little to none. The road would be built before housing construction commences and would be connected to the current roads by t-junction. Some disruption is possible during the connection phases.
- Benefits – Those who live on Rullion Road or in the Cornbank/Cuiken areas of town will notice a marked reduction in journey times.
- Impact – The new road could inspire additional journeys via the A702. Mauricewood Road would see an increase in peak hour traffic.
- Deliverability – It depends on when a planning application is submitted on behalf of the housing consortium. This was meant to happen at the end of 2014 so could be imminent. If the application process isn’t as stinted as Greenlaw Mill, construction could start by mid 2016. The road would, therefore, be operational by early 2017.
Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route & Lothianburn Park and Ride
Much like the A701 bypass, the Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route (EOBR) has been discussed for many years now. According to feasibility studies undertaken by SESTrans back in 2009, the key to delivering the project was to have a full length hard-shoulder on the A720 City Bypass. This would allow an express bus to run along the side of the trunk road without affecting the other traffic. The buses would then leave the bypass, using their own segregated busways to enter Park and Rides. One Park and Ride is yet to be built, the Lothianburn Park and Ride. This would be located on land north of the Esso petrol filling station. A road would then be built between the Straiton and Lothianburn sites, allowing buses to travel between the two in just under two minutes. Compare this to the car travellers’ fifteen minutes at peak times and you can see why the EOBR would be popular. Plans are at a preliminary stage, however they go as far to say that buses would run between Newbridge and Queen Margaret University every five minutes. Notable stopping points include the ERI and Edinburgh Airport. The feasibility studies are linked in the sources section at the end of this article should you wish to study the proposals further. Details:
- Cost – £10m+ – Segregated busways (blue route on map) and other supporting infrastructure would be expensive. Plans also say modified train-buses would be used. These ‘bendy’ buses would cost several hundred thousand each. Approximately twenty buses would be needed, so there would be substantial initial outlay.
- Length – About 20 miles – Exact routing to be agreed on
- Funding – West Lothian, Midlothian, East Lothian and Edinburgh councils would contribute along with a small government fund. Developers in south Edinburgh may contribute and those at Shawfair in Midlothian.
- Construction Impact – It’s hard to say at the moment due to the lack of recent plans, the most recent were published in 2010, but disruption would be likely, especially in the east of Edinburgh. Upgrading of the city bypass’ hard shoulders could also cause delays, though work should be undertaken overnight.
- Benefits – Travellers from Midlothian would be able to reach the west of Edinburgh in just one bus journey. This would likely be faster than taking the car, depending on the time of day. The bus could provide onward connections to several rail routes at Edinburgh Park and Shawfair.
- Impact – Non-segregated busways could utilise current private transport lanes. This would likely lead to further congestion. Segregated busways will use greenbelt land and would have an environmental impact.
- Deliverability – A detailed study needs undertaken, then funding needs sought, construction undertaking and a service provider secured. This all takes time and so the route will probably not be operational until early next decade. Development Plans for the councils state that the route should be delivered by 2030.
Other Infrastructure Projects to Note
A design process is ongoing to ascertain what the future Sheriffhall roundabout will look like. Options include two smaller separate roundabouts, a bypass overfly and a roundabout overfly. This project is high impact and any construction would cause months of disruption. However traffic should flow better along the A720 once operational. Finally we must note the reinstatement of Penicuik’s heavy railway line. Two studies have been undertaken for this. It is believed they have been taken up to the route selection point, so Midlothian Council should have a final route along with the associated costings. The outcome of these reports was due to be reported to the cabinet but has not yet been released, despite being completed in June last year. We are trying to obtain these documents using the Freedom of Information Act. It is unlikely the route would be operational until 2030 and it would probably have to extend to Peebles to be profitable. An extension to the Borders Railway may be considered for ease.
Conclusion & Final Analysis
Midlothian is set to expand rapidly within the next fifteen years and it is clear it needs a solid infrastructure to support it. Plans are in place to lessen the effects of rapid growth, however improvements must also be made to the networks in neighbouring council areas to sustain this. There will be limited room for expansion until the City Bypass is brought back under capacity. This could be achieved through fast track lanes using the hard shoulder or by implementing the Orbital Bus. A third lane could also be added in places, especially along the crucial Dreghorn to Straiton section. For the time being though, we are in the hands of the developers. Until they pledge support, west Midlothian, and Penicuik, will stay in the never-ending tailback.
For your reference, here are the sources for the information in this article:
- Midlothian Council’s Technical Notes (including route selection feasibility studies) – http://penic.uk/1Iifumn
- Midlothian Council’s Draft Local Development Plan – http://penic.uk/1AHIlSZ.
A702/Mauricewood Road Bypass:
- Taylor Wimpey’s Greenlaw Mill Transport Assessment – http://penic.uk/1CKdZg5
- Taylor Wimpey’s Greenlaw Mill Case Study – http://penic.uk/1vjjKS2
Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route & Lothianburn Park and Ride
- SESTrans feasibility studies – http://penic.uk/1vHEZI4
- P&R Planning Application – http://penic.uk/1LcDt80
- Transport Scotland junction design options – http://penic.uk/1G561z5
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