Traffic Orders or Traffic Bureaucracy?

All councillors should be getting behind efforts to streamline the process for traffic orders, says Melanie Main.

Right across Edinburgh residents are emailing their councillors about road and street improvements that have been outstanding for years. Simple requests, minor improvements, badly needed fixes that most people agree are needed.

The picture here is of a large vehicle navigating the corner of a narrow residential street, just at the spot where a lamp post was knocked down by a another lorry a few weeks ago. It’s a well-known blackspot where children cross the road to school and residents have been asking for a double yellow line and safety improvements for years.

It’s one of the hundreds of requests from residents for small improvements that will make a big difference. A Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) is needed for each one, and as councils across Scotland agree, the process is difficult, outdated and not fit for purpose.

The City Council currently has a 12-18 month timescale to complete the TRO process. It’s a waiting list that is growing. Some parts of the city have recently estimated that over 100 small jobs requiring TROs are outstanding.

That is not acceptable. The backlog has to be addressed. There are a number of ways of doing that. Staff capacity is one way. The efficiency of the administrative systems is another.

But councillors also need to look at whether the system itself is overly cumbersome. Currently, if a single objection is received to a TRO then it has to go to a committee of councillors: either one of four locality committee committees or the main transport committee. Since these committees meet only every 2-3 months, this of itself slows the process down. The change could be small-scale, such as extending a double yellow line round a corner to tackle dangerous parking. It could have the support of almost everyone locally. The objection could be of a minor nature. But it has to go to committee.

Is that really accountability? Or just pedantry? Most people would say that decisions of policy and operational decisions which are either major or have significant public interest should absolutely be taken by elected councillors. But painting two metres of yellow paint to which there is only one objection? As the Edinburgh Evening News concluded “No wonder things take an age to get done when they are tied down in such bureaucracy.”

That is why I proposed a change last week at full council such that councillors would only need to be involved if there were 6 or more objections. For anything sensitive or higher-profile like a road closure or major piece or road, cycle or pedestrian infrastructure that would be covered. And, indeed, for proposals of that type but with fewer than six objections, officers could still opt – and would still opt – to take the change to a committee.

The majority of councillors supported that change. Astonishingly, the Tory and Lib Dem councillors argued against the change, despite being among the most vocal in criticising lengthy and cumbersome processes. It seems that they prefer grandstanding to sensible policy. Of course, they are quite right to argue that more than the committee process has to change to make the whole thing much easier, but to oppose one reform because it is not all reforms is pathetic.

The city needs lots of work done to improve safety for pedestrians, facilities for cyclists and dangerous road surfaces. We need a traffic order process that helps not hinders.