A MASTERPLAN for active travel options as Musselburgh braces itself for future housing expansion has been praised by councillors but branded a “damage limitation exercise” by conservation watchdogs.

They fear that the town could face “gridlock” with traffic generated by more than 5,000 new homes planned for the area in the next few years.

East Lothian Council is developing the masterplan for people walking, cycling and travelling sustainably in and around Musselburgh, extending into Midlothian and Edinburgh.

Members of the public are being canvassed for their views in an online survey which closes next Friday (March 16).

Barry Turner, spokesman for Musselburgh Conservation Society, said: “Around 5,300 new homes are planned in and around Musselburgh in the next few years, increasing the population by more than 50 per cent.

“The conservation society has always maintained that Musselburgh is not the right place to locate this large amount of new housing, arguing that the so-called compact growth strategy is fundamentally flawed.

“This amount of new housing will be very damaging to Musselburgh by virtue of the additional traffic and transport issues that it will give rise to.

“So the masterplan has to be seen as a damage limitation exercise but whatever it comes up with will not, in our view, alter the fact that there will be major movement problems in Musselburgh, with the town potentially facing gridlock.

“One key action would be to discourage through traffic on High Street by charging using number plate recognition technology. A scheme would allow people to reach Tesco, Iceland and the Brunton free of any charge but would discourage people driving right through from Inveresk, Pinkie or the racecourse to the Edinburgh boundary, Newcraighall or Old Craighall. They would have to use the A1.

“It is essential that we have more trains, not just longer ones, for longer trains will just fill up with those living in all the new housing further east. And our trains need to go through Edinburgh to the places where jobs are concentrated, not all terminate at Waverley.

“There is a case for more express buses into town and not just in the peaks. Very few link with the places in Edinburgh where jobs are concentrated and so it is much more attractive to use a car. Bus services provided must be frequent and run in the evenings and on Sundays.

“We need dedicated cycle ways and we would suggest now a major study of how a network of dedicated cycle ways can be provided. We will need safe places for people to leave their cycles.

“As regards walking, the main thing we can do is make sure all footpaths are kept clean and clear, and are clearly marked in terms of where they lead. Lighting on the most frequently used should also be put in place.”

The council is planning to meet key stakeholders such as community councils, Musselburgh Area Partnership, East Lothian Local Access Forum and East Lothian Cycle Forum, to discuss the masterplan later this month. A public exhibition and online consultation takes place in mid-April.

Musselburgh resident and cycling enthusiast Jason Rose said: “It does feel like we’ve been consulted to death over the years by the council and different bodies on what would make Musselburgh safer for cycling and more attractive for walking when the answers are obvious. What is needed is the commitment from the council to get on with it and spend the cash.

“Instead we still have a High Street that is lethal for cyclists, plans to widen Mall Avenue to encourage yet more car traffic and still no safe link between Fisherrow and Portobello – a no-brainer if we want to encourage families to cycle locally.

“While the area partnership has managed to do dribs and drabs, the pace of change is just too slow.”

Ward councillor Katie Mackie said: “As Musselburgh continues to grow, I think it is important we improve opportunities to accommodate cycling and walking in the area and introduce opportunities to choose active and sustainable travel for everyday and leisure journeys. The views and ideas of local people are really important.”

Ward councillor Andy Forrest also welcomed the consultation, saying: “It will give the council ideas about what people are looking for.”

And ward councillor John Williamson said: “Cars are not always needed for our journeys but encouragement needs to be given to let people see that there are alternatives plus the accompanying health benefits. Safe walking routes and clearly defined cycling routes will help people to make this change. I would hope that cycle paths extended and linked up with those in Edinburgh and Midlothian would encourage more people to cycle to their employment and more leisure use.”

A council spokesperson said: “A number of workshops and consultation events are planned to gather views from groups and individuals about encouraging sustainable methods of travel in the Musselburgh area. Part of this consultation includes working with housebuilders to ensure keeping areas available for future routes.”

The survey is available at eastlothian.gov.uk/news/article/2632/musselburghs_future_sustainable_and_accessible_transport_network