The Edinburgh tram line will now only go from Edinburgh Airport to Haymarket after Labour and Conservative Councillors today voted to rescind an earlier decision to continue the line to St Andrew Square.
After four rounds of voting, an amendment tabled by the Labour Group to stop at Haymarket Station was passed, with support from the Conservative group, securing a vote of 25 against 19 for the Liberal Democrat Motion, which had the support of the Green Group. There were 13 abstentions.
The original tramsline was due to be completed by now as far as Newhaven at a cost of some £545 million, as the first phase in a network of tramlines through the city. However, an industrial dispute with the contractors Bilfinger Berger, has bogged the project down, with costs escalating, and the length of the route curtailed again and again.
After people endured months of road works along the proposed tram route on Leith Walk, those in the North of the city learned in June that the line would not continue beyond St Andrew Square at the East End of Princes Street.
It now turns out that the months of delays and frustrations on Princes Street were all for nought as the tram will not come into the city centre.
The decision goes against recommendations by Edinburgh City Council staff. Their report presented to Council for the 30 June decision said that stopping at Haymarket would cost in the region of £700 million and would make an annual loss to the City.
By comparison, continuing the extra 2 miles and 3 stops to St Andrew Square would have cost in the region of £776 million, according to the latest Edinburgh City Council figures and would make an annual profit. However, Edinburgh City Council would have needed to borrow £231 million and there was no guarantee on the costs.
As if to rub salt into open wounds, the remediation work that was due to begin in the first week of September on Princes Street must go ahead for health and safety reasons. Even though the tram is not going to run along there. The Council has said that programmes of work due to start in September will now "be subject to the continued contractual negotiations."
The accepted amendment also noted concern about the impact on local businesses and specific issues of rates relief, general business support and potential compensation for loss of earnings as a result of tram works. A report on this will be brought to the Transport, Infrastructure and Environment Committee on 6 September.
Jenny Dawe statement
Edinburgh City Council Cllr Jenny Dawe, Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, said:
"It's heartbreaking that the decision to progress to St Andrew Square has fallen threatening this city's future financial vibrancy.
"I am really angry that Labour and Tory Councillors have rejected the professional advice of our Chief Executive and officers and some of the most highly regarded legal, technical, financial and engineering experts in the country.
"This was the option that was supported by the business community within the city and would have seen a profit realised. An initial line to Haymarket makes no financial sense and will have a bigger negative impact on the finances of Lothian Buses. It will run at a permanent annual £4million loss.
"If the contractor now walks away we will be faced with having to find £161m this financial year. An impossible feat."
Sue Bruce's statement
Sue Bruce, Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council: said: "There has been a significant amount of time and effort committed to the post mediation work. The recommendations reflected the considered professional advice of officers and advisors. The Council has made its' decision and every effort will now be made to implement it."
Another great victory for political expediency. And what are the SNP doing sitting on the fence on such a big decision? Arent they part of the ruling coalition?
Just to focus on one aspect in the above reports.
The report to councillors ahead of the last vote was obviously partial and biased even in the presentation of costs.
The cost for St Andrews Sq was put at £770M and for Haymarket at £700M while cancellation was put at an unbelievable £740M--the price for Haymarket and cancellation has dropped and that for St Andrews Square has rocketed.
This shows that no confidence can be placed in the impartiality of some of the advice given throughout the project.
The above report contains the quoted comment "This was the option that was supported by the business community within the city and would have seen a profit realised. An initial line to Haymarket makes no financial sense and will have a bigger negative impact on the finances of Lothian Buses. It will run at a permanent annual £4million loss."
With St Andrews Square needing some £230 Million (and very probably more) the annual debt interest (leaving aside how it ever gets paid back) will be, at the very best guess some £15M pounds (probably more).
This means the 'profitable' St Andrews Square option would see it's (questionable) £2M 'profit' swamped by the £15M interest charges leaving a £13M real loss---and if the principal was to be repayed over 30 years a further £8 Million or so to be found on average each year..taking the 'net loss' above £21M...at best.
Set against this the £4M a year loss on Haymarket is put into it's true perspective.
Of course the best option is to walk away and have no losses, save the money that would be wasted in either option and await better economic times and try again...this time with a realistic and integrated tram...not the obese, hubristic, dis-integrated rail system that we have seen fail so spectacularly.
If the Labour/Conservative coalition can't accept the figures put forward by their engineering experts at the city council who have followed this closely over the years and are clearly privy to many of the finers points of the project, then why on earth should we believe their spurious figures for this sudden about-face? This decision was motivated by as much political opportunism as "common sense". The Lab/Con coalition may win some easy votes, but in the long term Edinburgh is the loser with this loss-making tramline that doesn't even go into the city centre.
Mismanagement, overspends, and delays aside, there are many advantages to the larger "light-rail" tram that was proposed and that you have been so critical about: with the Edinburgh trams design tram riders have greater capacity and space for luggage, it's a more comfortable, smoother ride (none of the lurching that you get on a bus), and there's more doors for getting on and off. The fact that the tramline is clear of other traffic is a benefit, not a negative, as it speeds up the journey.
Maybe if you are a bus driver whose job is threatened or a car driver who objects to being forced onto another route then i can understand why you see things differently. But the benefits of the design in my view, have been lost with all the bandying about of worthless statistics about economic benefits of the project. It's much better to have a light rail than some quaint, rattly trolleycar that takes ages to get anywhere and is totally inpractical for longer journeys.
I wholeheartedly accept the criticisms that those running Edinburgh's tram project have not properly addressed the pollution they are creating by diverting traffic through residential areas, but I don't share your reservations about the tram design.