City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Trams Turn A Corner


By edg - Posted on 02 July 2011

Edinburgh Tram on Princes Street

The end of the road is still some way off, but after several hours of debate late into the evening on Thursday, at 11.15pm the Edinburgh Trams turned a corner. The Liberal Democrat dominated Edinburgh City Council voted to continue building the Edinburgh tramline into Edinburgh City Centre.

It was as expected: the council chose to continue with the tram from Edinburgh Airport to St Andrew Square, the one of the three options recommended by council staff in its report to councillors last week (read report).

On paper, it seems the best of three evils. The trams project is running massively over budget – even completing this truncated version of the originally planned line from Edinburgh Airport to the old port of Newhaven, it is estimated, will cost around £200 million more than the original £545 million budgeted for building the whole Line 1A to the water. The project has been set back years by a bitter dispute between the council-owned company Tie and its contractors headed by Bilfinger Berger. This looks to salvage something from the wreckage.

Parties and critics have questioned the lack of detail for the figures in the report presented to councillors last week. The Conservatives wanted more time to make a decision. As did the Greens, while backing building the line to St Andrew Square.

Labour pushed for the line to be completed only as far as Haymarket, then pause, and weigh up further options. Haymarket is already a mainline railway station and well served by Edinburgh buses. Although that option would still come in at around £700 million and the trams would require an annual subsidy of £4 million, compared to an annual surplus of £2 million for a line running to St Andrew Square.

Meanwhile, the SNP reiterated its call to ditch the trams altogether – although scrapping the project would apparently cost up to £750 million. The upper end of the forecast costs of continuing the tramline to St Andrew Square is £773 million.

A failed SNP call for a referendum on the trams on Thursday was more a political face-saving manoeuvre, and not a very good one given that a referendum would just add more costs, further delays, and there would be nothing to show for our troubles at the end of the day.

There are doubtless more twists and turns to this saga in store. Thursday's decision to build the line as far as St Andrew Square will be confirmed at the next meeting of council on 25 August, pending further information on costs, timescales and associated risks – and ahead of the 31 August deadline agreed as part of the mediation process.

Edinburgh must brace itself for further tram works starting with the programme of works to remediate and complete the Princes Street section of the route at the beginning of September. The council needs to address residents' concerns about the pollution levels that the trams will create by diverting city centre car traffic through dense residential areas.

But with recent reports that the talks that have taken place behind closed doors have gone well with a working agreement with the project's contractors now established and with Thursday's decision now behind us, the wheels of the stalled project appear to be turning again. The idea that we might be riding the trams in 2014 seems more of a reality now.

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It is crazy that a party without a working majority could manage to foist this crazy scheme on to the capital city.   Why the other three main parties did  not cooperate to ensure that the city was not going to be subject to a bankrupt policy, we poor citizens will never know.    It is high time that our politicians started to think of the consequences of opting for an ill thought through scheme which has such an uncertain outcome.   It seems to have passed many Councillors by, that we are in the midst of a huge economic crisis and to commit the city to even more expenditure at a time when jobs and budgets are so much under pressure is incredibly foolish.   In addition reliable sources suggest that a subsidy of some £14 million a year will need to be secured from Lothiam Buses.    This will cripple the bus company.

The Labour proposal to stop at Haymarket had much merit, but it should also have proposed mothballing the project until funds became available.   This could have been supported by both the SNP and the Conservatives, however, it did not happen.  But there is a further hurdle to negotiate and that is the deadline on 1 September when the Council have to have cobbled together the additional funding package.   One has to hope that the Scottish Government steps in to restrain a foolhardy and incompetent set of officials from launching the city on to a ruinous path.