City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Twisting, Turning Saga of Edinburgh Trams

By edg - Posted on 30 August 2011

Tram Works on Princes from Calton Hill

The Fringe may be over, but the ongoing farce of the Edinburgh Trams project continues.

Most recently, we had the unexpected reversal of the original 30 June decision to continue with a curtailed tramline to St Andrew Square. In a rare show of unanimity, Labour and Conservative councillors joined forces to pass an amendment to instead complete the trams to Haymarket Station.

The tram may not go into the city centre but, the reasoning goes, by stopping a couple of miles short, we would be cutting our losses and reducing the risk of having more unforseen costs.

Instead of the city having to take on a £231million loan to complete the £776 million line to St Andrew Square, stopping at Haymarket would save a significant chunk of tax payers' money. 

Of course, nothing's that simple where the trams are concerned.

Supporters of the Haymarket option have one set of costings and projections and the Council officers who drew up the report for the 30 June have another set of figures and projections. And so far the twain have not met and appear to be moving further apart, with the Haymarket option rising to £730 million.

In the latest twist, we've heard that the Scottish Government is reviewing the business case for the shortened route to Haymarket and will "consider its position with regard to the outstanding balance of £59.5m" of trams funding (the final tranche of a total £500 million).

An emergency meeting of the Council has been called for this Friday morning to discuss the funding arrangements.

Council Chief Executive Sue Bruce is just back from meeting with senior representatives of Bilfinger Berger UK (Civil) and Siemens following last week’s decision. The constortium have said they will get back before the 31 August deadline, which was agreed by all parties at mediation..

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, Convenor of the Transport Committee, has said that following a more thorough review of the costs of the Haymarket option, he is even "more convinced" now that building the line to St Andrew Square is the right decision.


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For those who thought that the Edinburgh Council officers had any grasp of what they are doing, the past week must have raised levels of despair to new heights.   Aided and abetted by Council Leader Jenny Dawe and Transport Convenor Gordon Mackenzie we have seen some extraordinary statements from people who do not seem to live on the same planet as the rest of us.   To saddle the city with huge debts of the £231 million, which the LibDem Councillors want to borrow, together with the continued mill-stone of having to repay over £15 million a year, is an act of political vandalism which will haunt the LibDems at the next election in May 2012, whether they get it accepted now or not.   The LibDems are facing a catastrophic defeat in these elections and one can see why Jenny Dawe is moving her ward to what she hopes is a "safer" seat - I would not be too certain about this Jenny!    As the cuts that will have to be made to services, if this goes through,  are implemented there will be no safe seats anywhere in Edinburgh for the party responsibe for this shambles.
What is depressing for the citizens is that the Council officers have shown themselves to be  utterly incompetent.   Figures they gave have been proved wrong and they have given several estimates of cost which they have had to amend.   There seems to be a sense that "we must get this tram to St Andrew Square whatever the cost".   All other problems such as whether the city can actually afford this inflated ego trip for a few Councillors, appears to have been forgotten.  So too are the objections regarding the greatly increased pollution and noise levels, the congestion and damage to the World Heritage Site by all the diverted traffic, however, what is key is the financial mess that the LibDems will leave behind when they are kicked out of power as they most certainly will be.
As no one believes the Council officers any more, there is a need for the contractors to be brought in to brief the Council directly.   Only then can the general public have any confidence that this potential financial disaster can be evaluated properly.  In case the LibDems have not noticed, I would remind them that there is a a major ongoing financial crisis in the world and everyone else is seeking to cut spending - not trying to amass huge additional debts for thirty years.   Let the whole project be placed "on hold" so that contractors contracts can be honoured in due course, let there be a review of the project by an experienced team who have credibility  - not the Council officers.   Then let the project then only proceed when the financial situation eases.   The project needs to be reshaped so that trams can operate together with other traffic.   There is also the potential to provide a faster and more efficient airport to Waverley and Haymarket service at a fraction of the cost of the current project - in fact it could be met within the remaining budget.    But to force a light railway with the longest, heaviest and largest rolling stock through a World Heritage Georgian city centre was always an idiotic concept.   If we are to have trams, as and when these can be afforded, then let them be of of a size that is some value to the users and to the commercial interest whom they also serve.  Let us hope Councillors think very carefully indeed before they enter the "last chance saloon" of the Council meeting on Friday.

Cllr Gordon Mackenzie is part of the problem not the solution, his statements have lost credibility.

He recently said Shandwick Place would be needed to provide a turn round area for the Trams reaching Haymarket...there is one on the plans already and as the lead councillor (and incidentally a full Board Director of the discredited and now defunct tie company) he should know that.

The Lib Dems find themselves in a hole of their own making... as the saying goes 'When in a hole stop digging' and in 2008 this project was already certain to decsend into the chaos to which it now has descended..Cllr  Mackenzie , in his Board capacity would have known that back then, yet in public statement afte statement he maintained everything was okay and on track.


As late as last autumn he was still seeing 'no reason why the entire project airport-to- Newhaven could NOT be built WITHIN  the £545M.  This figure was reluctantly revised upwards at the end of 2010 and that was the first sign of the tidal wave about to hit.

Now he tells us he can build to St Andrews Square for 'just' £770M or so..this figure will rise, but even granting it..that is around £230M more than the entire project was to have cost at a price he was confident about just 12 months ago.

There are others to blame besides Cllrs Mackenzie and Dawe, and they are not bad people or criminally negligent, just out of their depth.

The solution has to start somewhere and the first step is to recognise the problem..and in this project Cllr  Mackenzie and his Council Leader are part of the problem.

The problem underlying everything is a tram to big for the City streets it was meant to run upon.

The impossibility of making this work has already scarred careers, wrecked some, and destroyed the once pride and joy of the Council..their project management company, tie.

It has also effectively wrecked it's main advocates, the Liberal-Democrats, for a generation in the City.

It threatens to besmirch the CVs of more professional administrators as the impartiality of advice from the secretariart became plain to see in May and June this year.

It was even close to anihilating the entire City financees or at least hobbling them for decades ahead until the Labour and Toriesd buried a century of dogma to finally do the right thing and drive a stake through it's heart.

Now in the chaos and disorder of a dying administration it seems the Lib-Dems are calling on the country at large, and it's leader Alex Salmond, to step in and save their project and their skins.

Mr Salmond may be unable to save either.... the fate of the Lib-Dems is likely to be some way down his To-Do list and the clouds gathering over Scotland's finances are already dark enough without adding the thick black smoke of more cash---borrowed this time---to the bonfire pall already hanging over the city.

He may 'save the tram' but he either has to make Edinburgh's streets a lot bigger...or, as virtually everyone in Edinburgh outside Waverley Court, now knows, rethink the tram and make it a lot smaller.

Pause..not stop...rethink... and there might be a chance..Let the flailing Lib-Dem tail wag the SNP dog and force them to go back on their pledges and the next thing being threatened, along with the things listed above,  may be some not insignificant measure of electoral opportunity for the SNP party as well

The Georgian streets of Edinburgh's New Town are actually very wide, especially when compared to the narrow streets of the medieval Old Town where there are no plans to build the tram (even in the original grand network planned).

Edinburgh's New Town streets were designed big enough for a horse and cart to turn around. You can fit four double decker buses side by side on Princes Street. I dont know the proportions off-hand but Leith Walk is wide too. We put articulated lorries, buses, trade vans and tons of cars down these streets. In terms of roadspace, I can see why this was not flagged up as a problem. 

I agree if heavy city centre traffic continues to be diverted through residential parts of the New Town then the point of the trams - creating cleaner, greener transport is lost. All you are doing is moving the pollution and noise closer to more peoples' homes. The Council has not addressed this properly at all. As actionman has said, they seem dead set on evading the trams pollution issue altogether.

With the Scottish Government witholding funding this would seem to be end for the Haymarket option