Truth outing over the tram project already?

Submitted by d2tod4 on Sun, 25 Sep '11 7.37pm

There are emerging news stories recently that intersect with the situation and events in Edinburgh surounding the Tram project; The object lesson Greece and Italy are providing in the dangers of sliding into a quagmire of unmanageable debt isn't the only one, two others are:

The Guardian had a story on page 4 recently, yet again highlighting the rapidly growing understanding of the effects of traffic created pollution.  

The debacle of the Central Fire control stations in which hundreds of millions have been totally wasted, which is an ongoing political story and indeed scandal.

Traffic created pollution is a difficult problem but only Edinburgh City Council in the UK is pushing forward with a project that lacks any real constituency of support amongst the public and  that was predicted by its own figures to raise pollution levels for well over 130,000 households.

This makes the advice at the end of the Guardian story that people should 'stay away from busy road junctions' if they have existing cardiac conditions rather difficult to follow when the traffic has been picked up and dumped upon the street corners where they actually spend their lives.

The Fire Control centre story shows in turn what happens when politicians abrogate their responsibilities to be the 'executive controllers of the public interest' by allowing the paid employees of what used to be called the Civil Service to run the show unhindered.

In the example in Edinburgh the decision to hide such an enormous problem as Air pollution and Health effects arising from it under the weaselly worded label of 'Wider Issues' is  a bigger scandal than either of the ridiculous amounts wasted on the Fire Control Centres, or the 'Tram'.

In many different public sector projects, now unravelling, the role of so called 'arms length' companies, the over use of and the total reliance on consultants for both decision making and execution of decisions, and the bewilderment amongst elected representatives reduced to impotent rubber stamping of those decisions, and in effect just providing alibi's for guilty parties, are all recurring themes.

Wasting huge amounts of money on things like PFI schemes, The Fire Control Centres and the Tram project when 'Times were good' is lamentable, but only in Edinburgh do we have an executive still frog marching its elected chamber towards unknown and unknowable financial burdens for vanishingly small and uncertain rewards.

Only in Edinburgh do we have an executive prepared to gamble not only with the financial health of the City, but the real health of its citizens---and that's a scandal that just isn't going to go away.

The links between traffic pollution and asthma and cardiovascular disease are now well documented. Children and infants seem particularly vulnerable, but also anyone who lives for a prolonged period with air pollution in their environment (which will be many people reading this).

From  The BMJ:

"Modest elevations in exposure to some traffic-related air pollutants during the year of birth are associated with new onset asthma assessed at age 7." Read

"Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution, indexed by nitrogen dioxide concentration, increases the risk of cardiopulmonary mortality, even in a population with a relatively low body mass index and increases the risk of lung cancer mortality in non-smokers." Read

"The increased mortality from Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer may be associated with long-term exposure to urban air pollution." Read

edg.. you are absolutely correct, and this issue of Air Pollution causing illness,  especially in modern largely post industrial cities, effectively means traffic created air pollution.

 All cities and towns across the country, and the EU, are aware of this issue and how dangerous it is, but they are struggling to reduce the figures, because of course traffic is necessary to modern life ,much as we may wish it were otherwise.

This article shows a league table and it's interesting that in some Edinburgh streets already experiencing the traffic decanting effects the measurements are at or worse than Bucharest levels.

As well as the above article, this below came out in the last few days

Traffic fumes can trigger heart attacks, say researchers

Study published in the British Medical Journal identifies pollutant particles and nitrogen dioxide as main culprits......

which went on to offer the advice (From Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation) that

......Our advice to patients remains the same – if you've been diagnosed with heart disease, try to avoid spending long periods outside in areas where there are likely to be high traffic pollution levels, such as on or near busy roads."

This is difficult when those busy roads are being created in the streets where tens and even hundreds of thousands of people live, and the pollution being  brought to the front doors, windows and gardens of people by their Council.

The project is already a byword for catastrophic mismanagment but in view of the above may  have not yet begun to plumb the depths of reputational damage for the City that can be expected as the illnesses and deaths move from predictions and projections to statistical facts.,

It is difficult to find any other Council in any other city so desperate to achieve closure on a project that they are prepared to ignore the increasing avalanche of evidence showing that  by doing so they are increasing exposure to pollutants for their citizens.

It is grotesque to keep on protraying the tram --as designed ---as   green Transport solution, and it does not  have to be this way because the city can have a tram project that does not increase pollution.

It is impossible to speculate as to why the Council has never had a proper health impact study when their own report showed as long ago as 2003 the potential size of the number of people affected, and subsequent evidence has shown the under estimation of actual levels of pollutant estimated back then.

Odd and worrying effects are arising as a result of this state of denial however; one example concerns the Air quality figures that were released routinely as a matter of course by the Council until November last year, in respect of the 'Guinea-Pig' area around Great Stuart Street.

These have now stopped being released for no other stated reason than that 'they' believe these figures may be 'mis-used' by people fighting to have the project rethought to avoid these health impacts while there is still time.

Figures are simply facts, the situation is complicated and the science is not straightforward, but that is no reason for any publically accountable body to take it on themselves to to prevent the facts from standing in the public domain and speaking for themselves.

 The likelihood of a  'mis-use' of facts is only increased when one side has all the facts and keeps them to itself. 

In the scramble to appear to be actually doing something, Edinburgh City Council has studiously ignored the overall effects of their trams project on the health of the citizens who occupy the houses along the routes where the displaced traffic is going to be forced by introducing this "light rail 'tram' ".   Visitors and shoppers on Shandwick Place and Princes Street only encountered the pollution for a short period each day, however, the residents and particularly their children, will suffer exposure on a 24/7 basis and this must lead to health problems.   These may not be immediately visible or easily identified, but it is worrying that the Council who appear to be in league with Lothian Health Board both seem to be oblivious of the threat and are dismissive of the health risks.

If I am being honest I can't really understand how they started down this road---of 'hoping nobody would notice' or at least hoping 'the problem might not turn out to be too bad'.

Perhaps they felt the problem was 'small' back at the beginning and addressing it might have proved the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of feasibility of the project.

But whatever the reason for past failures to address this, in the light of endlessly growing evidence,  the  continued hand wringing over CO2 emissions in general by the Council, and the continuing portrayal of the project as 'Green',  is nauseous when coupled with the reality of the effects.   

Wishing and hoping was what produced the viscious spiral on the financial side---now it seem to be a case of fingers crossed that not to people get ill and die..or at least not too many who are able to press a compensation case against the Council in years to come.

Edinburgh residents have put up with air pollution for such a long time, I suppose the council expects them to continue to do so. Councillors know how difficult it is to lobby against something you can't see and that requires a certain amount of time, money, and scientific expertise to get reliable data on.

Whenever the data is forthcoming, Edinburgh consistently has pollution levels (esp of NO2 emissions) not just above, but almost twice safe EU levels.

I don't see it getting better unless they introduce a congestion charge or petrol prices go through the roof.

The points are good ones, though the idea that petrol prices going up will solve the issue isn't a runner--- though the conflation of the 'tram project' emptying roads, but it being the decanted traffic that is the problem, is a particularly pernicious argument used regularly by Gordon Mackenzie, that he knows to be false.

Creating a problem within a set of facts but then blaming something outwith those facts is classic political game playing.

(I don't want to imply I am saying you're doing this but if Petrol prices rising are to produce the mitigation required then thet would have to rise so far that the City and wider society would be close to ecconomic collapse which would produce far worse health impacts than even the unnecessarily congested traffic).

 The 'traffic' isn't just cars but vans, buses and lorries as well, although the council prefer to set up 'selfish' car drivers as the real villains.


The congestion charge failed because it wasn't set up 'to reduce car travel in the city --and lorry and van journeys but because it was created to raise money.  A different congestion charge, designed to produce environmental and health gains wouldn't necessarily be the same as one primarily designed to raise revenue.

The charge was in fact a necessary precondition for the Tram project both to drive use, but also simply create money the council could allocate towards subsidising it.  It's failure ought to have meant the automatic shelving of the tram project, but of course it didn't.

Like all arms salesmen the Council are reduced to blaming the bullets fired, and the people firing them instead of the guns they make...thius the council blames 'cars' (because it's lazy but effective propoganda) in order not to blame their own catasrtophically compromised project.

The damage to air quality caused by trams cannot be put right as a) they have no money now they're borrowing millions to build the thing and b) even if they had money the fact is the traffic effects will spread far beyond the centre, and they can't 'charge' the entire surface area of the city...or perhaps they can!!

Separate " properly implemented congestion charge' from 'for the introduction of trams' and I agree 100% and (always inadvisable choice of words!) unreservedly.

The dangerous, woeful and (now even) sinister tram project shouldn't be allowed to hide quivering but baleful (!) behind the skirts of the virtuous and admirable 'properly implemented' congestion charge.

The congestion charge designed to reduce pollution, whether noise or air, reduce danger, reduce discomfort, reduce global warming gases AND, by the way, raise some money to be spent on good causes is  'all good'.

A congestion charge not aimed at these things, but aimed at revenue raising so council executives can generate gross income to justify the aggrandisment and consequent £250K salaries (and so on down the scale for the boys and girls in the band) is just 'all bad'.

The best outcome is a 'good' congestion charge alongside with but not associated with a 'good' (ie not bloated) tram!

The council 's wish is to make a bad tram the excuse for a bad congestion charge-a pitiful argument and a worse ambition.


But we're getting Bucharest..and indeed worse than that---it's so bad it is unbelievable especially if, and literally, you don't look at the  facts.

That IS what the council are depending on of course, and indeed the facts have had only passing connection to this project throughout. So much so that the  electorate have been led , via confusion, into apathy almost as a prerequisite, to such an extent that the council are now more than happy, indeed desperate,  to see this state of affairs continue undisturbed.