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Tories say council must look to its finances

Tram extension moves closer as business case mounts

Edinburgh TramsTrams down to Leith and possibly Newhaven moved a step closer today as Edinburgh city councillors fended off an attempt by the Conservatives to pull the plug on a planned extension.

An economic assessment of the case, presented to councillors today, has shown there would be benefits from extending the single line route.

They backed moves to continue looking at its impact with a view to taking a final decision in the autumn.

Labour’s Lesley Hinds argued that passengers numbers were growing and that the tram system, which launched a year ago, would bring economic growth with it.

“I am extremely pleased with the business case which clearly shows the economic impact that an extension of the tram could have on the city,” she said during a debate in the City Chambers.

“We have seen passenger numbers increase, demonstrating a growing demand for public transport in Edinburgh. It is making the case for an extension of the tram.

“Further due diligence is required to ensure a robust financial case. It is essential this council learns from past mistakes.”

She said it was “disappointing” that the Conservative group had moved a motion calling for no action.

Adam McVey for the SNP said his group was not being “dogmatic” but more information was needed. Even so, he accused the Conservatives of being “trigger happy” by being too eager to shoot down the project.

Conservative spokesman Nick Cook defended his group’s objections, saying it was wrong to consider an extension at a time when the council was facing financial difficulties and needed to make substantial cutbacks. Schools were crumbling and the roads were beset with potholes that needed fixing.

Councillor Cook, who admitted he had been, and remains, a tram sceptic, reminded councillors of the ongoing inquiry and the mistakes that were made during the controversial first phase which was vastly over budget and was delivered three years late.

“Let us ask ourselves what it says that we plough on without the full findings [from the inquiry] about what went badly wrong and brought global embarrassment on our city,” he said.

His colleague Joanna Mowat said: “It would be imprudent to embark on this project. It is not the right time to go down this route.”

She said that the latest plans were already behind schedule and accused supporters of the extension of giving “false hope” to the people of Leith who had suffered disruption once and got nothing from it.

“It is also angering those in other parts of the city who see no benefit from the tram and are concerned about the borrowing that would be required,” she said.

Conservative member Cameron Rose shared the desire to see the roads and pavements fixed before more money was spent on trams.

Liberal Democrat Paul Edie said the public attitude towards the trams had improved and the they were now popular. His group offered its support to extending them to Leith, but said it should also extend to the Royal Infirmary.

The motion to continue investigating the business case was approved by 42 votes to 11.


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