Councillors braced for further backlash

Edinburgh tram extension backed by council

Edinburgh TramsEdinburgh’s eight-mile tram line will be extended from the city centre to Newhaven at a cost of £162 million.

Councillors today agreed in principle to the extension which will take the trams down Leith Walk.

There is likely to be a further backlash from businesses following the disruption that was caused during work to prepare the road before cost over-runs meant the route halted at York Place.

Resurfacing and paving of the northern half of Leith Walk has only just been completed and the next phase from the Pilrig Street junction is due to begin next year.

Councillors were told that the extension will be partly financed by a £25 million dividend from Lothian Buses.

Council leader Andrew Burns said the tram was exceeding passenger targets and it was the council’s duty to meet the needs of population growth in city.

Supporters say the extension into an area of high population density is necessary for it to become profitable.

The decision came against opposition from the Conservative group. Tory leader Cameron Rose urged councillors not to go ahead.

“It’s not viable, it’s much too expensive and it’s going to take far too long,” he said.

Elected members voted  to continue consideration of an Outline Business Case until the next council meeting in December, when a further report will be heard.

The council will now gather additional detail to support making a start on the first stage of project development.

If it is agreed to proceed, there will be a nine-month period of project development, including the beginning of procurement processes for external support and site investigation.

Councillor Burns, said: “I am pleased we have been able to find a way forward for the project, which would deliver a range of key benefits in terms of economic growth, greater accessibility and the environment for Leith and the city as a whole.

“It is now our intention to ensure complete clarity before taking the next step, taking into account the needs of the city’s tax payers. I therefore look forward to receiving a report providing further detail on the Outline Business Case before progressing the project to the next stage.”

Depute Council Leader, Councillor Sandy Howat, said: “We are in agreement that extending the tram line could have a positive impact on the city, and look forward to receiving further information later this year, before deciding on whether to proceed with the project.

“We want to provide best value for the city, so it is essential that we balance progress with the interests of Edinburgh’s residents.”

A second stage, scheduled to take 21 months and costing approximately £8.3m, would include further site investigation and working with the council’s advisors in carrying out procurement and enabling works.

The Outline Business Case, based on a formal market consultation process, audit of the financial model and identification of funding options, concluded that extending the existing tram line to Newhaven will boost the city’s economy while delivering a range of wider benefits in relation to employment, population growth and social inclusion.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman on Edinburgh City Council, Nick Cook, said: “Conservative councillors have consistently led opposition to the proposals presented to extend the tram line – we did so again today.

“The proposals are too expensive and projected costs are already rising. This is a huge mistake.

“They are based on an extremely high level of assumption and are estimated to take a staggering six years to complete.

“As an organisation, Edinburgh City Council is not well-placed to deliver a project of this scale.

“It has repeatedly refused to take the decisions needed to get its finances in good order and is in the midst of significant restructuring.

“There is the issue too that the trams inquiry remains in its early stages – it is essential this is allowed to report back and that lessons are learned from the original project.”

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