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Councillors back business case for tram extension

How the tram would look at the top of Leith Walk (Edinburgh City Council)

Edinburgh councillors have thrown their support behind the business case for a £165 million extension to the tram line.

Council Leader Adam McVey said the growth forecast for Edinburgh means the city “simply cannot stand still.”

He accepted that the council could not take trams down to Newhaven “unless we’re 100 per cent certain we’ve rigorously scrutinised the business case and taken on board crucial lessons from the first phase.”

But he felt that the business case, based on independent advice, meant the council was now well placed to move to the next stage.

A comprehensive tendering process will now get under way to secure a potential contractor partner for the project.

The extension to the seven-mile single line from the Airport to York Place would take trams down Leith Walk, causing more disruption to local businesses and residents who endured months of roadworks to accommodate the initial route.

This was abandoned because of the budget overrun which meant the line cost twice as much to build as the original estimate.

Population growth is among the reasons supporting the scheme. Over the next decade, Edinburgh and the surrounding area is expected to grow faster than anywhere else in Scotland. National Records of Scotland projections published in 2016 suggest city should be planning for an additional 47,000 people by 2024 and additional 102,000 by 2039 (20% increase).

The number of households is forecast to increase by more than 38,000 (16%) by 2032. A quarter (25%) of this growth is expected to occur in Leith Docks and the Western Harbour area.

Advisers to the council say that for every £1 spent on the tram the economic return to the city is £1.64.

Because a significant amount of infrastructure work, including underground utility work, was completed the first time around the project should take just three years to complete, including 18 months in Leith Walk, with no requirement for a ‘double dig’.

“We will only make our final decision next autumn once the tendering process has completed and once we’ve consulted an independent assessor on the viability of the proposed construction contracts,” said Councillor MrVey.

“We’ll also, of course. consider any lessons learned from Lord Hardie’s ongoing tram inquiry as we move forward.”

Tram in Constitution Street

The tram would travel along Constitution Street in old Leith (Edinburgh City Council)

Transport convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “For the people of Leith, having a direct tram link to the city centre and other key employment and travel hubs would be hugely beneficial.

“That said, we are acutely aware of how challenging the construction period would be, which is why we’re developing a compensation scheme to help those who would be most affected.

“We’ll take the time while the tender process is ongoing to build and maintain useful two-way relationships with local residents and businesses so we can understand and ideally pre-empt issues which might arise.

“Stage 2 will also enable us to work with all our partners and stakeholders, including bus companies, the emergency services, residents, businesses and elected members, to properly test and model traffic management plans for the works.

“Over the next 12 months we will be able to develop an even fuller picture of the project, building further detail into the business case and drawing on another year of patronage, which will allow us to make a fully informed final decision next autumn.”

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