Legal drive to fast-track new trams for city
TRAMS may return to Edinburgh’s streets a year earlier than planned if MSPs can speed up the necessary legislation.
City transport bosses have said the first of the new tram lines should open in 2009, but that could be brought forward if the Scottish Parliament can deal with the two trams Bills before the end of next year.
Unlike new roads, any tram or rail project requires legislation to be passed by parliament before it can go ahead.
That means MSPs meeting in committee to take evidence from objectors before forwarding the proposals to the full parliament for approval.
Officials calculated if there was one committee to deal with the two Edinburgh trams Bills, it could take as long as two years to complete the process.
So they have decided there should be two committees, one looking at each Bill, in the hope of dealing with them in just over a year.
City transport leader Andrew Burns said the council had allowed for two years in its planning for the 431 million trams project, so there was a possibility the parliament’s decision could mean the trams would be introduced earlier than expected.
Under the tram network plans, line one will follow a circular route from the city centre to Leith and Granton, while line two will connect Haymarket, the airport and Newbridge.
A third line from the east end of Princes Street to Cameron Toll, via the Bridges and Newington, to the ERI at Little France and then out to Newcraighall is planned for later.
Councillor Burns said: "In our 2009 delivery schedule, we have timetabled royal assent at the end of 2005. We can meet 2009. If the parliament gives us royal assent in 12 months, rather than 24, we might be able to speed that up."
But there is growing cross-party pressure to scrap the cumbersome legislative procedure required for tram and rail schemes and instead use public inquiries to allow people to air objections.
SNP transport spokesman and Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill said: "We are dealing with the legacy of Westminster, legislation which dates back to the Victorian era when entrepreneurs wanted to open railway lines through the countryside.
"We should deal with railway proposals through a public inquiry, the same as we do with road proposals. The current system is crazy and needs to be changed. It is bad for the public and for parliament."
Livingston Labour MSP Bristow Muldoon, convener of the parliament’s transport committee, said MSPs serving on the committee dealing with a Bill for a Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway line had been "absolutely overloaded" with work.
And he said as well as the trams Bills, there was already a Bill going through the parliament to reopen the Borders rail link, and there would soon have to be legislation for the Bathgate-Airdrie line and the rail link from Edinburgh city centre to the airport.
"This procedure is inherited from the Victorian era and because there have been very few new lines built in the past 40-50 years, no-one has felt the need to update it. But now it is worth looking at it again and trying to streamline the process."
Cllr Burns also gave his backing to a change of system. "The trams are a major development and it is being supported by the Executive with a significant financial sum. The downside is the frustration at the length of time the whole parliamentary process is going to take.
"The way we as a nation deal with large infrastructure projects does need to be looked at again."
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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