Meeting to resolve tram fiasco may end in... yet more fiasco
EDINBURGH's tram project is facing stalemate at a crunch meeting next week after it emerged councillors may be sharply divided on how to resolve the crisis afflicting the scheme.
The Liberal Democrats could have to rely on the anti-tram SNP, their partners in the ruling coalition, to avoid having to end the first tram line at Haymarket, outwith the city centre.
Labour and Tory councillors have vowed to oppose committing the council to spending up to 773 million to complete the line from Edinburgh airport to St Andrew Square in the city centre, which is recommended by council officials.
It is thought the stalemate may see the officials sent back to the drawing board amid claims they have over-exaggerated the latest estimated costs of various options for the project.
The line is running three years behind schedule and is expected to cost at least 200m more than the 500m funding capped by the Scottish Government. The cost of completing the line as far as Haymarket is put at 700m.
The Scotsman has learned the council may be unable to come to a decision on Thursday due to the level of scepticism over the latest figures for getting the trams up and running, and possible cancellation costs, believed to be up to 750m. There is also uncertainty over how the huge funding gap could be bridged.
First Minister Alex Salmond said last night the Scottish Government would do everything it could to help by offering the council "flexibility" in how it runs its finances.
But he insisted it "wouldn't be fair" on the rest of the country for the Scottish Government to stump up extra funding for the beleaguered project.
However business leaders have warned it would be "simply unthinkable" to cancel Edinburgh's tram project.
Liz McAreavy, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the main business group for the city centre, said the "minimum outcome" from next week's council meeting should be a line from Edinburgh airport to St Andrew Square, and warned against the cheaper option of cutting the line short at Haymarket.
An insider on the Tory group within the council said: "We just don't believe the figures that have been brought forward. We think it would be irresponsible to commit the council to having to find almost 300m for the tram project. There are too many unanswered questions."
Labour group leader Andrew Burns said: "We want to see the project delivered to Haymarket within the current funding envelope of 600m as we think that is possible."
Mr Salmond said: "When the Scottish Parliament forced through the trams project, we passed the motion saying the limit was 500m. We are not going beyond that limit - that was the money that was given to the council and (its tram developers] Tie in Edinburgh to get on with the project, that was the agreement.
"We can't ask everybody else in Scotland to increase that now. That just wouldn't be fair, it wouldn't be reasonable and it wouldn't be proper. We will certainly do everything we can in terms of talking to the council and see if there is any flexibility in how they run their finances that can help them."
Dublin did it
EDINBURGH's travails with its tram project are in contrast to Dublin's celebrated Luas system, which has expanded since its introduction in 2004, just three years after work began.
The system carries more than 30 million passengers and has 50 stations across two lines, the same number Edinburgh was supposed to create when the project received the backing of the Scottish Executive in 2003.
Pat Liddy, a historian and tour guide in Dublin, said: "It took about ten years to get the tram approved as the government changed hands about four times, but it always had political support as there was a real feeling the city was heading towards gridlock.
"The first phase was well over budget and there was quite a lot of disruption, but…the first tram line opened three years later and there have been another four or five sections built since then. Public attitudes changed as soon as it opened. It's extremely popular now."
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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