Agood tip for anyone faced with flagging dinner party conversation in Edinburgh is to casually introduce the topic of property prices.
The answer is that it depends on the routes in relation to your house and, of course, if the trams get the go-ahead in the first place.
Three lines are proposed to the north, west and southeast of the city. Line 1 loops from Haymarket and Princes Street, down parts of Leith Walk along to Ocean Terminal and round through Granton to Craigleith.
Line 2 runs from Haymarket, past Murrayfield Stadium, along Saughton Road North to Newbridge, taking in Edinburgh Park and the Airport along the way. The route of the third line is yet to be decided.
But before anyone gets madly excited about how improved transport links could treble the value of his or her buy-to-let on Dalry Road, then it should be said that planning is at a very preliminary stage.
The organisation behind the project is called TIE, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, an "arms-length" company owned by the city council. It has identified the preferred routes for Lines 1 and 2, as broadly outlined above. A total of 375 million of Scottish Executive cash has been earmarked for them. In early 2004 a Private Bill will be submitted to the Scottish Parliament outlining the plans. The process of being adopted by the Scottish Parliament is a long one, however, even if the bill is agreed, Royal Assent is not expected until 2005 or 2006. That means that it will be around 2009 before anyone gets a chance to hop on a tram, let alone enjoy a property price hike.
But it is certainly not too early to anticipate what the trams could mean for home-owners across the capital. TIE has already carried out a public consultation exercise between 14 May and 10 July. More than 3,000 people responded. Of those, 83.6 per cent supported the tram proposals, suggesting the residents believe a tram stop near their home is a bonus not a liability.
Recent studies bear them out, according to George Hazel, the director of the Edinburgh-based transport consultancy, McLean Hazel. Professor Hazel, who also lectures at Robert Gordon University, says: "There’s a number of studies, I know of at least 50 or 60, which have found that generally, when you have a fixed piece of infrastructure like a bus or tramway stop, if you live within 800 metres of it, your property will increase in value."
According to studies, he adds, the hike could be between 10 per cent and 12 per cent or as much as 20 per cent. This is good news for anyone living around Balgreen Road, Stenhouse Drive and Broomhouse Road, the proposed sites for three tram stops on Line 2. Likewise, people living around Constitution Street, Caroline Park and Ocean Terminal along Line 1 could be laughing all the way to the bank.
Not everyone is happy about the new proposals, however. It seems that residents don’t mind a tram stop nearby, outside their back or front door is another story, however. Residents living in and around Wester Coates Terrace have expressed concerns that their homes could be devalued if, as one proposal suggests, the trams run along a footpath behind their homes. At a public meeting in June, a local solicitor said she would be getting her house valued before and after the tram system was installed. If the price dropped she would bill TIE for the difference. Other residents living near proposed tram stops are worried about noise pollution - trams will run every six minutes - and general disruption.
"There’s always initial apprehension," according to Peter Lyell, a director of the estate agency FPD Savills in Edinburgh. "People worry about things like, is it going to go through their back garden. And there could be a downside if the tram stop is outside your door. Bus stops, for instance, can be a problem with people leaving rubbish. But I would say that it (the tram system) is a positive thing."
Areas like Granton and parts of Leith are badly served transport wise, he adds. Any moves to make it easier for people to commute back and forth to the city centre from these areas is to be applauded. He says that estate agents always highlight the location of a property in relation to local amenities. People, especially those moving to the capital, inevitably want to know where the good schools are situated, how easy it is to get to the city by-pass. Good transport links can be crucial to securing a good price for a house. For example, nobody wants to live in the north of the city and send their kids to a primary school miles away if it means sitting in traffic on Princes Street twice a day.
Lyell adds that, although building tramlines could cause major disruption, the long-term benefits to property owners would outweigh the disadvantages. Simon Fairclough, spokesman for the ESPC agrees. He says residents must look at the bigger picture. "It’s the economy that determines the property market, not the other way around. Edinburgh is the only part of Scotland where the population is expected to rise. If we want to continue to make it economically attractive for businesses to open here then we have to make sure their staff can live here and get around."
Lyell’s colleague in FPD Savills in London, Lindsay Cuthill, adds that London is a case in point. The proximity of the nearest tube stop is often a clinching factor in property buying. "For first and second time buyers especially, it makes a huge difference because they are the real worker bees, after that the executive car park tends to open up for a lot of people and the nearest tube is no longer an issue. For those who do commute by tube, a five-minute walk to the station is brilliant, a ten-minute walk is reasonable as long as it is a well lit path near shops and not through some dark park."
He says that improving tube lines or, as in the Jubilee Line, opening new ones can revitalise a previously tricky market. Although he cannot put a figure on it, he says that properties in Greenwich are enjoying a boom thanks to the new tube routes.
It all sounds like good news for property developers like Sundial Properties, the company behind the upmarket Leith Hospital development on Mill Street. Its director William Gray-Muir points out that the apartments will be a block away from the tramline. However, he adds that the development has plenty of car parking space. Buyers, therefore, can still take the car into the city centre if they prefer. He sees the tram proposal as just another example of the area’s regeneration.
Whether or not the tram proposals will have the same effect on other areas in Edinburgh remains to be seen. It seems as though trams will continue to dominate dinner party chats for a long time to come.