Controversial plans to extend Edinburgh tram system could form part of a multi-billion pound City Deal.
Council chiefs are in talks with Chancellor Philip Hammond and the UK and Scottish governments to inject cash into the project.
City chief executive Andrew Kerr said there was “no doubt” that expanding the tram system was an option for boosting Leith and the waterfront.
But critics insisted that the cash could be better spent elsewhere – and argued there was “no such thing as government money, only taxpayers’ money”.
The news comes as a document emerged confirming officials are looking to expand the trams down to Newhaven and Granton, west to Newbridge from Ingliston, and south to Little France, Newcraighall and Queen Margaret University.
The latest draft of the new Strategic Development Plan (SDP) – which sets out a vision for the long-term development of the Edinburgh region, and is drawn up by officials from Edinburgh and surrounding councils – lists the tram expansions as part of its “strategic projects 2018-2030”.
It states an extension of the existing line to Newhaven and Granton is “needed to support [the] significant scale of development at Leith and [the] waterfront”.
The long-awaited City Region Deal aims to inject up to £2 billion of public money into key infrastructure projects, with the potential to attract a further £5 billion of private sector cash.
Supporters say the vast funding pot could be used to kick-start development, as well as pumping extra investment into culture and tourism. Bosses hope to deliver the deal by the end of the year – and it is understood it could even be finalised by early October.
Asked whether an extension of the trams would form part of the City Deal, Mr Kerr said: “Yes, it’s possible. If we’re opening up the east of the city, Leith and the waterfront for development, which increases land value and has economic benefit all the way through, there’s no doubt the tram extension is part of that consideration.
“The extent to which it is and the extent to which it’s part of the City Deal is part of the negotiation. We’re not at the stage where we say that we’re going to fund 30 metres of tram or 40 metres.
“We’re just at the point where we see how best we can invest the £2billion. We’re negotiating on that. We’ve got to make best use of that £2 billion. In the west that’s probably roads that open up that area for development. In the east it’s more likely to be light railway or tram, or some version of that.”
Experts said opening up the tram line to key areas in the north and south east of Edinburgh would boost investment, jobs, housing and infrastructure.
Professor Sean Smith, director of Edinburgh Napier’s Institute for Sustainable Construction, described the City Deal as a “game-changer”.
He said an extension of the trams could do for parts of the city what the Borders Railway has done for the rural south of Scotland – ushering in fresh development, jobs and cash.