Senior figures in business and education back trams
EDINBURGH'S business leaders, education bosses and retailers have thrown their weight behind the capital's controversial tram scheme, urging councillors to vote in favour of the £600million project.
In a letter addressed to each of the city's 58 elected members, the group asked the authority to "take a bold step" and back the plans when they are discussed at a meeting on Thursday.
The signatories, who include bosses from Edinburgh Airport, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, Forth Ports, Marks & Spencer and Edinburgh University, have stressed that failure to implement the scheme would threaten the capital's future growth.
The letter follows a report published last week which found that a phased tram network for Edinburgh is "affordable, viable, necessary" for the city and the benefits significantly outweigh the costs.
"Trams are very useful," said Ron Hewitt, one of the letter's signatories and chief executive of Edinburgh's Chamber of Commerce.
"They carry eight times the volume of people that normally use buses.
Edinburgh is already facing problems of congestion. We're behind other cities which have had efficient tram systems for many years. This gives us an opportunity to catch up and we need to take that opportunity now."
The trams' business case, drawn up by the council's transport firm TIE, includes plans for a first line from Newhaven to the airport by December 2010. The funding for the line has already been secured from the Scottish Executive.
The report presented last week recommends the tram network is phased in with the central spine, airport to Newhaven, coming into operation in December 2010. The Granton Square to Haymarket link would follow a year later if funding is secured.
An initial frequency of six trams per hour will run across the first phase, with this climbing to 12 an hour from St Andrew Square to the foot of Leith Walk.
"Edinburgh is increasingly having to compete with European cities which already have fast, energy efficient tram systems," said Ray Perman, who sits on the board of Scottish Enterprise.
"Now is the moment for the council to seize the fact that money has been granted for this project. It is a bold step and Edinburgh's businesses, retailers, educational institutions and major employers are looking to them to take it."
Last week, the National Trust for Scotland and wildlife charity RSPB also announced they would support Edinburgh's tram scheme, claiming it would help tackle climate change by slashing the number of harmful emissions from cars and buses.
If, as expected, councillors vote through the business case on Thursday, it is almost certain work will start on city streets in April.
Last night, Councillor Ricky Henderson, executive member for transport, said: "The fact that so many significant organisations from the business and education sector are urging us to support trams is yet another reminder to us that this is the right thing to do, at the right time and for the right reasons."
But Kenny MacAskill, SNP MSP, whose party opposes the tram scheme, said if business and education bosses backed the scheme, they should also pay for it.
"Why should the council taxpayer of Edinburgh have to pay the money?" he said.
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