WORK which could allow for the first extension of Edinburgh’s controversial tram project are set to get the go-ahead in the capital.
Officials have recommended a £9.1 million programme of works in Leith Walk, which would allow the soon-to-be-opened tram line to be extended north of the city centre.
The £776m transport project, which is expected to begin operating in May, three years behind schedule, was originally due to go to Leith before running badly over budget.
As a result, residents and businesses in Leith Walk were forced to endure months of disruptive utility works with no end result.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport convener, said: “No final decision will be taken on whether or not to take the tram down to Leith until we’ve had a chance to see how passenger services perform.
“However, we want to be pragmatic about this. If there is a desire to install tram tracks down Leith Walk at a later date, we don’t want the community to have to go through a more lengthy and extensive works period than they have to. Better to get some tram-proofing done now while we’re already investing time and money transforming Leith Walk.”
A report going to the city’s transport and environment committee today will detail the circumstances in which a series of road-improvement works could begin soon, on the section from the foot of Leith Walk to Pilrig Street. The package of road, pavement and cycle works will take account of the possibility of the tram line being extended in the future.
Extensions to the tram line are expected to be considered by councillors later this year.
The legislation covering the introduction of trams in Edinburgh, passed in 2006, required works to start within 15 years, so any extension would have to get under way by 2021.
The report going to the committee states: “As the Leith programme has been developed, significant effort has been made to ensure that it supports the likely extension of the tram service to Leith, and beyond, at some future point.
“The design team have taken opportunities to ‘future proof’ the enhanced design for a tram extension, including changes to kerb positions. The roundabout at the junction with London Road has been removed in the enhanced design, to be replaced with a T-junction that is compatible with a tram extension.”
In December 2011, the then infrastructure secretary, Alex Neil, appeared to rule out the prospect of trams going to Leith in the near future when he said moves to take the route further than the city centre would be a decision for “another generation”.
Last week, 1,000 volunteers became the first members of the public to ride on the trams when they took part in a safety trial between Edinburgh airport and Haymarket.
No date has yet been set for the launch of the trams in May, but it is expected to be announced four weeks in advance.
Originally due for completion in 2011, with a price tag of £545m, the first tram line had been expected to link Edinburgh Airport with Ocean Terminal in the north of the city, with a “spur” line going to Granton.
However, the route was dramatically cut back amid spiralling costs and a lengthy legal dispute between the city council’s tram firm and the construction consortium building the project.