ABERDEEN City Council’s ruling coalition administration was today accused of ‘pie in the sky’ politics after unveiling proposals for trams to run again in the city - 55 years after Britain’s most northerly municipal tramway was finally closed.
Opposition councillors warned the authority could be left facing a repeat of the Edinburgh trams fiasco by pursuing shock proposals to develop two light rail networks - one linking Dyce directly to Aberdeen International Airport and the other linking the harbour area to the suburb of Cove.
The Labour-led coalition is calling for the Scottish Government to be approached to support the funding of a feasibility study on the tram revival scheme as part of its new strategic plan for the Granite City.
But the proposals were immediately condemned today by opposition councillors.
Councillor Calum McCaig, leader of the opposition SNP Group, called for the tram scheme to be stopped in its tracks.
He claimed: “This is an absolute non starter and I am astounded that any Aberdeen city councillor should be suggesting we should by operating trams in Aberdeen. It’s a totally pie in the sky idea.”
Councillor McCaig declared: “I think you would need to have been living in a cave for the past 10 years to think that trams are something we should be pushing ahead with - before the Edinburgh trams have even got up and running.”
He said: “On paper, trams may seem to be a good idea. But in practice Edinburgh, I think, has proved there are major hurdles to be overcome before you can even think about such a scheme. There needs to be a long process in Scotland, looking at what went wrong with Edinburgh, before anyone considers going ahead with another scheme.
“We saw the costs in Edinburgh rising astronomically and the route shortening dramatically and that is not something Aberdeen City Council should be wanting to inflict upon its council tax payers.”
Councillor McCaig said the council should not even consider “wasting” taxpayers on a feasibility study. He claimed: “Feasibility studies sound like a good idea but they always cost a huge amount of money. You could be talking about spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on an exercise that tells you something you already know - that trams are a non starter in Aberdeen.”
Councillor Ian Yuill, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, also slammed the proposals for the establishment of a light rail network in the city.
He said: “If we are going to invest in Aberdeen’s transport infrastructure we need to target funding at the projects that have already been identified as priorities, such as improving the Bridge of Dee and the Crossrail project which would open up railway stations on the existing rail line.
“One would be very brave - if that’s the right word - to propose such a scheme for Aberdeen after the Edinburgh experience.”
He claimed: “We will get more bang for our buck doing other things than building expensive tram lines.”
Councillor Yuill declared: “This is just another desperate attempt by the Labour Party in Aberdeen to grab a quick headline. They have been very quick over the last year and half to grab headlines but what they haven’t been good at is delivering on anything at all.
“This is just something that the Labour group have dreamt up and scribbled down on the back of a fag packet.”
Bur Labour Councillor Willie Young, the council’s finance convener, defended the proposals. He stressed: “The first thing I want to assure people is that there won’t be trams going down Union Street and Holburn street. That is not what we’re thinking about. But what we are thinking about is how we link the rail station at Dyce to the airport. One of the things that is ridiculous about Aberdeen is that the airport entrance and the rail station are on the wrong side of Dyce to each other. And we also need to see how we can link the huge developments at the harbour to Torry and Cove on that side of the city.”
Councillor Yong said the administration was also keen to look at developing tram systems for new housing developments, such as the Elsick settlement planned for the south of the city, as they are being built. A total of 36,000 new homes have been earmarked for the city in its new development plan.
He said: “All we are asking is for the Scottish Government to join with us in a feasibility study to see if we can deliver on some of these proposals. If we had done this 40 years ago we wouldn’t have the problems we have got now with our infrastructure. Why can other European cities have trams and Aberdeen can’t?”
And Councillor Young pledged: “If the study concludes it’s not feasible then we won’t do it. But if it’s feasible let’s get on and do it. If it’s pie in the sky or a waste of money then we are going to know once we have the results of the feasibility study. But it’s something new and innovative which could make a tremendous difference to Aberdeen in easing congestion on these key routes.”
The proposal is included in the council’s Strategic Infrastructure Plan which is due to go before a full council meeting next Thursday. The report states: “As we look around the world, and Europe in particular, we see more and more successful cities of Aberdeen’s size developing rapid transport systems or light transport systems, which connect communities to major strategic sites, including universities, business parks, harbours, airports stations and city centres.
“We will start to investigate ways to maximise connectivity between new developments arising from the local development plan, including continuing discussions with Nestrans and Transport Scotland about planning and funding.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Our transport priorities are clearly set out. However, this is being promoted as a purely Aberdeen City Council initiative and is contained within their Strategic Infrastructure Plan.”