Council calls for Edinburgh Tram extension report

An artist's impression of a Port of Leith-bound tram. Picture: Contributed

An artist's impression of a Port of Leith-bound tram. Picture: Contributed

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PLANS to take Edinburgh’s trams to Leith could be resurrected after the city council ordered a detailed business case on extending the line.

A new report, entitled Future Investment in Public Transport – Potential Tram Extension, sets out the plans for an extension claimed to cost £80 million.

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It is hoped the bulk of the Leith Walk extension will be bankrolled through investment by the developers of the St James Centre, Henderson Global Investors. The new £1 billion St James Quarter is due to launch in 2019.

The business case for the line extension is to be submitted to the council in the spring, when councillors will make a final decision on whether to proceed.

A council source said: “The St James Quarter represents a massive investment into the east of Edinburgh and the city can’t really afford to pass it up.

“The trams were always intended to regenerate Leith and there looks to be money on the table to do just that.

“It has to happen eventually so there’s a general sense it might as well go ahead to coincide with and benefit from the St James development.”

A variety of funding sources will also be investigated to foot the £80m bill such as European Union funding and other developer contributions.

More than 90,000 tram journeys are being taken every week and the city’s transport leader Lesley Hinds said there was a “growing demand” in Edinburgh for public transport.

She said: “We have a real challenge in terms of Edinburgh’s population, which is forecast to grow faster than anywhere else in Scotland. We need to plan strategically and look ahead.

“The business case will be detailed and we will learn from the previous project. We need to look at investment as a long-term plan.”

Last month, the inquiry into the Edinburgh trams fiasco was given more powers, after some of those involved with the project refused to co-operate. Those who would not co-operate have not been named.

Ms Hinds admitted there will be many detractors who insist the council should await the inquiry report before embarking on an extension, but added that “lessons have been learned”.

She said: “There has been a council oversight group reviewing the project for the past number of years and a lot of the mistakes have been identified and learned from already.”

Edinburgh’s population is expected to grow from 482,600 to 619,000 by 2037. This growth is coupled with a move towards smaller households, meaning the number of homes in the city is set to rise by 39 per cent over the same period.

Leith already has a much higher population density than anywhere else in Edinburgh, with 73.3 people per hectare compared with the city average of 18.1. Leith Walk has 123.5 residents per hectare.

The controversial service began running in May after six years of disruption and a bitter dispute between the city council and contractor Bilfinger Berger.

Originally, £375m had been earmarked to pay for the network, which ended up greatly reduced and costing almost £1 billion.

Traders on Leith Walk faced years of disruption while underground pipes and utilities were diverted to accommodate rails that were never laid.

The council cancelled the Leith Walk section of the line in April 2009.

An abandoned final section of the tram project – dubbed phase 3 and costed at £198m but which never won legal approval – would have seen trams run down North and South Bridge, past Cameron Toll and as far as Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

SEE ALSO:

£1m plan to take Edinburgh Trams to Leith

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