THE chairman of the Edinburgh tram inquiry said he wants to hear about the impact of the project on people’s lives as his team sifts through more than two million documents about the transport fiasco.
However Lord Hardie – who was appointed six months ago – said he did not want submissions until he determines key areas for investigation.
The former judge - who was speaking publicly about the investigation for the first time - said there would be a preliminary hearing, at a date to be agreed, at which he would set out the issues people should address in written evidence.
Announcing the investigation in June, the former first minister Alex Salmond said: “We look forward to a swift and thorough inquiry.”
It is hoped that lessons can be learned after the £776 million project was finished in May, three years late and some £200m over budget, despite being significantly scaled back from original plans.
Lord Hardie said the inquiry would “provide the public with the answers they want and deserve to have”.
Major problems with the project included the diversion of underground pipes and cables from the 8.5-mile Edinburgh Airport-city centre route.
Construction was then halted by a dispute between city council tram developers Tie and building firms. The utility diversion work also caused disruption on the York Place- Newhaven section of the route, before construction was shelved to save money.
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Lord Hardie said a computer “document management system” is due to start analysing the two million documents in the New Year, including e-mails.
This compares to the 10,000 documents involved in the Vale of Leven inquiry into the Clostridium difficile infection outbreak.
The system will be programmed to identify “critical” documents, but Lord Hardie said some people involved in the project – whom he declined to name – would have their files scrutinised by hand.
A further 200-300 boxes of documents will also be checked by the ten-strong inquiry team.
Lord Hardie said the question of how the tram work had affected the public remained a “big gap”. He said: “One thing we are really keen to have is evidence about the effect of the project on people’s lives – the consequences on householders, businesses and developers, including in neighbouring streets where traffic was diverted.”
The judge also said he wanted to hear from developers as to whether the truncated tram line inhibited regeneration of the north of the city.
Lord Hardie said hearings – to be held at the inquiry’s offices at Waverley Gate, off Princes Street – would be used primarily for witnesses to elaborate on their written evidence, which would be published online.
He said: “My ideal is to decide as much as possible on the basis of written submissions.”
Scottish Government lawyer Jonathan Lake QC, who took part in the Dunblane shootings inquiry, has been appointed senior counsel to the inquiry and Gordon McNicoll its solicitor.
West End Association vice-chair Michael Apter said: “Having an opportunity to say what we suffered as a consequence of construction is a welcome move.”
The Leith Business Association called for the inquiry to come to its members. Acting chairman Keith Hales said: “The best thing Lord Hardie can do is to go to Leith Walk and set up an office for several days. The last five years has been a struggle.”
City council transport convener Lesley Hinds said: “It’s useful to find out the parameters of the inquiry.”
Details of the procedures will be published on the inquiry’s website – www.edinburghtraminquiry.org today.
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