A SENIOR councillor said extending Edinburgh’s tram network is a “no-brainer”, but has warned public tolerance of disruption must be a priority in planning any further routes.
Frank Ross, convener of the economy committee, gave one of the strongest hints yet yesterday that the city council was looking at a route to serve the south side of the city which is currently excluded from the £776 million project.
But he said lessons had to be learned from the experience of building the eight-mile route which caused chaos and forced some businesses to close.
“We have to think innovatively. To disrupt South Bridge and Minto Street would be catastrophic,” he said. “I am not an engineer, but I have been told there are other ways of re-laying the infrastructure below ground that is less disruptive than what we did before.”
Speaking during a media briefing on the economic benefits of the trams, he said it was incumbent on the council to be “cleverer” and work with the community to develop the tramway. He said: “Hopefully, we have learned lessons. It was bad for citizens and bad for businesses, but we know we will have to extend the tram. It is a no-brainer.”
Mr Ross said consideration might be given to laying tram lines during work now under way to reconstruct Leith Walk in order to avoid further disruption at a later date – and for a third time – though this was not in the current plan.
He also admitted that some of the work done on Leith Walk last time may require further attention.
The council claims that trams will contribute to the overall development of the west of Edinburgh under the planning framework for the area, which is expected to
add £900 million a year to the city economy. The council expects property values along the route to rise, although it admits that this is only an assumption based on experiences in other cities.
However, plans are expected to be submitted within weeks for an office development on 33 acres of land at Edinburgh Park, which was sold for 50 per cent above its expected price in December.
A rail interchange is planned for Gogarburn which will link the system to other areas of Scotland and is likely to be particularly attractive to those using the airport.
Greg Ward, director of economic development, said firms were showing interest in investing close to the tram stops.
Premier Inn has announced a £17m plan to convert a former tax office in York Place into a hotel opposite a tram stop. There is also a long-term plan to develop some of the vast area between the airport and the Gogarburn depot as an international business hub.
Mr Ward said: “Having a light transit system is a huge boost to the city economy.”
Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute at Edinburgh Napier University Business School, said: “This is a day many people thought would never come. The citizens of Edinburgh and especially the businesses along the tram route have had to be extremely patient these past seven years.”