Why is Edinburgh alone in its drive for new trams?
PLANS to restore trams to the streets of Scotland's capital for the first time in more than 50 years are coming under growing pressure after it emerged that Edinburgh is now the only local authority in Britain that is pressing ahead with a new scheme.
A succession of high-profile schemes in England - notably in Leeds, Liverpool and Portsmouth - were shelved by the former transport secretary, Alistair Darling because of escalating costs.
And last week the Tory administration at Ealing council in London voted against proposals for a 13-mile tram route being put forward by Ken Livingstone, the mayor, to relieve congestion in the west of the city.
Indeed, the recently ousted Labour administration has admitted its support for the controversial west London tram scheme was one of the decisive factors in its losing control of the council.
Now questions are being asked about whether a scheme in Edinburgh will provide value for money.
Although there are plans to extend schemes in Blackpool, Nottingham and Sheffield, Edinburgh has been left as the only council in the UK planning a completely new scheme.
Yet only five years ago numerous cities and regions across the UK were competing for government cash to build tram networks, which were regarded as one of the linchpins in public transport strategy.
The change has come about partly because existing schemes in the likes of Birmingham, Manchester and south London have failed to bring about the major change in behaviour that was promised.
A highly critical report into English tram schemes by the National Audit Office - the government spending watchdog - two years ago savaged them for failing to attract enough passengers, losing money and doing little to reduce road congestion.
It also said trams were not properly integrated with other transport, such as buses, and lines were taking longer and costing more to complete.
And although the Edinburgh scheme has completed all the parliamentary hurdles and satisfied the majority of MSPs, some fear it will fail to deliver.
However, the city council firm developing Edinburgh's plans insists it has taken account of such criticisms. A tram operator was appointed at an early stage and the scheme was integrated with Lothian Buses - the city's main operator - which is council-run. A full business case is now due by summer 2007.
In the light of opposition against the London scheme, campaigners have called on Edinburgh and the Executive to drop the 700 million plans.
Kenny MacAskill, an SNP MSP for the Lothians, said: "All over the UK tram schemes are being dropped. Edinburgh should follow this example. Labour will not be in office in the council after next May, and it should not burden a future administration with the huge expense of a tram scheme in Edinburgh.
But Donald Anderson, the Labour leader of the council, said: "Unlike south of the Border, this scheme only goes through one council area, so there will not be the same problems as there might be in London, and it has had the unanimous support of all parties in the council, including the SNP.
"It is undoubtedly true that some projects in the rest of the UK face serious hurdles, but there are dozens of tram schemes being built across Europe. We are slipping behind our European competitors in terms of our infrastructure."
Mr Anderson said Mr MacAskill had "flipped-flopped" in his stance on trams, at first supporting the idea but changing his mind in the wake of some protests against the idea.
Mr Anderson added: "The experience from everywhere that has trams is that once people have them, they want more. No-one is clamouring for the schemes that have gone ahead to be taken away, because they provide high-quality, environmentally friendly transport. Alistair Darling did what he did because he thought the schemes he was looking at did not stand up financially. Our scheme will be fully funded and affordable and will wash its face financially in terms of operating costs."
Howard Johnston, the editor of Tramways and Urban Transit magazine, said: "The reason Edinburgh is going ahead with trams is simple - Scotland is very pro-public transport.
"Politicians in opposition always try to put the brakes on schemes. In fact, in England, more trams have been built under the Conservatives than Labour."
A spokeswoman for the Transport Scotland agency, responsible for implementing Executive transport policy, said: "Ministers continue to support the Edinburgh tram project, but this depends on the promoter delivering an acceptable and robust business case which will confirm value for money, policy objectives and costs."
Tram schemes south of the Border
TRANSPORT for London (TFL) will decide this summer whether to press ahead with a tram line in west London after the new Conservative administration at Ealing Council withdrew its support following the local elections.
TFL stressed yesterday it does not require the backing of the council or two others involved for the 13-mile scheme to go ahead between Shepherd's Bush and Uxbridge, but hoped for co-operation in areas such as the diversion of utilities.
Labour councillors have admitted that their support for the 648 million scheme was a major factor in losing power at the council this month, and said they, too, now opposed it.
TFL said two other tram schemes were at the design stage and planned to open in ten years' time - three years after the earliest the west London line could start. One is an extension of the 17-mile Croydon line, which opened in 2000, to Crystal Palace, while the other is a new line between Camden in north London and Brixton and Peckham in the south, via Euston and Waterloo.
GOVERNMENT funding of the Merseytram project was withdrawn last November after Liverpool and Knowsley councils failed to deliver assurances that they could pay if it went over budget.
Ministers had pledged 170 million for the 11-mile scheme between Kirkby and Liverpool city centre on the basis that it would be delivered with no further requests for cash from the local authorities. The two councils offered a capped assurance of 24 million, but Merseytravel said the total public sector funding required was 315 million.
Derek Twigg, the transport minister, said: "The 170 million was available for Merseytram as long as we could be sure the scheme would be delivered without any further requests for government funding. We asked for assurances from the districts, as the ultimate funders of any overruns, that they would cover any additional costs."
An attempt to have the decision overturned at the High Court failed but Merseytravel is now lobbying Douglas Alexander, the new Transport Secretary, for support.
THE axe finally fell on the long-delayed Leeds Supertram project last November, when the government refused to bankroll the 355 million scheme.
Alistair Darling, the then transport secretary, ended months of speculation by decisively rejecting a move to reinstate the project.
In an attempt to soften the blow, however, he pledged funding for alternative proposals, such as a "top-of-the-range" rapid bus system for the city.
The Supertram scheme was given approval in 2001, with a cap on public sector funding of 355 million. By 2004, however, the costs had spiralled to more than 500 million and Mr Darling reversed his decision.
The government has since been discussing alternative proposals with the Supertram's promoter, West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.
Announcing his decision, Mr Darling said the latest plans were still "very expensive", with costs nearly 40 per cent higher than originally planned.
THE government turned down plans for a tram system linking Fareham, Gosport and Portsmouth in Hampshire last November, stating that it was too expensive.
Hampshire County Council has waited more than six months for a decision on its revised scheme, but the South Hampshire Rapid Transit tram scheme may now never be built after the government's decision not to part-fund its 170 million cost.
The Department for Transport said that although steps had been taken to reduce the cost, the required funding "remains significantly higher" than the department is willing to pay".
Derek Twigg, the transport minister, said: "The latest tram proposals are still very expensive - costs are nearly 50 per cent higher than originally planned. This is for a reduced scheme which places more of the risks with the public sector."
He said the scheme was given full approval in 2001 with a cap on public-sector funding of 170 million based on 2003 prices, but the most recent plans need 214 million of public-sector funding.
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