Edinburgh trams: City faces three-year wait for answers to debacle

Steve Cardownie: Happy to wait for inquiry. Picture: Dan Phillips
Steve Cardownie: Happy to wait for inquiry. Picture: Dan Phillips
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EDINBURGH faces a three-year wait for answers on its disastrous tram project after the new city council leaders said they were content to wait until the project was up and running before it is held.

Labour is watering down its demands for an urgent probe into the £776 million affair after joining forces with the SNP to run the capital.

The Scottish Government, which has agreed to hold a probe into the project – which is five years late – has refused to set out an inquiry timetable so far.

MSPs want an inquiry held as soon as possible in case any lessons can be learned for the forthcoming £1.6 billion Forth Replacement Crossing scheme.

Business leaders say there is a “strong feeling” from traders that those responsible for blunders over the project should be held accountable “sooner rather than later,” and expressed concern

Despite pre-election calls from Labour for an “inquiry as soon as possible”, the council issued a statement last night saying it is content to merely work with the Scottish Government on when it is held.

And The Scotsman has learned that the earliest a hearing is likely to be convened is the second half of 2014, with the findings not due until the following year.

Labour was the architect of the project in Edinburgh, but blamed the SNP’s decision to withdraw Transport Scotland’s involvement from the scheme in July 2007, after losing a parliamentary vote forcing Alex Salmond’s fledgling administration to hand over the £500m for the project.

Just weeks before the election, Labour group leader Andrew Burns, who is expected to be confirmed as council leader next week, pledged to “petition the Scottish Government to carry out an inquiry as soon as possible because people have a right to know what mistakes were made”.

However, yesterday he said: “Ultimately, this is a matter for the Scottish Government. We will get behind the inquiry when it is held.

“But the issue of the tram inquiry is not part of the coalition agreement with the SNP.”

SNP group leader Councillor Steve Cardownie said: “The fact is that most of the key people involved with the tram project over the last few years are no longer working on it any more.

“However, when an inquiry happens it is going to tie up council officers and I think we would be better served if we concentrate on finishing the first phase of the tram project as agreed by the council last year.

“We are happy to wait until the government deems it necessary to have the inquiry.”

Last night’s joint statement from the Labour and SNP groups said: “Both parties support a public inquiry into the tram and look forward to working with the Scottish Government on the timing.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Our priority and the priority for the people of Edinburgh is to complete the tram project to York Place in line with the budget and timetable.”