No tram line to Leith for at least 5 years

Tram works in Edinburgh Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tram works in Edinburgh Picture: Ian Georgeson
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LEITH Walk and Edinburgh’s Waterfront face being cut adrift from the capital’s tram project for at least another five years after the tram finally gets up and running.

The new Labour and SNP coalition running Edinburgh City Council has agreed to press ahead with just half a tram line to the city centre during its term in office.

And a referendum may eventually have to be held before the council agrees to pursue any further extensions.

The previous Lib Dem-led administration had been hoping to raise extra funding to finish off the first line of the much-delayed project, which had been due to reach major regeneration areas of Leith, Newhaven and Granton.

Much of the £600m spent on the project has been eaten up on tramworks from Leith Walk to the waterfront, where the project started just over five years ago.

Development on the waterfront has all but stalled in recent years due to the property crash and huge swathes of undeveloped land have been mothballed by landowners. The truncated tram line - which is expected to cost £776 million - is not expected to be finished until the summer of 2014 at the earliest.

Council leader-elect Andrew Burns said: “Our focus is on finishing the tram project according to the plans agreed by the council last year. We are not closing our eyes to further development of the tram, but there will not be any further line extensions this side of 2017.”

SNP leader Steve Cardownie said: “If there going to be lots more homes built on the waterfront in the next few years there would be potential footfall for a tram.

“The fact is the new owners of Leith Docks and Forth Ports have decided on a new strategy for the waterfront, moving regeneration away from residential and concentrating on industrial.

“People would not forgive us for talking about extensions to the tram before it is even up and running.”

Meanwhile the two party leaders have published their coalition document which includes a pledge not to sell off Lothian Buses, the award-winning firm which the council has the majority stake in.

Its profits are expected to be used to help meet any shortfall in the early years of the tram project.

Other key pledges include further exploration of some form of tourist tax for the city, establishing a policy of “no compulsory redundancies” for council staff, planning to bring empty homes back into use, and drawing up a long-term plan to tackle over-crowded and under-used schools.

The council is committed to seeking a “smooth introduction” of the Scottish Government’s curriculum for excellence in schools and planning to reduce class sizes in line with official recommendations.

Even though the SNP was in coalition with the Lib Dems in the previous regime, the coalition document states: “We need to acknowledge that there has been a breakdown in trust between the residents of Edinburgh and their elected representatives on the council.

“That relationship needs to be repaired. It will not be accomplished quickly, or easily, but it needs to be addressed.”

The two councillors said they were confident they could avoid damaging splits over the next five years, despite a string of spats between the Lib Dems and SNP over the last five years.

Cllr Burns said: “I’m really keen that we look forward and you are not going to hear me or my group looking back and criticising what went on over the last five years.

“If you look at the two manifestos you really could not put a cigarette paper between the vast majority of our policies.

“The council will be run very differently, it will be open and inclusive, and will have much more political stability because of the very firm majority the new administration will enjoy.”

Cllr Cardownie said the coalition deal, signed yesterday by the two councillors, marked a “fresh start” for the city.

He added: “We spent a whole day working on the coalition agreement. I honestly can’t see anything in it that is going to cause a problem between us in the next five years.”

Other commitments include rebuilding Portobello High School, “maintaining and enhancing” support for the city’s festivals and events, “conserving the city’s built heritage” and opposing industrial biomass plants in the city.

Five per cent of the council’s transport budget is to be ringfenced for cycling initiatives, while the council is also committed to preserving existing “green spaces.”

Steve Burgess, leader of the Green group, who turned down the chance to join the Labour-SNP coalition, said: “The detailed coalition agreement has much that we will support, such as a commitment to a living wage and assurances on addressing climate change.

“But as a blueprint for the next five years it is a starting point rather than the end of the story.

“It needs to recognise the role of the voluntary sector and social enterprise in city life. It must add to the five per cent budget commitment for cyclists. And it has to give real detail about how it will build trust and open-ness in the way the council works.”

The full list of pledges