135 changes, £16m bill – latest trams furore

EDINBURGH'S tram developers have been forced to pay an extra £16 million to the line builders because of disputed design changes, The Scotsman has learned.

A consortium of firms constructing the Edinburgh Airport to Newhaven route has won more than half of the money it claimed for the additional work involved in 135 of the changes which have been settled so far.

Critics have voiced concern about the likely cost of resolving hundreds of similar issues, as the project is expected to exceed its 545m available funding.

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The consortium, led by German firm Bilfinger Berger, has already won three of the four disputed issues, which have been referred to an independent adjudicator.

The group has now secured 16.2m of 26.7m it had sought for 135 other disputed changes to the construction contract, which have been resolved directly with city-owned tram developers TIE.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said in an update to councillors yesterday: "The majority of these relate to changes in the final design, which TIE accept are alterations or additional works from the agreed schedule of works."

Sources close to the consortium declared victory, claiming the work involved in each agreed change had been reduced to reflect the lower payments received. This was denied by council sources, who described the original extra cost claims by the consortium as overinflated.

There are believed to be more than 300 other disputed changes to the contract still to be settled.

Lothians SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said the public had a right to know how much these would cost.

She said: "A lot of money has already had to be paid to the contractors. The concern is there are no details of how many disputes have yet to be resolved.

"We need to know when contingency funding will run out and how extra costs will be paid for – which will fall on the council and the people of Edinburgh."

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Ms Dawe's report also stated that 387.3m overall was expected to have been spent on the project by last week. However, the actual figure is likely to be slightly lower because of the ongoing dispute between TIE and the consortium, which has halted further on-street tram line construction east of Haymarket. Most of the rest of the 11.5-mile line is off-road.

Construction costs account for less than half the total 545m scheme budget, with the rest including land purchase, moving underground pipes and cables, and the trams themselves.

Ms Dawe said she still looks forward to seeing trams running in 2012, even though the construction dispute has already put back the expected completion date by a year to June 2012.

However, the council has received a boost from MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group, who reaffirmed their support for the project.

Chairman Paul Rowen, the Liberal Democrat Rochdale MP, said: "Regardless of the ongoing disputes, Edinburgh will require the transformational benefits which this project will bring."

The 20-strong group, which does not include any Scottish MPs, also reminded Edinburgh it would receive "the ultimate gift in the form of a fully-integrated public transport system combining bus, trams and rail".