Don't trash our trams!

POLITICIANS from four of Edinburgh's five political parties today sent a joint appeal to the new SNP government at Holyrood: "Don't trash our trams".

Their move comes amid fears that Alex Salmond's minority administration is about to pull the plug on the city's 592m tram scheme. But today it was announced that Stagecoach, run by the SNP's biggest donor Brian Souter, has signed a contract to take over the running of Manchester's tram network.

Edinburgh councillors and MSPs from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Conservative Party and independent Margo MacDonald came together to put the case for the Edinburgh tram scheme being allowed to proceed.

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The last parliament gave the go-ahead for the project and with initial work already underway, supporters say cancelling now would cost more than 100 million.

Friends of the Earth, who organised today's cross-party show of support for the trams, said scrapping the scheme would mean Scotland joining Luxembourg, Cyprus and Malta as western Europe's only countries whose capital cities do not have a rapid transit public transport system.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Sydenham said: "A lot of work has gone into the tram system, and there is clearly massive public support for the scheme.

"There are no alternatives to Edinburgh's congestion problem other than a modern tram system for our capital city."

Edinburgh Labour leader Ewan Aitken said he feared an announcement was imminent from the new SNP administration at Holyrood, cancelling the trams. But he said: "To cancel trams would be an attack on Edinburgh and as a consequence an attack on Scotland and the Scottish economy.

"It would be to press the economic self-destruct button.

"To remove the investment in trams and say you can replace it with buses is fairyland politics. There are 50 buses an hour in Princes Street at the moment.

"The maximum you could get would be 60. But you would need 120 buses to carry the same number of passengers as trams."

Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, said today's announcement about Mr Souter's contract to run Manchester's trams was significant.

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She said: "He is the SNP's biggest donor and he is making a sound commercial decision it is worth putting his money into trams. Yet we have an SNP government that has decided to pull money out of them."

Green Party co-convener and Lothians MSP Robin Harper said: "This is part of the necessary move to a low carbon economy and delivering viable alternatives to the private car. That is what the frustrated motorist sitting in a traffic jam wants, and that's what we want."

Edinburgh's Tory transport spokesman Mark McInnes said his party was also behind the tram scheme. He said: "We were convinced by the business case and as long as that business case continues we believe it will proved to be an enormous benefit to the infrastructure of Edinburgh, the development of the Waterfront and, of course, the environment.

"There is still a parliamentary majority in favour of the scheme and a majority at the council in favour of it."

Ms MacDonald said she was a "late convert" to the trams.

She said: "I completely understand why people are quite sick at the thought of the roads being dug up for the next two or three years and the fear this will be yet another big public project that will run out of financial control, but I have concluded we should bite the bullet and join all the other European cities which have successfully introduced trams during the last ten years."