Edinburgh tram project set to force up water bills across Scotland

WATER bills are set to rise for customers across Scotland – because of Edinburgh's tram project, it emerged today.

There will be a hike in prices for the next five years to help pay for work being carried out by Scottish Water on Princes Street to divert underground pipes.

Poll: Is it unfair that water bills are to rise because of the rerouting for the trams?

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And despite it only amounting to a small amount extra for each customer, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland today said it was "unfair" that "unexpected" additional costs were being picked up by the public and not by the tram project.

The body will publish its Final Price Determination next week, which dictates water charges for householders and businesses for the period 2010-2015.

Since a draft of the document was prepared earlier this year though, Scottish Water's costs have increased by millions due to work to re-route and replace water mains and sewers – while part of the cost has been met by the tram project, Scottish Water's share is 15.9m, an increase from the initial 11.5m estimate.

A WICS spokesman said: "This level of unexpected spend was detected after we published our Draft Determination in June.

"It seems unfair that these additional costs will be borne by the Scottish water customer rather than by the developer."

MSP for the Lothians Shirley-Anne Somerville, an outspoken tram critic, said: "This is another additional cost of the tram project that people have not been aware of in the past. What else is still out there that we don't know about?

"People in Edinburgh and across Scotland will be angry about potential rises in water bills for a project that is so unpopular in the city."

More than seven miles of ageing water mains and 500 metres of sewers have been replaced during work on the tram project. Scottish Water said its share of the costs was calculated against the length and age of pipes diverted, which date back to Victorian times.

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A spokeswoman for the company said the original cost for diverting and replacing sewers had increased from 11.5m to 15.9m, with the firm set to pay TIE 7.95m by March.

She said: "As the project progressed, the work revealed that many of the city's water mains that needed to be diverted were in a worse condition than anticipated. This meant Scottish Water had to pay a greater share of the cost under the agreed formula.

"We have had to pay additional staff to work with TIE's contractors to ensure disruption to our customers was minimised and to advise them on our assets and systems. As a result, the planned spend increased to 15.9m."

While it is not known exactly how much bills will rise by, if it was taken over five years and split between all Scottish Water's customers the average demand would go up by around 40p.

Steven Bell, the tram project director, said: "As part of the Edinburgh trams project, over 14,200 metres of water utilities have been replaced along the tram route. Many of these were over 150-years-old and were in desperate need of replacement.

The tram project has enabled these replacements to proceed sooner than may have been scheduled.

"However, as these works were carried out as part of multi-utility works, the associated costs were split between the respective utility companies and were therefore lower than if Scottish Water carried out the work as part of its routine replacement programme, and therefore provided better value for money for the public purse."