John Carson and Gordon Mackenzie: Is it time to Ditch the trams?

John Carson and Gordon Mackenzie argue for and against pulling the plug on the increasingly troubled project

&#149 Do you think that it's time to abandon the tram project? Vote here


By John Carson

'What would 200m buy in these austerity times?'

Borrowing money to build to St Andrew Square is clearly now an issue of trust in Councillor Mackenzie's administration. If he wants to gauge this let him put the issue to a referendum, without it they are clearly acting outwith their authority.

Dublin Metro, including the massive overspend, was funded by the European Union in times of plenty.

Cllr Mackenzie and the other councillor directors of tram firm TIE have aided attempts to hide the truth about the Edinburgh tram contracts, yes contracts plural. It is not only the Infraco contract (covering the building of the tram route infrastructure) that is fundamentally flawed, the utility contract has at least doubled, settled out of court to save TIE's blushes.

Who gave the above people the right to spend all of the money set aside for this project and have less than 28 per cent (a questionable figure) to show for it?

Despite claims the termination costs would be more expensive than building the project to St Andrew Square, David Anderson, the council's director of city development, has agreed that terminating the existing Infraco contract could be done for 10-20 million. Mothballing the existing structures and part completing the "priority works" would not cost anything like that. That leaves the outstanding liabilities: the cost of the claims still to be paid to the contractor BSC consortium, reported to be in the region of 40m. Given that we have been told that 440m has been spent to date, it would be difficult to justify a termination cost that would take the total spend past the 545m available.

The council will retain a wish to complete the project at some later date; so talk of full reinstatement of the work done so far is nonsense.

The issue here is simply one of trust. Given their track record, do the people of Edinburgh trust the current administration to complete any part of this project?

There will be a clear difference of between 100m and 200m between the two options. Would anyone want to take the chance?

There is also the small issue of a business case to support their assertions; this will certainly result in an ongoing subsidy on Lothian Buses.

What would 100-200m buy the people of Edinburgh in these times of austerity?

&#149 John Carson is a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and led the team that built the Skye Bridge


By Gordon Mackenzie

'The case is stronger now than when the deal was signed'

In many ways the case for trams is stronger now than it was in 2008 when the tram contract was signed. For example, in pre-recession 2008, you could have argued that the continuing growth of high quality jobs and inward investment into the city was inevitable. Not now.

Since 2008 there has been a major economic crisis causing massive damage to the finance sector and then the rest of the economy. The evidence from elsewhere in Europe is that trams, and other light rail systems, are the key to unlocking economic potential. Many cities, including the top 15 cities in Europe by GDP, are already reaping the benefits of major investment in new or extended systems.

A prime example is Dublin's Luas. Opened in 2004, there has been a 50 per cent increase in footfall in Dublin's main shopping district, largely attributed to the Luas, and just this year Dubliners put an extension as their top transport priority. Other cities across Europe have started or are planning extensions to their tram systems. In the UK the success of trams in Manchester, Nottingham and Croydon have led to extensions for all three networks being agreed since work began in Edinburgh.

Take a trip along the proposed first phase of Edinburgh's tram route or speak to those who actually work on the project, on either side, and you will find a lot more progress than the crude percentage of track laid suggests. The tram depot is nearing completion. 26 of the 27 tram vehicles are ready. Most of the large structures (bridges) between the airport and Haymarket are in place or well under way and the utilities works are all but finished.

With a substantial element of the first phase already in place and the success of other networks in the UK and Europe proving the case, the decision to complete to St Andrew Square should be a no-brainer, but political life isn't that objective. Traffic disruption, bitter contractual disputes and delays have sapped public confidence and cost us dearly.

When we look back on these dark days, the flaws in the contract and current disruption will not define the project. Residents, businesses, investors and visitors alike will judge Edinburgh on the end product and hard evidence shows that our ability to compete and prosper as a city will only be enhanced when Edinburgh's tram is up and running. Fair criticism of the project is justified but the case for trams is compelling.

&#149 Gordon Mackenzie is transport, infrastructure and environment convener at Edinburgh City Council