Brexit could spell disaster for Edinburgh tram extension – Robert Aldridge

The tram line extension to Newhaven should not get the green light until the findings of Lord Hardie’s inquiry are released, says Robert Aldridge

The tram line extension to Newhaven should not get the green light until the findings of Lord Hardie’s inquiry are released, says Robert Aldridge

On Thursday the council will decide whether to extend the tram to Newhaven.

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When the council first talked of extending the line Liberal Democrats on the council said we should not sign any new contract until we knew the findings of the Independent Inquiry by Lord Hardie.

It is only common sense that if we are spending literally millions of pounds on an inquiry into what went wrong last time we should at least hear what it has to say before we sign another raft of legal documents.

Anyone involved in the first tram line knows that part of the problem lay in the contracts and the enormous number of legal disputes arising from them. While the council’s tram team have done a very impressive job in trying to iron out the problems this time round, we simply don’t know what Lord Hardie will recommend. He is taking so long to report that we can only assume there will be a large number of complex recommendations.

If he does make additional recommendations it will cost the council extra to change contracts after they have been signed. So why put ourselves through this?

We are also only a couple of weeks away from Brexit day. Due to the inept Conservative government we don’t know even now, after two years of dithering and procrastination, whether we will leave with the awful deal negotiated by Mrs May, a “no deal” which would damage Edinburgh significantly or a delayed deal.

Why does this matter? The business case for the new tram line relies on income from passengers. Those figures could change dramatically if numbers of passengers at Edinburgh Airport fall as a result of a “no deal” Brexit (for example). The case also relies on a special dividend from our excellent Lothian bus company. As Liberal Democrats we have been unable to find out what the impact might be on routes, fares or investment in new environmentally friendly buses.

There are many communities in Edinburgh which are not directly impacted by the new tram line. Liberal Democrats two years ago asked for any decision to be linked to a public transport strategy which shows how parts of the city (particularly in rural west Edinburgh) which are not well connected at present will be improved as well.

We have always backed investing in a 21st century infrastructure to prepare for the expansion of the city and for the people of Leith, who have suffered pain without seeing any gain to get the service they were promised.

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But we should pause until we have clear answers to the “known unknowns” before we finally make any legally binding commitments.

Talking of “known unknowns” I still have to hear a convincing argument about the way the council manages the garden waste charge. Although I opposed it I, and many people, are mystified as to why you can only register at certain times of year. Surely in the digital age it is not beyond the wit of the council to keep registration open and simply adjust the lists of bins to be emptied every month.

Nor do I understand why the council set up ‘locality committees’ a year ago to make more local decisions, only to scrap them from April 1, without having any local decision making body to replace them.

You couldn’t make it up!

Robert Aldridge is the Lib Dem group leader at Edinburgh City Council