Comment: Foolhardy to write off trams bid

The price tag of up to £80 million being placed on completing the tram line to Leith might seem like a daunting one, especially when the Scottish Government is refusing to contribute.

The idea of approaching the European Investment Bank for a friendly loan to cover a substantial slice of that bill will also leave many people feeling uneasy.

Can we really afford to shoulder that kind of investment alone, at a time when the city is facing a growing funding gap to cover its existing public services? Is it wise to take on those levels of public debt, especially to extend a tram line that has yet to prove its worth?

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There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before anyone could possibly recommend taking the plunge – but to write off the idea before exploring it properly would be foolhardy.

In fact, there is a logic to doing it, which would appeal to even the most conservative of old school bank managers.

The tram line between the city centre and Leith was always likely to be the most profitable part of the route. Just think of all those tenements and high-rise flats around Leith Walk, packed with people who need to get about the city, many of whom don’t own cars – and then consider the long stretches of the existing route which will streak past empty fields.

The existing truncated route will run at a loss which will have to be subsidised by Lothian Buses. On the other hand, the line from the city centre to Leith can hardly fail to make a profit. Don’t take our word for it, ask the private investors who told the previous council administration it would build the section for free in return for the profits.

Could extending the route to Leith not only solve the problem of how we get our growing population about the city in a sustainable way but also answer the conundrum of how to make the route profitable?

It is far too early to tell, but the question is certainly worth asking.