Terry Murden: Trams may still deliver benefits

THE launch of the Edinburgh tram is just a week away, although if yesterday’s breakdown in Princes Street is anything to go by there are a few teething problems still to iron out.

A nearby tram stop will be a big attraction for some firms. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It comes at an embarrassing time as a party of city council officials, elected members and business representatives are hosting a trip along the route for the media tomorrow to hear the economic case for the project.

After years of abuse and self-doubt over whether to persevere with the £776 million scheme, Saturday cannot come soon enough for those who believe it will all come right in the end.

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Initial research on the benefits focus on investment and development along the route. The council has produced a 14-page list of 277 investments that have taken place since 2008. These range from Napier University in Sighthill to the opening of a branch of Greggs the baker in Lothian Road. How many of these can justifiably be attributed to the tram is open to debate, and the council’s information conspicuously ignores all those businesses that closed during the period of building work.

What is more persuasive is that it will open up opportunities and draw in those for whom a direct tram link will be a huge selling point. Premier Inn, for instance, has bought a former tax office opposite the York Place stop.

A big benefit will be attracting investors to the undeveloped land at the Gyle. The tram was cited in the sale last December of a large site for 50 per cent above the expected price.

The council says other cities which introduced trams have seen a rise in property values. However, some witnessed this during the early to mid 2000s when access to easy credit was a major, and probably bigger, reason for the rise in property values.

Even so, the Salford Quays extension in Manchester is credited with stimulating £60m of business investment, and the Croydon tram changed perceptions of the town from one in decline to one undergoing regeneration.

We can be sure that for a short time the Edinburgh trams will be hugely popular, not least among those who just want a trip out and to see the end result for themselves. But some may never use it again because it does not have any relevance to their needs.

Access to the airport or the Gyle? Only if you want to get into the city centre first, or live along the route. Most will continue to drive, hire a taxi or use the bus, which is one reason why there must be new lines if the “Edinburgh” tram is to serve more of those who have paid a heavy price to build it.

Banquet boast threatens to become a food fight

IT LOOKS like the old Glasgow-Edinburgh enmity is alive following my piece last week doubting Edinburgh’s claims to have hosted Scotland’s biggest banquet since King James VI was on the throne.

The Scottish Business Awards held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre drew 1,900 diners, but I recalled an even bigger event at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre to mark the end of the millennium.

It’s hardly life-and-death news, but my memory does serve me well and I now discover that John Anderson, chief executive of the Entrepreneurial Exchange, has been in correspondence with the EICC over its boast and he’s ready to get the knives out.

In an email to the EICC, he says: “This is the second time that I have picked up a claim that you are making which I feel requires to be corrected.

“I do admire the overall theme and in particular the reference to last year’s event being the largest banquet in Scotland for over 400 years – very creative. Sadly, the claims are completely untrue as our millennium annual awards and dinner in November 1999 seated 2,036 guests at the SECC…

“All credit to the Scottish Business Awards, and as you rightly say a barometer of the great things that are happening in Scotland, but claiming things that are untrue has the potential to undermine this achievement.”

He ends, rather menacingly, by saying: “Before I consider what further action to take to correct this I thought it would be best to give you the opportunity to comment.”

So far the EICC has not responded but it looks like Dinnergate will rumble on.

Twitter: @TerryMurden1