In the aftermath of the forensic examination of the Edinburgh tram project by the BBC, a few key points need to be remembered.
First, the primary motivation for the investment was economic. At the time of the decision to go ahead, Edinburgh had attracted more than 50,000 new jobs in a decade (many more than were lost), and the city was at times the fastest-growing city economy in the UK.
The council was determined to lock in that success and further promote Edinburgh as a location for inward investment. Linking the key growth areas such as the airport, Edinburgh Park, the Exchange financial district, Princes Street and Leith was a key strategic objective.
Ironically, the case for trams is actually stronger now than it was when the decision was taken. Edinburgh has suffered from the economic downturn, and from the fallout that caused the collapse of our principal banks. Dublin provides ample evidence that trams can stimulate investment, and Croydon shows what can be achieved in terms of regeneration. That said, the public are right to be angry, and all those involved in the trams (myself included) will have to answer for their role in the project and for the decisions taken.
There are those who genuinely opposed trams who will question the project – perfectly understandable, though I disagree with them. What I don’t understand is those who argue against trams and for the Borders Rail Link.
A laudable project driven by the same economic case as trams, it has a business case that is weaker than trams by a country mile. In addition, while trams will get you there quicker than a car, frankly, the Borders Rail Link will not. The business case was also predicated on major new housing development that will not now happen.
I wish the project every success. It is worth remembering that the Bathgate Rail Link had estimated passenger numbers of 300,000 per annum, and actually nearly reached a million within the first year, so we must not be cynical. Bathgate is a textbook case of how infrastructure can drive economic growth, with West Lothian’s economic performance being nothing short of miraculous in the past 25 years. Similarly, the aim of the Borders Rail Link was to connect the Borders into the growing Edinburgh economy.
And that is where we now need to focus the debate in the city. It is painful to see how Edinburgh has become the “walking wounded” among British cities. We need to look outward once more, and we need to reposition Edinburgh as the strong, beautiful and smart city it is in the aftermath of the trams.
Steve Cardownie – not one of my bosom buddies – is absolutely right. The debate should be over. Let’s get on with delivering the trams.
Let’s get the focus back on the many wonderful things happening in Edinburgh and on how we secure the investment, growth and jobs that will make one of the best cities in the world even better.
And with a rail link to the Borders, in due course the growth can be spread for the benefit of the whole of southern Scotland.
Former Edinburgh City Council leader
If Gordon Mackenzie recognises he has neither the technical nor legal expertise for the trams project, why do he and his Lib Dem group on the council think things will be better with the massive outsourcing of council services via their “Alternative Business Models” programme?
Given the breadth of services being privatised, is there a councillor with the required expertise in the fields of parks maintenance, human resources, fleet maintenance, refuse collection and all the legal skills required? These massive privatisation contracts dwarf the trams contract, and the risks are higher. It is one thing to end in court with contractors while no trams run along Princes Street, but it is altogether another if our bins do not get emptied.