Tram fiasco: it's time to name guilty parties

Since there is now an odds-on chance the Edinburgh tram fiasco will shortly be descending into a series of costly legal actions, is it too much to ask that some measure of accountability should be forthcoming? Who was it, exactly, who got us into this mess?

We could begin, perhaps, with a list of the politicians who supported the disaster at the outset. Couldn't they be surcharged for their folly, as happened with the feckless councillors of Clay Cross some decades ago? Their defence, no doubt, will be that they were being guided by officials and professional advisers, in which case we could consider the quality of that advice. Annoyingly enough, the guilty politicians may have a point.

Take, for example, a report issued by the Auditor General for Scotland three years ago. This came up with such rose-tinted howlers as "There is evidence of regular and effective reviews of progress within TIE with the executive chairman, non-executive directors and senior staff playing a very active role in overseeing projects" and "the project cost estimates have been subjected to robust testing". Or how about "TIE is confident that Phase 1a (Leith waterfront to the Airport] can be delivered to the current anticipated final cost of 501.8 million". This is the phase, remember, that was going to be whisking us from the Foot of the Walk to the Gyle in about six months from now, give or take a few weeks.

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Then we were going to have the delights of Phase 1b, or at least Granton's frequent flyers were. The bulk of Edinburgh residents, while they may be stumping up for it, derive no benefit whatever from our Trumpton tramway. Indeed, a sceptic might suspect the whole thing was dreamt up as a hidden subsidy for property developers on Leith foreshore.

Since the Scottish Government has capped its contribution at 500 million, and seeks to impose a council-tax freeze, it is difficult to see where the additional funding for the project is going to come from. Presumably, its promoters are desperately hoping voters in May 2011 will elect a Gray-Scott coalition, and a possible Holyrood bail-out.

The tragedy that makes this farce particularly poignant is the thought of what might have been. In March 1972, this newspaper carried an article about a possible light rail system for Edinburgh. Amongst the proposals put forward was one by Arnold Hendry, Professor of Civil Engineering at Edinburgh University, which was almost entirely based on existing disused railway culverts and tunnels. The fact was that Edinburgh already had 90 per cent of a metro system on dedicated lines – it only needed rails and rolling stock to make it happen.

A few months ago I mentioned this to an MSP who was an avid supporter of the on-street tram system. He'd never even heard of the Hendry plan. Should we laugh, or cry?


Moray Place