Trams given green light but it's the end for EARL and delay for other key projects

Key quote

"I am the minister for finance in the Scottish government and I am making it absolutely clear that that is it. Do not knock on my door asking for more money because the answer will be no." - JOHN SWINNEY

Story in full A 600 MILLION project to run trams through Scotland's capital was last night given the go-ahead after opposition parties united to force the SNP government to accept the scheme.

Alex Salmond's administration had vigorously opposed both the Edinburgh trams and the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link, arguing both were too expensive and unnecessary.

But the realities of minority government last night came to bear on the government, which found it did not have the votes at Holyrood to drive through its view of the transport projects.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, the Greens and Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, came together to inflict the first defeat on the SNP government, passing a motion supporting both projects.

There was still some confusion after the vote because the SNP government could have ignored the will of parliament if it chose to do so.

But John Swinney, the finance secretary, then made a brief statement to MSPs conceding defeat and making it clear that the Executive would accede to the wishes of parliament.

The trams project will now go-ahead as planned, but with the proviso that it has to remain within the agreed budget and that any cost overruns will be met by Edinburgh City Council and the other bodies involved, not by the Executive.

The Executive will continue to pursue the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link in theory, but in practice ministers now believe the project has been killed off.

After the debate, Mr Swinney said: "My personal opinion is that the EARL scheme is pretty dead. There are a number of practical problems with it."

The Auditor General has identified significant management problems in the project and although Mr Swinney has agreed to examine these and return to the parliament with suggested solutions, he is unlikely to come up with any way through.

This means that trams will go-ahead as planned, with a potentially severe cost on the city council, while the airport rail link has effectively been kicked into the long grass by yesterday's decision.

Mr Swinney made it clear that there would be no more government money for the trams.

The Executive has promised to put 500 million into the project but, with the final cost expected to be nearer 600 million, there is a substantial gap which Edinburgh City Council will have to find.

Mr Swinney said: "I am the minister for finance in the Scottish government and I am making it absolutely clear that that is it. Do not knock on my door asking for more money because the answer will be no."

Wendy Alexander, Labour's finance spokeswoman, insisted there was no reason why Edinburgh council taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

She said that the proposed first tram line, which runs from the airport, down Leith Walk, round Leith and on to Granton, would bring 4,000 new homes to Leith, homes which the developers would now have to pay a premium to develop and that cost could help cover the shortfall.

"Its now down to the city council to negotiate the contracts in the best way. Developers' contributions can pay for a lot of this," Ms Alexander.

Edinburgh City Council welcomed the Executive's decision last night.

Councillor Jenny Dawe, Liberal Democrat leader of the council, said: "Trams will give the capital the vital tools to equip it for the future."

But because there is still uncertainty over where the balance of the money needed for the first tram line will come from, the city's council taxpayers will have to wait to find out if they will be asked to meet some of this cost.

Mr Swinney warned his political opponents that not only would there be no more money for the existing trams project, there would be no money for any more tram lines, leaving Edinburgh with just one line, unless the council finds another way of paying for others or there is a change of government at Holyrood.


Scheme: Re-open Edinburgh-Tweedbank section of Waverley railway line

Original completion date: Dec 2011

Latest completion date: unknown

Cost: 131 million ( 2002 prices), but shortfall of 16 million

Reason: "The funding package proposed will not be sufficient to deliver, and opening in December 2011 is not achievable" - Scottish Executive


Scheme: Aberdeen Western Peripheral route, to relieve city congestion

Original completion date: 2011

Latest completion date: End of 2012

Reason: "It is clear that the original timetable set by the previous administration for delivering this important project was unrealistic" - Scottish Executive

Cost: 295-395 million - unchanged


Scheme: New crossing to ensure Edinburgh-Fife link maintained because corrosion of Forth Road Bridge may result in a lorry ban.

Previous cost: At least 1 billion

Latest cost: 2.5-3.5 billion (bridge) or 3.6-4.7 billion (tunnel)

Reason: "Previous figure was early indicative cost" - Scottish Executive

Completion date: 2016 - unchanged


Scheme: Airport terminal station connected to through lines via runway tunnel

Original completion date: December 2011

Latest completion date: February 2012 (at earliest)

Reason: Lack of decisions on how project will be completed

Cost: 633 million (previously 610m)


Scheme: City-airport rail spur, with improvements to main Glasgow-Paisley line for other trains

Original completion date: 2010

Latest completion date: 2011

Reason: Combining scheme with signalling improvements on Paisley line will avoid having to rip out newly-installed equipment

Cost: 170-210 million - unchanged


Scheme: Reconnect Alloa to the rail network and divert coal trains from Forth Bridge

Previous completion date: Summer 2007

Latest completion date: May 2008

Reason: "We are disappointed and concerned that the project ... has run late and over budget" - Scottish Executive

Cost: 80-85 million - originally 30 million