Transport revolution hailed as trams get council green light

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TRAMS are to return to the streets of Scotland's capital after nearly 50 years as councillors gave overwhelming approval yesterday to the project's final business plan.

The ambitious 592 million scheme described as "the start of an exciting transport revolution in the city" by the council leader, Ewan Aitken, will link Edinburgh Airport to Leith via Princes Street.

If enough cash is left over, a spur route will be built from the Granton Waterfront development to Haymarket.

The plan, supported by 56 out of the 57 councillors present, will now be submitted to the Executive for final approval in February 2007. If given the go-ahead, as seems highly likely, the first electrically-powered trams will travel along Princes Street in December 2010.

Initially there will be six trams an hour climbing to 12 an hour from St Andrew Square to the foot of Leith Walk.

Construction work is scheduled to begin in April when a number of streets will be dug up to redirect utility pipes and cables underneath the path to be taken by the trams.

Mr Aitken said: "This really is the start of an exciting transport revolution in the city.

"The fact that so many councillors voted in favour of trams shows just how much of a necessity and asset they will be."

Ricky Henderson, executive member for transport, said: "This is a momentous day for Edinburgh. Edinburgh is on the brink of major investment in its infrastructure, the scale of which has not been seen since the days of Queen Victoria."

It is estimated that more than 30,000 people a day will use the trams in their first year, rising to around three times that number within 20 years.

The business plan also estimates that every 1 spent on the project will generate a 1.63 return for the city.

However, the plan has met with opposition from the SNP who said the money would be better spent on upgrading the city's existing transport infrastructure.

Fergus Ewing, MSP, SNP transport spokesman, said: "The draft may have been passed, but there is a massive 300 million funding black hole to be paid by Edinburgh council taxpayers.

"The money would be far better spent on improving the city's bus and train services."