‘Glamorous’ Edinburgh trams the envy of Europe

Compromise on the tram network may 'prove to be detrimental'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Compromise on the tram network may 'prove to be detrimental'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A FORMER SNP MSP today adds his voice to calls for Edinburgh’s tram system to be extended.

Professor Christopher Harvie, who has been a thorn in his party’s side over its anti-tram stance, gave his support to former Scottish Enterprise chairman Sir Donald Mackay, who has urged further lines be built.

Prof Harvie, who is still an SNP member, called for the original line to Newhaven to be completed, along with another from the city centre to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI).

In a letter to The Scotsman, Prof Harvie writes: “The tram is there and it must be used to advantage. Sir Donald MacKay is right to cite the success of Dublin’s Luas [tram system] and prioritise extensions to Leith and the infirmary, and with interest rates in the cellar now is the time to do this.”

Prof Harvie, who was a Mid Scotland and Fife MSP for four years until 2011, opposed the SNP’s attempts to scrap the scheme after they came to power in 2007.

He said the Haymarket-St Andrew Square section of the Edinburgh Airport to York Place route, which is due to be opened next May, would be a major visitor draw.

He said it is “potentially the most glamorous stretch of European public transport – barring the vaporetto on Venice’s Grand Canal.

“Tourists dinnae give a hoot about past melodramas, so if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

“Spring Scotland’s trams from the prison-house of the [Glasgow] Riverside Museum and let the Gondolas of the People strut their stuff!”

Sir Donald has predicted trams will be popular with “many local residents and business and tourist visitors”.

He said the “advice from Dublin” was: “If Edinburgh compromises on the length of the tram route then it will become a white elephant and it will not deliver the benefit that it set out to do in the first place.”

Sir Donald proposed completing the line to Ocean Terminal and Newhaven by 2017, followed by a second line to the ERI. He said: “Edinburgh would then have a tram system worthy of the ‘Athens of the North’.”

However, veteran tram critic John Carson has said the biggest issue was one of trust and whether residents would back tram extensions.

The eight-mile line will cost £776 million – far more than original estimates – and be completed years late.

This is mainly because of a long and bitter dispute between the council’s now-defunct tram development firm Tie and construction firms over changes to the scheme, which was largely settled in the latter’s favour.

The diversion of underground pipes and cables from the route to avert future disruption was also found to be far more complicated than expected.

Mr Carson has proposed the “trust” issue be tested “as a referendum issue in the 2016 local elections”.

He added that unlike Dublin, the “horlicks” of Edinburgh’s tram line construction had left a deficit of more than £30m a year for the next 30 years.

Transport minister Keith Brown has repeatedly distanced himself from any potential tram line extensions.

Meanwhile council transport convener Lesley Hinds yesterday declined to comment saying: “Our current focus is on getting the city completely free of tram works in the coming weeks and to have a fast and modern tram service up and running by May next year.”