against all odds and in defiance of the hopes of the project’s army of critics, it looks like it is full steam ahead for the city’s trams.
The beleaguered scheme has been written off more times than caravans on BBC’s Top Gear and it came close to being abandoned in June. Yet, two months on, the odds look firmly in favour of it proceeding apace.
How has this dramatic transformation come about? By nothing short of radical, life-saving surgery.
For a start, the arms-length firm set up to build and run the trams has been cut out like a tumour.
This is hard on those staff at TIE who were not as useless as the organisation as a whole was considered to be. But it was necessary, if brutal, and few will mourn it.
Instead, project management will be done by a private firm. This begs legitimate questions: What will it cost? And why can’t Scotland’s second-biggest council do the work itself? The latter doesn’t say much for the expertise on offer in Waverley Court. On cost, sources say the private option will work out cheaper than it was costing to run TIE.
On the plus side, Turner & Townsend has a solid track record on delivering construction projects across the globe.
Its Edinburgh office – one of 65 worldwide – won the Scottish Building Project of the Year award in 2009 for Edinburgh University’s Potterrow development. Perhaps more to the point, it would have been in charge of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link had it not been cancelled.
It would be a brave punter who bet their mortgage on the same fate not still befalling the city’s trams, but this change at the helm is part of a concerted drive which has made completion much more likely.
Peace, of a sort, has been made with the contractors. The rifts have been papered over within the council itself, especially between the pro-tram Lib Dems and anti-tram SNP. Now, we are told, there is a plan to fill the £170 million funding gap.
If councillors approve that plan next week, work could begin on the city centre side of Haymarket as early as next month, though today’s by-election may change the voting numbers decisively.
If – and it remains an if – the scheme does now proceed then the plaudits will go not to the politicians of all colours who have failed to get a grip of the trams for years.
Instead, they will go to chief executive Sue Bruce. She only joined the council in January but immediately saw the need for radical surgery on the near-corpse of the project.
She has put in the work to revive it too. All that remains to be seen is if her efforts end in triumph or yet more disappointment for the trams.