Gina Davidson: Arriving soon, a tram inquiry?

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ALL bets are off on the panda producing a cub anytime soon, but the betting on just when the first tram will run along Princes Street carrying actual, real, live passengers is hotting up.

The news this week is that the mythical tram will be seen emerging from the mists along the Capital’s world-famous street by Christmas, and that by next May the service will be trundling along as if it’s always been there. Anyone want to put money on it?

Unsurprisingly, the idea that the massive disruption, the ancient trees chopped down, the businesses gone under and the livelihoods lost will be forgotten as we fall in love with this modern mode of transport has been met with some cynicism.

The “I’ll believe it when I see it” point of view is only to be expected given the spiralling costs, the ridiculous rows with contractors and the failure to have more than one line built or the project completed by 2010. Now the fact that taking the tram to the airport from the city centre will cost more at £4.50 a ticket and take as much as eight minutes longer than the Airlink bus is the sour cherry on top of the mouldy cake.

Tram announcements are like Liberal Democrat election pledges – easily ignored. Only when foot is put to tram floor will people actually believe the scheme is a reality and not just a transport official’s green dream. I truly do hope that it proves to be the panacea of Edinburgh’s traffic issues that it’s always claimed it will be – and that more lines will be built as lessons on how to do it on time and on budget will have been well and truly learned.

That’s what happens, isn’t it? A publicly-funded project runs into trouble and lessons are learned. Well, the only way we’re ever going to find out is by having a public inquiry. While the council has declared that May will be when the tram is running, there’s been nothing said about when the promised inquiry into just what went wrong will begin.

Understandably, those in charge of the Scottish Government who have long hated the tram scheme will have other things to worry about come next year, but the independence referendum should not stand in the way of finding out why this grand design went so badly off the rails and who is to blame.

We know already that one former councillor wasn’t up to the job. Gordon Mackenzie admitted as much as he stood down as transport convener and the board of TIE was wound up. We know he, and others like him, failed to ask the right questions of TIE managers about just what was going on and failed to hold them to account because of “confidentiality”.

We also know that the SNP in 
Holyrood was so miffed by the fact that the other parties joined together to ensure the tram received government funds, that it withdrew Transport Scotland – its eyes and ears – from the board of TIE and declared it didn’t want to see any upadates on how work was progressing. And we know that despite that, Transport Scotland continued to release money to TIE to pay for the work without any scrutiny of what was actually happening on the ground. Despite knowing all that, there are still too many unknowns – and possibly unknown unknowns – about this scheme. A date for the inquiry needs to be announced soon.

Wham, bam, all down to a tram

BUDGET cuts are back on the council agenda – in particular those in education – which means schools could lose staff, see class sizes increase and leave kids with additional educational needs left without the support they require.

It’s a disgraceful situation, especially when millions have been spent on a tram line of dubious merit. Yes, there are issues around the council receiving less from the government and the inability to raise council tax, but let’s not pretend the tram debts are not already eating into the budgets of vital services and will do for years to come with devastating impact.

BLOBBY MORE

APPARENTLY over-sized mannish pink coats are the in thing for women this winter. Aside from the dry cleaning bill potential, I have two words of warning: Mr Blobby. And that can never be a good look.

By-election can’t ignore big issue

UNLIKE another of this paper’s columnists, Martin Hannan, while I believe that local issues will be a big influence on the result of the by-election across the water in Dunfermline, the reason for the vote itself cannot be ignored.

Like it or not, Bill Walker’s resignation as MSP as a result of being convicted of 23 charges of domestic violence is the reason the election is taking place, and it is the responsibility of all candidates – male or female – to talk about the issue. Sweeping it under a carpet patterned with street light issues, bin collection problems and school catchment area rows should not be allowed to happen.

Domestic violence is the biggest issue in Dunfermline – and Holyrood – right now. It shouldn’t be forgotten.

Sorrow, sorrow . . but I love it

I HAVEN’T seen Sunshine on Leith the movie yet – no red carpet events for me, sadly – but I’ll be there, popcorn in one hand, hankies in the other, when it opens next month. There’s something about that song which triggers the waterworks every time I hear it – and I’m not even a Hibs fan.

So with that tune, and the beautiful city backdrop I’ll be a blubbering wreck. Can’t wait.