Helen Martin: Fix roads before extending tram

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FOR years Edinburgh’s trams have topped the league of controversial issues for the city; the upheaval of road works, the effect on shops and businesses on the route, the lack of control over the contract leading to late delivery and ludicrous costs. And now the ball is about to start rolling all over again.

Opinion is divided, not so much over extending the line in principle, but of doing so now, when there is a black hole in city finances (not to mention innumerable black holes in our road surfaces), we have food banks, services and thousands of council jobs are being cut, and we have no way of knowing when and if “austerity” is ever going to end. It is no longer a question of “trams – good or bad?”

But the current council debate over extending the route also highlights how it has come to distort and dominate local democracy.

Transport leader Lesley Hinds dismissed calls for a referendum on proceeding with the plans (a perfectly reasonable suggestion), saying: “Parties will put forward their position about trams in their manifestos” (referring to the council elections in May 2017) and “I assume each party will make clear whether they wish to take the trams to Newhaven”.

Ms Hinds clearly has delusions of Westminster if she thinks council elections are about political party manifestos. She also misunderstands the purpose of council elections if she thinks the votes come down to one issue.

Council elections have much more to do with faith in and respect for the individuals elected. Candidates are often personally known in their communities and elected by members of the public who have a whole range of domestic priorities from school buildings and tenement repair systems to street lighting, refuse collection, council tax, parking charges and planning and who may not identify with any particular party – they just live in Edinburgh.

Many have never used the trams, don’t live near the route and, apart from the exorbitant cost, couldn’t care less. There are those who would vote Labour in a general election who are strongly against tram extension and those who would vote Tory who live in Leith and can’t wait for the rails to reach them.

Labour councillors are making trams a party manifesto issue as they want to “own” them; a prize example of a vanity project. But the trams have nothing to do with accepted, wider party policy and principles. It is sheer chance that Labour wears the tram badge. The SNP has been generally ambivalent and the Tories have changed their minds.

After all the controversy so far, it is up to every rate-payer of any party or none, to decide if they want to spend even more, right now in hard times, on extension.

If anything is worthy of a public referendum, it is this project which was badly mismanaged from the start displaying the council’s inability to efficiently run such a major exercise, and the financial crippling that goes with it. If boom times return in future, it could have a very different result.

The May 2017 elections should not be used for the furtherance, or not, of a tram line. And personally? I’m one of those old-fashioned people who thinks if you can’t afford to mend a hole in the roof, repair the windows or fix the boiler, you don’t go building an extension.

Blaming victim is never OK

LAST week an attitudes survey into crimes against women showed the over 65s were far more likely than younger respondents to blame a rape victim who was drunk or wearing skimpy clothes than the perpetrator.

A few days ago it was reported that a Sheriff in Perth, hearing the case of a 21-year-old man who groomed a 14-year-old girl on social media and had unlawful sex with her, ruled that the girl had been a “willing participant” who “required protection from herself”.

The key facts were the girl’s age, that the accused knew it, that he befriended and groomed her on Facebook, and that he took her to a derelict building near a graveyard where he had sex with her. Apparent consent or willingness is irrelevant.

Yes the culprit was put on the offenders’ register and on nighttime curfew for six months so he didn’t get off Scot-free. But it was the Sheriff’s shocking comments about an under-age girl in such circumstances rather than the sentence that was truly alarming. If only he had kept his mouth shut. No wonder some people still have skewed attitudes to sex crimes.

Why bother if pick-up fails

TALKING of council duties, I studied the new recycling instructions carefully, and placed my clothes and textiles bag (not a black bin bag) beside the blue box as directed. Twice running it has been left behind and after two days was soaked. Result? It went in the landfill bin.

I don’t mind fortnightly collections, washing all the tubs and tins, sorting the food waste, paper, glass and plastic, and accommodating three wheelie bins. But if the council can’t get the collection right, what’s the point?

Make-up time for Lady C

FOR all the hoo-haa over Lady C, the crabbit old pearl-wearing harridan in the Celebrity Jungle, the real shocker was how beautiful she looked once she’d left the camp and was reunited with her cosmetic bag.

A make-up contract alone could rebuild her dilapidated Sussex castle.