Steve Cardownie: Battle lines are drawn over Newhaven trams

Tram works on Leith Walk in 2008. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tram works on Leith Walk in 2008. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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An item on the agenda of the full council meeting this Thursday relates to “Edinburgh Tram – York Place to Newhaven – Updated Business Case”. This report has been referred to the council by the Transport and Environment Committee, where it was previously debated and voted upon.

The administration will have the required support for the recommendations to move ahead with the project, with the Conservative Group moving an amendment to call a halt and proceed no further with the proposal.

Josh Littlejohn 'nest houses' plan is set to be approved. Picture: Scott Louden

Josh Littlejohn 'nest houses' plan is set to be approved. Picture: Scott Louden

The motion carried at the above committee noted that the estimated cost for stage two of the project was £2 million and this would be funded by the council. A number of conditions/terms were attached to the motion in an attempt to minimise the council’s risk. For instance, whether or not the project to extend the line to Newhaven is affordable is to be based on the tender prices submitted by any company or consortium that may be interested in taking on the work.

The recommendations of the current Tram Inquiry are to be “incorporated” into the plan before “contracts for the main construction works were signed”.

Another of the conditions is that “prior to any contracts for the main construction works being signed they would be reviewed by an INDEPENDENT ASSESSOR [my emphasis] from outwith the City of Edinburgh Council and further approvals would then be sought”.

It would appear then that some lessons have been learnt from the previous tram project fiasco that went over budget and beyond the projected timescale.

Val McDermid's story will be projected on to buildings around the Capital

Val McDermid's story will be projected on to buildings around the Capital

A cap of £2m would be set for all the work required before the council makes a decision whether to proceed or not next autumn. If the £2m sum is breached it is hardly likely to inspire confidence that the project would come in within budget if it gets the green light.

Of course, it would be nonsensical to ignore any findings of the Tram Inquiry which may have an influence on any plans to extend the line so it is imperative that timelines are dovetailed to ensure that when the inquiry reports its findings can be built into any new contracts before proceeding any further.

It might also be reassuring that the whole matter is to be referred to an independent assessor for review and recommendations before any construction works contracts are signed. It is to be hoped that any assessor appointed has no previous links with the council nor expects to have any in the future, thereby protecting their independence and integrity.

So, up to £2m is to be spent to allow the council to move to a position where it can determine whether or not there is a ROBUST business case that can be made to allow the project to go ahead.

Most people would agree that the tram line as it currently stands is inadequate and that an extension to Newhaven would be a marked improvement to the service currently on offer. Leith is the most densely populated part of the city (particularly Leith Walk and its offshoot streets) and has the least car ownership per head of population so the conditions would appear to be ripe for the tram line – but not at any cost.

The disruption to Leithers and in particular Leith businesses had a huge detrimental impact last time and the public will quite rightly be even less forgiving of any overruns that disrupt their daily lives or their ability to conduct their business.

The inclusion of a clause that a “compensation support scheme for businesses along the route would be put in place prior to any works commencing” is also to be welcomed but I’m sure that the traders will wait to see just what that entails and what the levels of compensation would be before sleeping soundly in their beds at night.

However, none of this has convinced the Tories on the council that the next step is worth taking. They will support an amendment which agrees to take no action due to the fact that the proposals continued to “expose the council to a high degree of financial and reputational risk” and that they “present poor value and failed to constitute prudent use of taxpayers’ money”. So the gloves are off and the debate promises to be a lively affair.

In the Yellow/Red/Green corner we have the advocates of taking the project to the next stage before deciding whether or not to go ahead and in the Blue corner we have the sceptics (opportunists?) who have decided that this matter should go no further.

The administration’s views will prevail but the Tories are not likely to throw their hands in the air and accept defeat! An interesting year is about to unfold.

Josh will give it his ‘nest’ shot

Planning permission will be granted tomorrow for the building of 11 temporary “nest houses” and a temporary community hub building which will comprise of a kitchen, dining room and lounge facilities in support of the “nest houses” in the vicinity of West Shore Road, Granton. Up to 20 homeless people will be housed in this development, with the goal of promoting these people into permanent housing and employment.

Permission will be granted for a period of not more than five years, by which time as many as 80 homeless people will have benefited. This proposal is the brainchild of Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, the restaurant/food outlet which employs and supports homeless people.

Despite the proposal attracting five objections, planning officials are recommending approval and it would be a major surprise if the ccommittee did not give its unanimous backing. This initiative makes a welcome contribution to help solve the plight of homeless people and if successful can hopefully be replicated in other suitable sites in the city.

Given the calibre of celebrities who have visited Home, Social Bite’s Queensferry Street eaterie, it’s anyone’s guess who will formally open the development when completed.

It would be a crime to miss this

Underbelly officially launch their Christmas Events programme tonight and it promises to contain fantastic attractions and never seen before performances.

As far as Hogmanay goes I am reliably informed that one of the features will be Message from the Skies a short story from the acclaimed Crime Fiction writer from Kirkcaldy, Val McDermid. This story is to be projected onto 12 buildings around Edinburgh one of which will be on Calton Hill with others being announced later. An innovative addition to the celebrations.

Plan ahead

The city council has now published a new Development Plan Scheme. A Local Development Plan (LDP) “sets out policies and proposals to guide development.”

Stakeholders have the opportunity to express their views on the plan which will be taken into account before the plan is formally adopted. This process also facilities the views of individuals as well as that of other players such as developers, community councils and other parties which have an interest in how the city is developed.