City willing to hand more tram power to government

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City leaders have admitted that they would be willing to hand more control of the tram project to the Scottish Government.

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie said that the city would be open to any request from Transport Scotland to get a seat on a newly-formed project management board.

Finance Secretary John Swinney announced last week that the Scottish Government would withdraw funding if the city council continued with a controversial decision to end the line at Haymarket.

Within days of his announcement, councillors reversed the decision and agreed to build the line to St Andrew Square.

Mr Swinney’s comments have been seen as indirect support of the plan to take the tram to the city centre – which has also raised hopes that it could help provide more financial support for the project.

The council appears to be willing to allow it more of a say on the way the project is run.

Cllr Mackenzie said: “I think the new project management arrangements will help us deal with [financial] risks. Transport Scotland have been involved to a greater extent in the last six months and I hope they will continue to be involved.”

When asked whether the transport agency or Scottish Government could take on a more direct role or board position, Cllr Mackenzie said: “I am open to that possibility. We have agreed a governance structure where external project managers would work with the council and TIE staff but we will continue to have discussions with Transport Scotland and seek advice and guidance where appropriate.”

The agreement to take the tram to St Andrew Square included the appointment of consultants Turner and Townsend to provide management support. Council chief executive Sue Bruce is to become “executive sponsor” and will chair the new board, with TIE chairman Vic Emery becoming vice-chair. No formal role has yet been assigned to Transport Scotland or Scottish Government officials.

The new arrangements will also see the creation of a new “all parties oversight group”, made up of all leaders and transport spokespeople for each party in the City Chambers.

Today the SNP vowed to take a more hands-on approach to the project after agreeing to join the new working group. Cllr Steve Cardownie said: “We now want to participate fully.”

Mrs Bruce was today expected to meet with council leader Jenny Dawe to detail the outcome of talks about Friday’s decision with the construction consortium.

Meanwhile, Cllr Dawe has admitted that digging up streets across the whole of the tram route from early in the project may have been “a mistake”. She said: “Perhaps we should have just started at one end, but I am not a construction engineer so I don’t know the thinking behind that.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com