EDINBURGH council has landed a prestigious industry accolade for ‘turning around’ the Edinburgh Tram project.
City council chief executive Sue Bruce and Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport convener, picked up a special prize at the Light Rail Awards for getting the £776 million scheme back on track after crunch talks to end a crippling dispute.
The pair have been hailed by judges for “knocking heads together” at Tie – the defunct arms-length company created to deliver the trams – and contractor Bilfinger Berger, as delays and cost overruns threatened to derail the project.
Their work has also been praised by council staff and industry observers – but critics warned it could backfire amid deep public anger and a national inquiry into what went wrong with the scheme.
One council insider said: “They have certainly been dynamic – they’ve knocked heads together. Although I don’t see us calling them the caped crusaders any time soon.”
Ms Bruce picked up the prize from Transport Minister Baroness Kramer and broadcaster and journalist Nicholas Owen during a glitzy ceremony in London on Tuesday night.
It was awarded to honour the “strong leadership” shown in bringing the trams in on a revised timetable and budget following mediation talks in 2011.
In a message of congratulations, the judges said: “This formidable duo came into one of the most high-profile – for all the wrong reasons – and toughest tramway projects late in the game.
“Through strong leadership they have turned it around – and into a success.”
While welcoming news of the prize, Simon Johnston, editor at Tramways and Urban Transit magazine, said it would grate with many.
He said: “It was always going to be controversial to give any kind of award to the Edinburgh Trams project.
“But I think the one thing the judging panel recognised is that without the intervention of Councillor Hinds and Sue Bruce, there might not even be trams in Edinburgh.”
Opposition politicians said the “irony” of the award’s timing amid preparations for a public inquiry would not be lost on residents.
Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw, a member of the Capital’s transport committee, said: “[Ms Bruce and Cllr Hinds] do deserve recognition but I cannot imagine this going down very well in the city. I can understand how people wouldn’t perceive the granting of an award very favourably in the current circumstances.”
Cllr Hinds said: “I for one certainly didn’t expect to be winning this kind of industry accolade when I first took over the project in May 2012.”