The judge spearheading the inquiry into Edinburgh’s ill-fated tram project has called on the public to speak out about the disruption they faced – declaring: “I need your help”.
Lord Andrew Hardie has been charged with exposing what went wrong with the £776 million network but has revealed that he needs to know how seven years of disruption blighted the lives of residents and businesses.
In his first interview since the probe began, Lord Hardie revealed that the inquiry is set to examine more than two million digital files and 200 boxes of documents as evidence, with more still to come.
Today the former Lord Advocate of Scotland said that despite reams of evidence pouring in, the experience of ordinary citizens remained a key “knowledge gap”. He will issue a formal call for residents’ experiences at a later stage of the inquiry and is expected to request details of how traders’ profit margins were effected.
“This is something you can help me with, because one of the gaps in our knowledge is the impact upon the public,” said Lord Hardie. “One of my remits is to speak about the consequences of the failures, of the cost. But the other consequence was the effect on households, on businesses, on developers, not only along the route of the tram, but along the route of diverted traffic. I really need to hear from them.”
Sophisticated software will enable the inquiry team to identify any gaps in the evidence – proving beyond doubt whether documents have been lost or destroyed. Lord Hardie said there were likely to be public hearings where oral testimony would be led.
A timetable has yet to be set and it is not known when the first tranche of evidence will be heard or when Lord Hardie is likely to publish his final report.
Last month, the law lord was granted beefed up powers to force witnesses to give evidence – with those who refuse facing prison. It came after Lord Hardie complained that witnesses had failed to co-operate with the probe into the mismanaged project. The judge would not reveal which witnesses had failed to cooperate – a move that triggered the full-scale public inquiry. But he said he was “honoured” to lead the investigation.
“It is a very significant issue, a very significant case,” he said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that £500m pounds of the cost came from central government, which affects everyone in Scotland. Another reason I’m particularly pleased to be involved is that hopefully lessons learned from this will result in future public procurement contracts coming in on time, within budget and delivering what they promised.”
The inquiry’s website goes live today, featuring contact details, terms of reference and a breakdown of the probe’s stages. Written testimony will also be published on the site.
Grant McKeenan, of Copymade print shop on West Maitland Street, became a vocal critic of the project after his business suffered huge loses from the disruptive tram works.
He said: “I’m pleased that Lord Hardie has thought about us. Businesses should have been consulted more before and during the works, and even afterwards – we’re still having a major issue with the lack of loading bays because of the trams, for instance.
“To this day, we have not received one single penny in compensation. I just hope whatever comments businesses make will be taken on board.
“The council behave as if they are untouchable. It would be fantastic if those responsible were named and shamed.”
• The inquiry’s website can be found at www.edinburghtraminquiry.org.