HOPES of extending the tram line to Leith have been delivered a major snub after Transport Minister Keith Brown ruled out any possibility of the city council getting Scottish Government cash for the plan.
Mr Brown told MSPs the government had no intention of giving another penny to trams in Edinburgh.
Last week the Evening News revealed the council was paving the way for extending the route by spending an extra £1 million on “tram-proofing” improvement works in Leith Walk.
Residents and traders in the area suffered prolonged disruption when the road was dug up to divert underground pipes and cables in preparation for the trams and some businesses were forced to close – only for that section of the route to be abandoned because of escalating costs.
With the airport to city centre tram service due to be introduced in May, the plan is to ensure the works in Leith Walk were not for nothing.
Council officials are due to report back by the end of the year on the details of how the trams could be taken down to Leith. But Mr Brown’s comments make it clear the city will have to look elsewhere for the funding to extend the route.
The government’s position may not be entirely a surprise.
When it first came to power as a minority government in 2007, the SNP tried to scrap the tram project but the other parties united in its defence.
The SNP accepted it would have to provide the promised £500m of government support but insisted there would be “not a penny more”.
And in December 2011, the then Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil, when asked about the prospect of the trams going to Leith, said any extension beyond the city centre would be “for another generation to decide”.
But as the project, now priced at £776m, nears completion there may have been some expectation of a more positive attitude from the government.
Mr Brown made his comments as he was questioned by MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s transport committee. He told them: “From the government’s point of view, we certainly hope the trams are a big success. It was just our view in 2007 that wasn’t the best way to dispense with three quarters of a billion pounds, given the other priorities we’ve had.”
Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon Macdonald pointed out the legislation passed in 2006 required any work to start within 15 years and asked Mr Brown his views on the possibility of the tram line being extended to Leith within that timeframe.
Mr Brown said: “We have made clear we funded the line that’s there just now to the tune of £500m, not a penny more, and we have stuck to that. We have no intention of being involved in further lines for trams.
“The council, of course, can take that forward if they want to do that themselves. I can understand some of the attractions. Leith Walk is a long boulevard. But it’s not something the Scottish Government would want to take forward.”
He said the government had taken the same stance on other tram proposals elsewhere in Scotland, although it had agreed to look at the idea of a “tram-train” to Glasgow airport. He said: “We’ve said the same thing to other proposals for trams. Obviously we are willing to consider the tram-trains, a different light rail system, for Glasgow, but we don’t intend to be involved – or certainly not funding – those future phases.”
Mr Macdonald asked if that meant any extension would be dependent on Edinburgh taxpayers picking up the tab. Mr Brown said: “Councils have different ways in which they can fund these things. All I’m saying is from the government’s point of view we have no intention, no plans to make any contribution. I have not had any proposal from the city council to look at this.
“The government doesn’t have any intention of putting more resources into any further tram phases.”
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said the council had always intended the next stage would be to finish off the line as originally planned.
Speaking previously she said: “We have got the rails and the trams to go down to Newhaven, but obviously we need funding to do that. For this to go ahead, we need public support and resources.
“We have asked officials to come back by the end of the year. By then there will obviously be trams up and running and we should have an idea of passenger numbers and what the people of Edinburgh feel.”
Cllr Hinds said it was difficult to estimate the cost of extending the line to Leith because advances in technology since the original design work meant some parts of the construction could probably be completed more quickly and cheaply.
Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the government should have waited to see how the trams performed and listened to any proposal for an extension rather than dismissing the idea so quickly. He said: “I’m a little disappointed they have said no to any future investment before we have seen whether the trams make a difference or not.
“It should be up to Edinburgh to present a case for additional lines – and not just down to Leith. I would argue there are other places that could have lines and the Royal Infirmary is the obvious one.
“Just saying no before a case has been written, never mind presented, is a bit premature. I would have thought a government minister was capable of sitting on the fence for a bit longer.”
Edinburgh North & Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said he had not expected any funding from the Scottish Government. He said: “We want the tram to come to Leith, but it’s not clear where the money is going to come from. I don’t think there was ever any possibility it would come from the government.”
Edinburgh Tory group leader Cameron Rose said there could still be ways of funding an extension, but argued it was too early to be talking about that. He said: “The priority is to get the tram up and running and see how the people of Edinburgh respond to it before we think about extending it to Leith.”
JUST THE TICKET
LOTHIAN Buses passengers are overwhelmingly satisfied with the service they get, according to a new survey. The Bus Passenger Survey commissioned by the independent watchdog Passenger Focus was carried out between September 8 and December 1 and received 2169 survey responses from Lothian Buses passengers.
It found 96 per cent of passengers were satisfied with the overall service of the bus company, compared to 88 per cent average for six other major bus operators. Punctuality scored highly, with a 90 per cent satisfaction rate.
Two dungeons just don’t add up at stops
CITY chiefs have been left red-faced after signs at city centre tram stops were found to contain an error.
The five maps – which cost £35,000 to install in total – will have to be taken down and re-done after featuring two Edinburgh Dungeons.
The numbered key mistakenly has the Edinburgh Dungeon in its rightful place next to Waverley and at Queen Street in place of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
The typo was spotted by a keen-eyed Twitter user. The maps at York Place, Haymarket, West End-Princes Street, Princes Street and St Andrew Square will now be taken down.
City bosses are as yet unclear as to whether they will have to pay for replacements or whether sign company Streetwise will foot the bill.
Johnny Campbell, general manager at the Edinburgh Dungeon said: “We were unaware of our phantom presence on Queen Street.” Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “We’re aware of the unfortunate misprint and had already made arrangements to print up replacement maps.”