Leith trams would take 6 years despite ‘work done’ claims

The current end of the tram line at York Place. Picture: Jane Barlow
The current end of the tram line at York Place. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE tram extension to 
Newhaven is planned to take six years to complete, despite claims that much of the preparatory works have already been done.

The council’s timetable for completing the tram route to Leith Walk does not envisage the extra section of line being finished until 2021.

It would be two-and-a-half years before construction work even got under way – then almost three-and-a-half years to construct.

Councillors are due to decide on Thursday whether to push ahead with the £162 million project, but it is understood there could be a move to defer a vote until another council meeting soon.

The Evening News revealed last week the Capital’s ruling Labour-SNP coalition is divided on the tram extension. Labour leaders are keen to go ahead but the SNP group believes the financial case is not robust, especially when the council is facing massive cuts.

Supporters of the extension argue it would open up the waterfront area for development, provide fast transport between key areas of the city and boost Edinburgh’s economy.

The necessary tram vehicles and track have already been bought and much of the work to divert utility pipes and cables to Leith Walk was carried out before the decision to build only from the airport to city centre, as the first phase of the route.

The report to Thursday’s meeting says if the extension is given the green light, the first stage – expected to take nine months – would include establishing a project team, along with external advisers, and starting risk analysis and site investigation.

The second stage – tendering, finalising the finance and awarding the contract – would take another 21 months.

And the report says consultation with the industry provided estimates for the construction times ranging from 30 to 54 months. A 40-month timescale has been taken as a mid-point.

Conservative group transport spokesman Nick Cook said the timetable of the project was one of the concerns his group would be raising at Thursday’s full council meeting.

“It is further illustration of the fact the council is not in a position to be delivering a project this scale,” Mr Cook said. “The longer the construction work takes, the bigger the disruption will be.

“No doubt, part of it is about caution, given the experience last time. But if they are serious about this, you would think they would just get on with it.”

He also pointed to figures in an earlier report to the council noting 1200 “potential conflicts” between the tram route and underground utilities, with 77 per cent classed as carrying a high or medium likelihood of action being required.

Councillor Cook said: “There are real concerns surrounding the utilities work which has or has not been done. There has already been massive disruption in Leith Walk and that was supposed to allow the line to go down to Leith.”

Transport convener Lesley Hinds said the council was determined to get the project right this time and not repeat mistakes from the original tram scheme.

She said: “We have learned from the last project. We need to make sure we have everything in place before we go out to ask for bids.

“The design needs to be tied down before we put it out to tender. And we need to make sure it is a really good, robust contract.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com