Lesley Hinds against letting public vote on trams

A tram sits at York Place. Picture: Greg Macvean
A tram sits at York Place. Picture: Greg Macvean
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city transport leader Lesley Hinds has dismissed Tory calls for a referendum on the controversial tram extension – saying parties will present their policies on the issue in their election manifestos.

The £162 million plan to take the tram line down Leith Walk and on to Newhaven is set to be put on hold by councillors next week amid concerns about embarking on the project at a time of sweeping spending cuts and job losses.

But the Tory group wants the scheme cancelled rather than delayed and says the matter should be put to a public vote.

Transport spokesman Nick Cook said a referendum should be held on the same day as the council elections in May 2017.

But Cllr Hinds said the idea was ill thought out. “Parties will put forward their positions about trams and public transport in their manifestos. I’m assuming each party will make clear whether they wish to take the trams to Newhaven.”

She added: “I didn’t see the Tories calling for a referendum last time, when they supported the trams.”

The SNP’s Adam McVey, transport vice-convener, said a referendum on the same day as the 2017 elections could create a clash of mandates.

He said: “You could end up with a problem if you have parties that put forward the tram as part of their transport strategy and they win on that platform, then there is a No vote in a referendum – or the other way round, you have parties who don’t want to extend the trams and the people of Edinburgh decide in the referendum they do want the trams to go ahead.

“If the Tories were serious about a referendum, they would be better having it before or after the election.

“It suggests it is not a serious suggestion but an attempt to score political points rather than to get to a policy position that makes sense for the city.”

The SNP called for a trams referendum during the original construction project.

But Cllr McVey said: “We have not written our manifesto yet and I would not want to prejudge what will be in it.”

Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith, said he did not understand the rationale for a referendum.

He said: “The original tram scheme, to which the Tories signed up, always saw the trams going to Leith. The only issue now is when and at what cost. That’s about delivery and management, not a referendum issue.

“It also begs the question as to what would happen in any future extension proposals. Would there have to be a referendum every time some more tram track was laid down?

“The Tories are perfectly entitled to their U-turn on supporting trams, but they should avoid turning it into a political football.”

Gordon Burgess, who runs The Bed Shop in Leith Walk, said he was not against a referendum in principle, but added: “We would need to be given all the accurate facts before we voted and that’s never going to happen.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com