EDINBURGH’S embattled tram scheme would be extended down Leith Walk and built out to Little France under an election pledge by the city’s ruling Lib Dems revealed today.
Despite the massive controversy surrounding the line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place, which is already two years behind schedule and expected to cost more than £1 billion, city council leader Jenny Dawe believes the city will learn to love the trams.
The party’s manifesto to “build a better Edinburgh”, launched today, includes developing a new business case to complete the line down Leith Walk and eventually to Little France and the BioQuarter as originally proposed, once the initial line is up and running. That could involve attracting private funding.
Councillor Dawe told the Evening News: “The people of Leith Walk have had to put up with an enormous amount already because of the tram, and we believe there is still a strong business case for taking the tram down there.
“But perhaps fund it in a different way. There could be business interest in doing that.
“We think it’s [Leith Walk] worth doing, and there was a strong argument for it originally, just as there was with a line to Little France because of the development of the BioQuarter.
“That’s now been given a further boost because it’s become an enterprise area, so there’s even more of a reason.”
Cllr Dawe said many of the problems the Edinburgh trams project had suffered had also been encountered in the Dublin Luas project, but had been overcome.
The network in the Irish capital, which cost three times its initial £205m budget, is regarded as a major success and has been extended with cash from businesses keen to be on the network.
“I think what will happen in Edinburgh will be analogous to Dublin where they had many of the same difficulties in delivering their tram,” she said, “It’s now businesses in Dublin which are paying to a large extent for extensions of the line.
“Dublin’s first line ended at a shopping centre, which boosted business so much that other businesses wanted a line near them and we have had approaches from businesses who are interested here.”
Cllr Dawe said she had a “benign belief that we will love the tram”. She added: “It’s been a horrendous route to take to get here, but once it’s in place and working commercially well, which it will fairly quickly, people will like it.
“Edinburgh should have a tram network, not just a tram line.”
The pledge to look at extending the tram project has been met with anger from rival parties.
Andrew Burns, leader of Labour in Edinburgh, said it was “entirely inappropriate” to plan extensions before the delayed line was up and running.
“The people of Edinburgh will find this insulting,” he said. “The local authority has had its reputation dragged through the mud and needs to get the current line up and running before we look at extensions.”
Jeremy Balfour, leader of the city’s Conservatives, said the council’s £1.5bn debt had to be dealt with before any new transport projects could be pursued.
He added said: “In principal it would be good to get the tram to Ocean Terminal but it’s very difficult to see where the money would come from.
“This [current project] will already leave us with massive borrowing.
“The debt has to be dealt with before we look at any more massive infrastructure projects.”
HAVE YOUR SAY
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LIB DEM MANIFESTO PLEDGES
• Examine re-opening the South Suburban railway to passengers and the opening of a station at Abbeyhill.
The project was explored in the 90s but not pursued. Cllr Dawe said with Network Rail electrifying the line to carry freight there is “a real possibility there. We think these things are deliverable.”
• Review Outlook and other publications to ensure they are “fit for purpose”.
Cllr Dawe has previously ruled out axing the freesheet – dubbed “Pravda” for its unwaveringly positive coverage of council leaders.
• Continue development of the £170m 21st Century Homes project to deliver 1400 homes in Craigmillar, Leith, Gracemount, Sighthill, Pennywell and Muirhouse.
• Introduce Low Emission Zones in the most polluted areas, where drivers would be fined should their vehicle emit unacceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide.