Tories to stall final green light for embattled trams

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THE beleaguered tram project has hit a fresh hurdle after it emerged opposition councillors are set to mount a bid to delay giving the final go-ahead for a line to St Andrew Square.

Councillors want assurances from the Scottish Government that the policy of free fares for over-60s will apply to the trams as well as buses before giving the green light.

Last week the Evening News revealed government transport agency Transport Scotland had still not decided whether or not the trams would be included in the national concessionary travel scheme.

Edinburgh’s Tory group has tabled a motion for next week’s meeting of the city council, instructing the council’s chief executive to hold emergency talks with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to get written confirmation the scheme will apply to the trams.

The motion says that until this assurance is received, the council should not sign the final agreement with the contractor for completion of the route between the airport and St Andrew Square.

Labour indicated it was likely to support the Tories’ call and Thursday’s by-election in City Centre ward could change the balance of the council, leaving the three Green councillors to decide the outcome of the vote.

Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said: “According to the business case, 20 per cent of the revenue is meant to come from concessionary travel, but the Scottish Government will not confirm whether this will be allowed.

“The danger is we go ahead with the trams and in a couple of years the government says the concessionary scheme does not apply and suddenly we have a deficit of £4 million or £5m a year. We think it’s unacceptable to go ahead without an absolute guarantee from the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland.”

Labour group leader Andrew Burns said the Tories’ point seemed “entirely sensible”.

He said: “It does underline the fact that the SNP-Lib Dem coalition has failed for four years to get this issue resolved.”

Councillor Burns said Labour did not support taking the trams to St Andrew Square because the finance was not available to do so, but he indicated the group was likely to back the Tory position.

SNP group leader and deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, who is opposed to the trams, said the Tories should have got answers on the concessionary fares before backing the business case in 2006.

He said: “Who’s leading the Tories – Rip van Winkle? They are trying to clear up something they agreed to five years ago.”

Transport convener, Lib Dem councillor Gordon Mackenzie said under the deal struck as a result of the mediation process on the trams, the council had to sign the final agreement by the end of the month or “all bets are off”.

But he admitted to “unease” over whether the free fares scheme would apply.

Transport Scotland said a ruling would be made “nearer to the project’s conclusion”.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com