Tram extension ‘could be put on hold if inquiry result delayed’

Artists impresions of how the trams will look going down Leith.
Artists impresions of how the trams will look going down Leith.
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FINAL approval for construction of the tram extension could be put on hold if the inquiry into the original project has not reported by then.

The inquiry, chaired by former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie, has been running for three years already and begins hearing oral evidence today. Lord Hardie has given no indication of when he expects to produce recommendations.

The city council is expected to approve the extension from York Place to Newhaven later this month, but a decision to let the construction contract is not scheduled until autumn next year,

Queries were raised at the council’s transport committee yesterday <TUES> how lessons from the first phase of the trams could be taken on board if the go-ahead for the £165m extension was given without seeing Lord Hardie’s conclusions.

But Paul Lawrence, the senior official in charge of transport, said it was anticipated “with a degree of confidence” that the Hardie report would be available by the time of the final decision about letting the contract.

“If not, at that point members will have a choice - wait until the results of the inquiry are available or go ahead and let the contract.”

He said a delay would have “cost implications” but such an approach was “the best we can do in the circumstances”.

City Centre Tory councillor Joanna Mowat noted most of the committee were new councillors and told them the original project had been a “bruising experience”.

She said: “Back in 2007 we had additional reports and we asked for additional assurances, yet the project lurched from bad to worse.

“Councillors were lied to by officers during that process. They are different officers, different times, but you need to be rock solid in that relationship.”

A deputation from Leith Central community council highlighted the decade of disruption the area had suffered since the start of preparatory work from trams before the original route was curtailed.

Vice-chair Harald Tobermann said he was in favour of trams in principle.

But he said: “Ten years ago we saw the diggers and drills arriving and they have been with us ever since - we have had derelict pavements, uncertain yellow lines and utter chaos - and now you are asking for another five years of more construction work.”

He said it would affect people’s health, increase stress levels, disrupt waste collection and other council services and lead to more shops closing.

He argued if such problems developed there should be financial compensation not only for businesses but also for residents. “If you are confident about this you will never have to pay out.”

And he said the benefits coming to the area from the tram extension would be “limited” because it was already well-served by public transport.

Leith Green councillor Chas Booth said his mail bag was not so negative.

“Of the constituents who have contacted me, the vast majority say Leith has had all the pain from the trams, now we want to see some of the gain.”

But Mr Tobermann told him: “They are not going to see the gain now - at best it will be in five years’ time.”

And he added: “I would like to see your mailbag once the work is under way.”