CONTROVERSIAL plans to extend the Capital’s trams should be decided by the people of Edinburgh in a referendum on the same day as the next council elections, Tories proposed today.
They claimed councillors who want to take the tramline down Leith Walk and on to Newhaven were out of tune with popular opinion and called for the issue to be put to a public vote.
The Evening News revealed yesterday that next week’s full council meeting is set to put the £162 million extension on hold amid concerns this is not the right time to proceed with such a project when the authority is facing massive spending cuts.
But Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said the move was a “fudge” and claimed a majority of councillors still wanted to go ahead with the extension at some stage.
He said: “They are talking about a delay, not binning the proposal completely.
“No matter when they bring the proposal forward, it is going to be controversial and we believe it is a significant enough issue to warrant a public ballot.”
The council has already voted in favour of the extension in principle, but a division within the city’s ruling Labour-SNP coalition meant a decision on starting work on the project was put off until next week.
However, next week’s meeting is now expected to approve only limited “enabling works” in Leith Walk and the purchase of land for a potential future extension at Granton. The land must be bought before compulsory purchase powers expire next May. The Tories were the only ones to vote against the extension in principle.
And Cllr Cook said despite postponing a decision, most other councillors still wanted to go ahead with the extension.
“This is just a fudge to keep the coalition together,” he said.
“Conservative councillors have now opposed proposals to extend the tram three times.
“Regrettably, our concerns – shared by voters of all political persuasions across Edinburgh – have failed to alter the trajectory of the council.”
The proposed extension would take six years to complete and be partly financed by an “extraordinary dividend” from Lothian Buses.
But Cllr Cook said: “Conservatives remain clear that the current proposals are deeply flawed – they are too expensive and would take too long. They rely too heavily on assumption and there is a huge question mark over the council’s ability to manage a project of this scale. Let’s not forget, too, that the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry is in its infancy.
“However, if the majority of councillors are intent on pressing ahead with such a divisive project, despite the weight of public concerns and the major risk to which the council would be exposed, then the reports and business case presented should be tested in the court of public opinion.”
He said the city-wide congestion referendum in 2006 – which resulted in a 75 per cent No vote – was a precedent