THE final decision on whether to go ahead with the tram extension to Newhaven will be taken after the next council elections in 2017, city leaders have confirmed.
Councillors are set to agree next week that preparations and “enabling” works should be carried out over the next 18 months, leaving the decision on “hitting the green button” until “spring/summer” 2017 – when there could be a new administration in charge of the city.
And if all went according to plan, the trams would be carrying their first fare-paying passengers on the new section of track just before the following council elections in 2022.
Labour council leader Andrew Burns said: “I am satisfied the latest recommendations offer a viable way forward for the project, which we are confident is set to offer a range of benefits to the city.”
The £162 million project taking the tram route down Leith Walk and on to Newhaven was approved in principle by the council last month, but with the ruling Labour-SNP coalition divided, the decision on starting work was postponed until next Thursday’s full council meeting.
Now a revised timetable has been published, expanding the first stage of the scheme – including setting up a project team, site investigation works and starting footway enabling works on Leith Walk – from nine months to 18 months and the cost from £1.6m to £3.25m.
And in September next year, the council should hear from Lothian Buses about whether it can afford to hand over a £20m “extraordinary dividend” to finance the extension, as proposed.
Despite the delay in giving approval, the council said the trams would still be running to Newhaven as previously planned by early 2022.
Deputy council leader Sandy Howat, the SNP group leader, said the changed timetable would allow a decision on the extension to be made with more confidence.
He said: “It means when we do make the decision to hit the green button or not, there is a lot more information to make that on.
“The crucial thing for all of us is that when we get to that decision we have as much information about what is going to happen, how it is going to impact.
“It is essential we bear the best interests of Edinburgh’s residents in mind and by taking extra time, greater analysis and detailed consideration we hope to come to a conclusion that will benefit everyone.”
Councillor Burns said the enabling work for the trams in Leith Walk would be co-ordinated with other works on the street – including signal improvements, road resurfacing and cycle lanes – and the St James Quarter development.
He said: “We want to make sure we don’t have to rip things up because there has been enough disruption. I’m not saying there will be no further disruption, but we have a duty to minimise that as much as possible.”