Edinburgh Trams: Councillors approve controversial £207m tram extension to Newhaven

The Capital’s tram line will be extended to Newhaven after councillors approved work starting on the £207.3m project.
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The city council voted 36 to 26 in favour of completing the original line from York Place to Newhaven, despite fears over the costs and a decision being made before the findings of an inquiry into the problem-hit first phase have been reported back.

Construction work will begin by the end of the year and will include Leith Walk being reduced to one lane of traffic for up to 18 months. The extension will open to an estimated 16 million passengers in the first quarter of 2023.

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The council’s transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said the Capital faced a choice, to “develop or die as a city”.

An artist s impression of trams running on Elm RowAn artist s impression of trams running on Elm Row
An artist s impression of trams running on Elm Row

She added: “This is a crucial decision for Edinburgh – for today’s residents and for generations to come. Taking trams to Newhaven will allow brownfield development sites to be transformed, opening up the whole of north Edinburgh to a wealth of opportunities in terms of jobs, housing and local facilities. And vitally, this will be achieved without putting pressure on existing Council budgets.

“Our city is growing faster than anywhere else in Scotland – a sign of our continued attractiveness as a place to work, live, visit and spend time – and boosting our public transport infrastructure in a sustainable way is fundamental to catering to our expanding population. I firmly believe the tram project is in the best interests of the city’s current and future residents and, as an administration, we will do everything in our power to make sure it’s delivered on time and on budget – next stop: Newhaven.”

The tram will be funded by borrowing, paid back by future tram ticket sales – with bosses expecting passenger numbers to double to around 16m once the extension is open. The project is also reliant on a £20m dividend from Lothian Buses.

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Two opposition parties refused to back the plans. Conservatives pointed to the soaring costs, with the budget increasing by 25 per cent from £165m in 2017 to £207.3m. The Tories believe that the project will not result in good value for money and that the funding from Lothian Buses could be spent on other core services.

Tory transport spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, said: “The Conservative message on the tram extension is clear: Edinburgh Council should invest in building schools, not in a £93m per mile tram extension.

“Unfortunately, SNP, Labour and Green councillors have opted to vote to extend the tram and in doing so have backing a costly business case filled with unknown financial risk to taxpayers. It offers terrible value for money.

“The Edinburgh tram inquiry is set to become one of the most expensive in British history. It is arrogant in the extreme that the council has today opted to proceed without the Inquiry’s full findings.

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The Liberal Democrats also voted against the proposals, despite supporting the principle of extending the line to Newhaven. The party is also concerned about the soaring costs and claimed the “environment of enormous uncertainty” around Brexit could lead to the council being forced to dip into its reserves to complete the work.

Earlier, campaigners claimed that the Edinburgh Trams project has led to worse air quality levels in other parts of the city. Ashley Lloyd from the Moray Feu Residents Association, said that by 2026, some 130,000 households will suffer from worse ar quality.

He added: “The traffic has to go somewhere and it’s put into adjacent streets and these streets become busier and noisier.

“When we introduce a tram in Edinburgh, we get some citizens exposed to more air pollution and more citizens exposed to traffic noise.”

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Research by experts on behalf of the council found that the tram extension, which is carbon neutral on delivery, will improve air quality and encourage residents to use sustainable public transport.

Green transport spokesperson, Cllr Chas Booth, said: “We believe the time to complete the job is now.

“This is the right decision for our city and the right decision for Leith.”

David Bol , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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