TORY attempts to hold a city-wide referendum on extending the trams down into Newhaven have been rejected by the council.
City leaders yesterday voted to begin preparation works for the £162 million project – but delayed making a final decision on whether to actually go ahead with the scheme until after the next election in 2017.
During a stormy in parts council meeting – packed with Lothian Buses drivers in the public gallery – city leader Andrew Burns said the move was being made “with the future of the Capital in mind”.
But Tory politicians, the only group to oppose the tram extension in principle, accused the council of being “addicted to fudge” and lodged an amendment calling for a city-wide referendum to “let the people have their say”.
Councillor Nick Cook, Tory transport spokesman, said the referendum would have been held during the upcoming Holyrood elections, providing best-value for the council.
He said: “The controversy over this is large enough to warrant a public ballot. I think that’s clear from the Lothian Buses drivers who were in the public gallery.
“We know from the 2011 alternative vote referendum, which was a UK-wide ballot held on the same day as Scottish Parliament elections, that there’s nothing to stop [such a referendum] happening.”
However, the council yesterday moved to reject the Tory amendment and voted through plans to begin tram preparation works by 47 votes to 11. Mr Cook said the decision to delay any final verdict on the tram extension was a political fudge aimed at “stapling” together the ruling Labour-SNP coalition – who are seen as divided on the issue .
Preparation works – including setting up a project team, site investigation and starting footway enabling works on Leith Walk – will now take place over the next 18 months at a cost of £3.25m.
City leaders declined to reveal when work will start, but said it would be co-ordinated with ongoing signal improvements, road resurfacing and cycle lanes, as well as the St James Quarter development.
The council will hear from Lothian Buses towards the end of next summer on whether it can afford to hand over a £20m “extraordinary dividend” to finance the extension, as proposed.
Council leader Councillor Andrew Burns said: “I’m pleased that we have been able to find a way forward for the project, which is set to offer many environmental, economic and social benefits to Edinburgh.
“Now we’re able to begin work on the first phase, we can set our sights on the long term.”