Minister says any extension of tram line is for ‘another generation’

An artist's impressions of trams in Leith
An artist's impressions of trams in Leith
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THE man in charge of Scotland’s infrastructure has ruled out trams going to Leith for the next 25 years.

Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil said any move to take the route further than the city centre would be a decision for “another generation”.

Mr Neil was unveiling the Scottish Government’s infrastructure investment plan up until 2030, which includes a host of road and rail projects, hospitals, schools and colleges – but no more trams.

SNP ministers have repeatedly said there will be “not a penny more” of government money for the controversial project beyond the £500 million agreed in 2007 when the Scottish Parliament voted to support the trams, against the wishes of the then minority Nationalist administration.

Since then, there have been repeated delays and the budget of £545m for a route from the airport to Newhaven has soared to £776m for bringing the trams from the airport to St Andrew Square.

Asked about funding a further stage of the route to take the trams to the waterfront, Mr Neil said: “The original proposal was that the entire project from the airport to Leith would cost less than £600m and we would be riding the trams by now.

“Those of us who had more common sense stated that was extremely unlikely to happen either in terms of the cost or the timescale and sadly we were proved right.

“If there is any extension beyond St Andrew Square it will be for another generation to decide.”

Bill Harrison, who works at Carolyn designer florist in Constitution Street, welcomed the idea that there would be no trams heading for Leith any time soon.

“I’m glad they’re not here,” he said. “We had all these years of the roads dug up. At least now we have no more leaks in our basement and customers can stop their cars outside.”

Council chiefs, however, insist they still want to take the tram to Leith.

In a report to councillors last week, city development director Dave Anderson said: “The long-term intention is to extend the tram network north of York Place but the timescale for this work has still to be established and it is likely to be several years.”

Transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said top priority at the moment was completing the route to St Andrew Square.

He said: “It’s not for the next generation, it’s for the next council to make a decision on the future extension of the trams.

“I’m not giving up on the people of Leith – the trams are very much part of the future regeneration of Leith and the waterfront.

“People both for and against have recognised the tram only makes sense if it is part of a network. The question is when will we move to the next section and I like to think it will be sooner rather than later.”

He acknowledged there was a change of emphasis from housing to commerce and industry in the proposed development of the waterfront, and the business case for the trams would have to be reviewed.

But he said: “If there are going to be more offices, factories and businesses, that is still going to generate journeys.”

City Labour group leader Andrew Burns said the trams should eventually go to Leith and he hoped it would be sooner than 25 years.

He said: “The public are right to be sceptical until we see what comes out of a public inquiry about the complete unravelling of this project.”

Council leader Jenny Dawe previously said she had received a number of enquiries from private companies interested in completing the line to Newhaven with the council potentially renting it back.

Getting to work

TRAM bosses have revealed their detailed timetable for getting the line to St Andrew Square ready for services to start in mid-2014.

The schedule, circulated to businesses and others along the route, sets target dates to within three months.

Tram works in St Andrew Square and Shandwick Place and the resumed works in Princes Street will all be under way early in the new year. Princes Street is due to reopen in summer next year.

In St Andrew Square, the road closure and traffic management will last all next year, though track works will not finish until 2014.

Shandwick Place will be closed until spring 2013, with track works continuing until the end of that year. All work at the Gogar depot is due to finish in the next fortnight.

In York Place, a traffic management system will come into force some time between July and September next year and last until October-December 2013.

Overhead line and electrification work is due to be completed along most of the route by early 2014.

Transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said: “The project has been progressing well since work restarted and we are now in a position to look to the future with greater clarity and positivity.”

Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, who complained it had not been given enough information timings, said: “Credit where credit’s due. We asked for something and they responded very quickly. Now we need to see how they report against that timetable.”