Deidre Brock: Trams U-turn the only option

We have long-argued that the case for the trams presented under the previous Labour administration was flawed.

By Deidre Brock
Thursday, 1st September 2011, 4:43 pm

Indeed, the single SNP councillor then on the council was the only one of the 58 Edinburgh councillors to vote against the draft final business case when it was put to the council in 2006.

It gives us absolutely no pleasure that our predictions have proven so dramatically correct, as those involved from day one of this project have signally failed to listen when we have regularly raised our justifiable concerns.

On four separate occasions the SNP has called for the trams to be scrapped – in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 – and at last June’s council meeting we called again for the difficult choices the council was faced with to be put to the people of this city in a referendum. Again this fair and reasonable proposal was voted down by the other parties.

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It is up to the pro-tram parties of Labour and the Conservatives to tell the people of this city why they forced through the most useless and costly of the two options for progressing the tram line last week.

One thing that should be clarified by all parties to those outside the council is the enormous financial burden that would accompany what appears to be a third option of cancellation of the project at this advanced stage.

Unlike the other two options, the city would not be able to borrow the estimated £161 million required to shut the project down as there would be no asset to borrow against.

Consequently this money would have to be found, under standard accountancy rules, from the year payment fell due. This, of course, would have such a drastic impact on the council’s budget and services for that year as to render this option now unthinkable.

Every person in this city would be affected as the council was forced to decide on mass redundancies, raising council tax and closing libraries, sports centres and parks, amongst many other similarly painful choices.

Of the only two remaining options, Haymarket represents the significantly worst value for money choice, although it appears at first sight to be cheaper. It requires an estimated ongoing subsidy of up to £4m per annum, is not supported by businesses – nor, it seems from the many e-mails the SNP group is receiving on this issue, the general public – and very plainly it does not go where our visitors and residents want to go (ie the centre of the city, close to the bus and train stations and so on).

Since last week’s decision by Labour and the Conservatives to continue to Haymarket only, two things have occurred that have created a material change in circumstances, thus causing the city’s Lord Provost to suspend standing orders and call for a special meeting to debate this issue again on Friday morning of this week.

In the first place, after the council chief executive’s most recent meeting with the consortia in Germany, it was clear they were unhappy with the truncated line the Labour and Conservative parties forced through.

Given that the current contract still binds the signatories to the original Newhaven commitment, they indicated they would take legal action seeking punitive financial penalties if the St Andrew Square option under mediation discussion for the last few months does not continue.

Secondly, the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland have indicated that, as the decision to stop at Haymarket represents a significant departure from the original terms of agreement with the council and will require an ongoing constant subsidy, they are consequently unwilling to release the remaining £72m.

It is plain, given the only two possible options facing the council, that this tram line must be continued to St Andrew Square.

Thus, reluctantly, we have agreed to halt our historic opposition to this scheme and to support the Liberal Democrats in the only route possible for this council.

Last week our council motion called for a public inquiry, at which we are absolutely confident our misgivings about the structure and governance of this misguided project will be fully and finally vindicated.

In the meantime, we can assure you that we will continue to challenge and scrutinise to the best of our abilities, on behalf of the people of this city who have had to put up with so many years of disruption.

n Is Councillor Brock’s case for the SNP’s change of position a convincing one? Tell us your views at [email protected]