Comment: Trams huge decision for Edinburgh

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the question of whether or not to take the tram line to Leith will be one of the defining decisions taken by this 
Labour-SNP city council.

The potential benefits of an extension are clear, but so are the possible pitfalls. So today’s pronouncement by the SNP that it will essentially apply common sense to this crucial choice next month has to be warmly welcomed.

To say that a decision like this should be based only on the economic case put before the council, might seem like stating the blindingly obvious. But given the history of the project there was no guarantee that would be the case.

One accusation that has been made against the SNP is that their decisions on the trams have been driven by an ideological opposition. rather than considering the merits of a changing situation.

It would have been easy for Sandy Howatt, the new leader of the nationalists at the City Chambers, to continue that opposition, neatly avoiding any risk of being accused of an embarrassing U-turn. But it would have been wrong. This is a huge decision for Edinburgh. It needs to be taken by cool, clear heads, and driven only by what is in the best interests of the Capital’s future.

The case for the extension looks on the surface to be a positive one. The wide boulevard of Leith Walk, the large concentration of people – don’t forget, the streets around the Foot of the Walk make up the most heavily populated neighbourhood in Scotland – and low local car ownership make it a natural home for a tram line. And, of course, much of the preparatory work has been done.

With both coalition partners at the City Chambers now willing to back an extension, if the sums add up, it seems more likely to happen.

But just as ideological opposition is wrong so too would be blind ideological support. Extending the tram line only makes sense if the business case does. The sums have to add up.