Councillors give ‘for and against’ arguments over tram extension plans

An Edinburgh Tram at York Place. Picture: TSPL
An Edinburgh Tram at York Place. Picture: TSPL
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Proposals to extend the tram line to Newhaven is a topic that has flared up many emotions across the Capital.

Here, two leading councillors - the SNP’s Adam McVey and the Conservative’s Nick Cook - set out their arguments for and against the plans.

FOR

Council leader Adam McVey argues the case for trams to Newhaven

Trams have become a valued part of Edinburgh’s transport network, used by millions of passengers every year.

The council will be asked to decide whether or not to press ahead with completing the line to Newhaven – a pivotal decision for the Capital.

Quite rightly, people are seeking extra reassurance this time around – and I very much welcome this scrutiny. It’s our duty as a council to make a fully informed decision, taking the time to pore over the Final Business Case and asking the right questions to make sure we’ve learned the lessons of what went wrong previously so we can keep things on track this time around.

The Final Business Case is strong. Crucially, it’s clear that the project can be delivered without impacting on other council services as it would be funded through future tram fares (nearly 16 million passengers forecast for year one on the full line) and a special dividend from Lothian buses.

The Capital is a fast-growing city and if we’re to manage that growth in a way that delivers a more suitable, environmentally-friendly future, we need to be willing to take forward-thinking, and sometimes difficult, decisions. We owe it to current and future generations to take a long-term and pragmatic approach when planning major investment that will help Edinburgh manage its growth sustainably and in a way that helps everyone share in the city’s success.

Creating a city which truly has people at its heart is the driving force behind our ambition, and it’s key not only to this but also to our City Centre Transformation placemaking vision and our response to the twin challenges of climate change and worsening air quality.

Investing in public transport is absolutely critical. Done properly, transport infrastructure can be a catalyst for positive change, better connecting people to major employment centres, opening up development and regeneration opportunities and allowing large numbers of people to get safely and reliably to and through the city centre for work, leisure and study.

Introducing a tram line through Leith to Newhaven would benefit the area enormously. It’s already one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland, with comparatively low car ownership. With Edinburgh’s population forecast to soar by 102,000 to around 600,000 by 2039, a quarter of that growth is predicted to be in the Leith docks and Western Harbour areas – thousands of new residents who will need convenient, accessible public transport links to take them to work or into town.

AGAINST

Extension should end at City Chambers, not Newhaven, says Tory councillor Nick Cook

Many councillors seem committed to extending the tram it at any cost. But Conservatives believe the council should terminate this vanity project and focus on the real priorities facing the Capital.

An already expensive project previously estimated to cost £165 million, the tram extension has now ballooned in cost to £257m.

For context, the extension would cost £93m per mile while the original project, which ran three times over budget, was eventually delivered for £89.2m per mile.

The cost is even more ludicrous when you factor in that we already own the tram cars, tracks and substations.

Astoundingly, despite previous works endured by Leith businesses, there are still around 1200 conflicts below the Walk.

The Edinburgh Tram Inquiry rumbles on, yet Edinburgh council’s SNP/Labour administration confidently assert they have learned the lessons of the previous project.

But the proposed extension is already subject to years of delayed decision and big cost increases. The inquiry conclusions are fundamental.

Lothian buses and its passengers will pay dearly. The tram extension remains predicated upon a £20 million raid of Lothian buses’ coffers and on passengers migrating from bus to tram.

The business case is clear the project presents significant logistical and financial challenges for Lothian buses. Fewer services means passenger reductions, and increases in fares.

It’s worth noting that 91% of Leith residents are already happy with public transport provision in their area. Still, we all agree we must deal with a growing city and associated pollution. Rather than pour money into the tram, some of the £20m dividend could help deliver a world-leading green bus fleet, alongside road and public realm improvements which ease congestion.

Future ticket sales revenue from the existing tram line could be better ploughed into improving public services – including building schools – rather than used to pay off the costly borrowing needed to fund the extension.

Let’s be clear. Contrary to SNP/Labour claims, spending money extending the tram is a political choice, not a case of money for trams or no money at all.

It’s time they made the right decision to see all of Edinburgh succeed in future, by terminating the tram extension in the city chambers, not Newhaven.

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