Leader: ‘People won’t know whether to laugh or cry’

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iF you want to make yourself really unpopular in Edinburgh there are a few quick ways to do it.

But short of attempting to merge Hearts and Hibs or double the council tax, the quickest and easiest way is to suggest building a new tram line. The idea of extending the route anywhere right now is, quite frankly, bonkers. The suggestion of building all the way out to Dalkeith will leave many not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Of course the city council is at pains to point out that it has no plans to build any more track right now and that situation is highly unlikely to change before the next local elections in 2017. This is simply forward planning that would allow the stunted track that is due to open next year to be extended at some point in the future.

Our politicians are furiously peddling away from any suggestion of starting new track works. And no wonder.

The reality is that the trams are electoral poison. They were 12 months ago – when voters unceremoniously dumped the politicians most closely associated with the project – they still are today, and they will remain so for years to come. That means that no politician in their right mind will bring forward plans to extend the tram line.

The pertinent question is whether it makes sense to shut the door entirely on any possible future extension of the track? Should we build away any possibility of ever having any more than the extremely truncated line we expect to open for business next year, even before we have seen how it operates in practice?

The sensible approach has to be to keep our options open for the future.

But that is all about choices that will be made many years from now. In the meantime, Transport Scotland has got it right when it insists the council must focus instead on “delivering a tram project that will help erase the memories of what has gone before, and breathe new life into the Capital”.