Lib Dems fall into line as tram extension opponents – John McLellan

It seems the administration is determined to press ahead with the tram extension, no matter the cost. Picture: Ian Rutherford
It seems the administration is determined to press ahead with the tram extension, no matter the cost. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Edinburgh’s Conservative Group has consistently opposed the principle of the Newhaven tram completion project, now officially to cost £207 million but with a 39 per cent chance of costing £257m if the contingency fund identified in the now-published final business case is used up. Few with any memory of the first phase which eventually reached £776m thinks it won’t.

To the growing number of sceptics we can now add the council’s Lib Dem group, which readers will remember was left to see through the original project when it took over the city’s administration in partnership with the SNP in 2007.

By our estimates, the true cost of the original line from the airport, including interest, was £71.4m per kilometre and if that was too expensive then it looks like the 4.7km from York Place to Newhaven could actually come in at just over £81m. And far from being a simple cash cow, there is an effective subsidy of about £2.57 for each tram journey.

The reality is that from further discussions this week, it is all but impossible to name a figure at which the administration will accept the scheme is no longer affordable because the goals are subjective and political and it essentially doesn’t matter what it will cost.

But at least the claims that the tram project has no implication for the rest of the council’s budget has been scotched. The chief executive himself at last week’s full council meeting confirmed that the Conservative budget which included a reallocation of £90m if the tram completion does not go ahead was competent. Fake dividend indeed.

Between a Red Rock and a hard place

Use it or lose it, as they say in rugby circles, and that seems to be the message from the Scottish Government to councils when it comes to major assets with competing interests.

East Lothian Council has been trying to develop a master-plan for Cockenzie ever the closure of the power station six years ago, including the principle of building a terminal for cruise ships which currently anchor in the middle of the Forth with passengers ferried to shore with a flotilla of small boats.

The council owns the land, but the Scottish Government has approved a plan from the Chinese government’s infrastructure company Red Rock to build an electricity transformer on the site to relay energy from North Sea wind turbines.

The council didn’t have a credible alternative, said the Scottish Government reporter, which doesn’t say much for the hefty document it produced in 2017.

Looking ahead to city ‘skinny’

You’ve got to hand it to our Lord Provost Frank Ross for his sunny optimism. “In 33 years’ time, I want to live in a city that’s comfortable in its own skin,” he is quoted as saying in the newly-published City Centre Transformation document.

I’m 57 and in 33 years’ time I’ll be happy to be alive never mind whether the place I’m living has a comfortable skin or otherwise. Frank is three years older than me.