Nick Cook: The tram case should terminate here

Extending the tram line to Newhaven will cost �55 million per mile. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Extending the tram line to Newhaven will cost �55 million per mile. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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There is a principled view that favours extending – or completing – the tram to Newhaven, as per the business case to be considered today by Edinburgh City Council’s transport committee.

Equally as principled is the view that, for the foreseeable future, the council shouldn’t touch the project with a barge pole.

Councillor Nick Cook is Conservative transport spokesman at Edinburgh City Council

Councillor Nick Cook is Conservative transport spokesman at Edinburgh City Council

The business case presented exposes the council to enormous financial and reputational risks, even if we were to merely accept the many “assumptions” upon which the business case heavily relies.

The proposals are too expensive – an eye-watering £55 million per mile – and don’t see the tram “breaking even” until 2029. A decade more of taxpayer subsidy when the council claims to be struggling to fund core services.

The highest price, however, will be paid by Lothian Buses and its passengers. For the route remains predicated upon a £20m raid of Lothian Buses’ piggybank. The business case is clear that the project will not be good news for Lothian Buses – during construction or afterwards. Passengers down . . . so fares up.

Of course, we must deal with a growing city and associated pollution. But rather than prop up the tram, the £20m could help deliver a fully green bus fleet and road improvements which ease congestion and make it more efficient for the bus network to effectively service our growing city.

Speaking of costs, a minimum 18-month closure of Leith Walk – with little detail on financial help for traders – could do untold harm to peoples’ livelihoods and our economy.

Astoundingly, despite all the pain already endured by Leith businesses, there are still about 1200 conflicts below the Walk – a figure which “experts” acknowledge is likely far higher. The timescale is padded out like a sumo suit to minimise the sort of embarrassment the council hasn’t seen since, well, they last built a tram line. But it’s real people who will suffer, not council bureaucrats.

Rather than pre-judge the findings of the Tram Inquiry and shoehorn them into the business case later on, we should wait for Lord Hardie’s findings so we can understand the lessons of the multi-million pound probe – fully and comprehensively.

With some estimating the Tram Inquiry could end up costing more than the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, it is the least taxpayers should expect.

Like the council leader, Adam McVey, I am a product of the 1980s. Whilst Adam may have fond memories of his toy train set, I remember learning that there is no such thing as public money. Only taxpayers’ money. To safeguard their hard-earned cash, I’ll argue that the tram extension business case should “terminate” in the City Chambers, rather than Newhaven.

Councillor Nick Cook is Conservative transport spokesman at Edinburgh City Council