Councillors are now considering the details of the final business case for tram extension to Newhaven as we move towards a decision in the coming weeks.
Serving as a councillor for Leith since 2012 I’ve noticed a dramatic turnaround in public opinion in the community. In 2012 many were against the principle of tram extension with (quite rightly) the memory and reality of the previous scheme still lingering. Now in 2019, the mood has changed with very few Leithers opposed and most taking the position of “Just get on with it!”– this is backed up by the council survey as part of the previous iteration of the extension bussiness case which showed a majority in favour.
The project has a big projected cost. However, having done extensive work there is a substantial amount of money (£30m) within the projected budget to cover the risks attached to a project on this scale. The council has engaged with the tram inquiry and the expert witnesses to make sure we can cover every eventuality. What the exhaustive scenario planning has shown us is that this can be delivered and paid for with tram fares and an additional dividend from Lothian Buses under even a worst-case scenario.
My expectation is clear. This project will be well managed. The council has learned lessons in how the contract was managed, ensuring assurances are properly evidenced and scoping prudent values for risks instead of kidding ourselves we can deliver it “on the cheap”. This will all ensure we don’t face the same problems the last tram project suffered.
The council has also learned lessons on how we can support our community and business through the inevitable disruption of the works. This time round, we’ve made sure as part of the project there’s a £2.4m package to support businesses on Leith Walk remain open for business during the construction. Businesses were asked about what support they would want including money to help deal with any cash flow issues, keeping the street vibrant and promoting the street as a destination.
I’m confident that this project will be delivered on time and on budget if the council decides to go ahead with it. I and my SNP councillor colleagues made a promise to voters in 2017 that we would only proceed if extension could be delivered without affecting council budgets and this promise still stands. That means the money spent on the project is not causing ANY additional financial pressure on the council. While some will claim that tram extension will contribute to the difficult decisions we’re taking to balance our budget, it isn’t true.
I know many in the city will question the timing of this decision. Many will argue that at a time of financial constraint we shouldn’t be looking at an “expensive” tram project. I understand that argument, but I don’t agree with it. If we can gain a mass transport solution which will help us manage our growing population better (and it can pay for itself), why wouldn’t we? If we unlock economic potential to bring investment, jobs and opportunities for our citizens, why wouldn’t we?
If extending the tram has no impact on our roads budget, our school’s budgets, our waste collection budgets, our ability to deliver the massive expansion in early-years provision, our ability to provide improved social care services, our ability to deliver music tuition in schools, our council tax rates or our ability to support those most vulnerable in our city experiencing homelessness – then why wouldn’t we? The business case is robust, and councillors will now pore over every detail. If we’re to reject the proposal to extend, it must be based on solid reasoning. Future generations will not look kindly on us if we use excuses to sidestep progress.
Cllr Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council