Edinburgh tram extension £6 million over-spend could be 'history repeating itself' warns councillor

An Edinburgh councillor has warned that ‘history is repeating itself’ as it was revealed the council’s tram extension project has already spent £6 million more than it had been expected to at this stage.
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According to a report sent to councillors ahead of Thursday’s finance committee meeting, the council’s flagship ‘Trams to Newhaven’ extension project has spent an extra £6m due to costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic and diverting underground utilities.

Work is forging ahead on the trams to Newhaven extensionWork is forging ahead on the trams to Newhaven extension
Work is forging ahead on the trams to Newhaven extension

The report says “there has been capital expenditure of £53.071 million as at period 12 against a revised budget of £59.648 million, with outturn slippage of £6.577 million as a result of programme movements arising from the second COVID-19 lockdown and utilities diversions being more onerous than forecasted.”

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Council transport chiefs insisted the project would still come in on budget – but Conservative councillor Andrew Johnston, who represents Fountainbride and Craiglockhart, said the utilities issue was the same faced by the original, and beleaguered, trams project.

He said: “Businesses and pedestrians up and down Leith Walk will be dismayed to hear that, as feared, challenges associated with diverting utilities have proven more difficult than previously estimated, with expenditure over £6 million off track.

“What is worse is that the inquiry into the original tram project heard that utility diversion had been underestimated the first time round and it would appear history is repeating itself.

“We know that there are supply chain problems for the construction industry and that the impact of Covid-19 is still being felt, but it would appear that despite assurances before the project was green-lit, lessons have not been learnt.

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“We need to know what the problems are and whether this could mean a delay in the project, which is scheduled to become operational in just over 18 months time.”

However, council transport chiefs have stressed that the main cause of the extra spending is due to coronavirus pressures, and that the whole project is still expected to come in on budget.

Liberton and Gilmerton councillor, and SNP transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, said: “Contrary to councillor Johnston’s comments, the diversion of utilities is not causing us concern or resulting in delays.

“In fact it was anticipated due to the scale of this project, with budgets taking into account the potential for complex utilities work.

“This was clearly shown in the original business case which all councillors scrutinised before the democratic decision to go ahead with the tram extension.

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“However, while there has been some increase in outturns this year, this is largely down to an enforced lockdown during the summer of 2020.

“The impacts of the COVID pandemic have been felt across the construction industry and it’s testament to the hard work of the project team and contractors that the project is still on course for completion by spring 2023 and within the overall budget.”

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