St James tram deal to edge route closer to Leith

The tram launch date is promoted in York Place. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The tram launch date is promoted in York Place. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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A MAJOR obstacle in the delivery of the mothballed £80 million tram line down Leith Walk looks set to be overcome, the Evening News can reveal.

It is understood key negotiations are taking place between city council officials and developers of the new £850m 
St James Quarter district about extending the tram from York Place and the building of a new stop at Picardy Place.

Initial talks have also centred on the developer part-funding the laying of track down Leith Walk.

The extension project would see a programme of costly underground utility diversions and enabling works taking place outside St Mary’s Cathedral.

This represents a sizeable chunk of the proposed expense of running the trams to 

A council source revealed the plan – especially the possible funding of track laying – has been “roundly welcomed” at City Chambers.

Henderson Real Estate, the firm behind the St James 
Quarter transformation, has long viewed the retail development as “a central lynchpin” along the two arms of the tram line stretching from the airport to Newhaven.

A highly placed council insider said: “Having a tram line down Leith Walk has always been a key consideration for the developer. Early discussions have taken place in regards them getting the tram to the top of the Walk. It’s only common sense that once the infrastructure is in place for the council to finish it.

“The council has already bought the trams and rails and moved the utilities.”

Council chiefs have also spent £1m “future-proofing” the street, while the possibility of trams running down it is central to the current £9m package of road, pavement and cycle improvement works.

The cost of extending the extra 2.8 miles to the end of the originally planned route at Newhaven has been conservatively estimated at £80m.

Council chiefs had hoped European loans could provide the necessary finance after the Scottish Government ruled out any further monies.

However, engineering advances in track laying and lessons learned from the 8.7-mile airport line are thought to have led to a significant multi-million pound reduction in the funding required.

City coffers have also been swelled to the tune of £1.5m through developer contributions, with more expected to be raked in over the coming years.

The plan has been welcomed by Royal Yacht Britannia chief executive Bob Downie.

He said: “We’ve had the inconvenience for a number of years with no benefit. I’m pleased to hear that this is being considered – it makes sense for everyone to just finish it off.”

Henderson Real Estate hopes to break ground on its colossal transformation of the site next summer. The council has said operation of the tram would be assessed after the start of passenger services later this month.

Henderson was unavailable to comment on the plans.