A DECISION not to go ahead with the proposed extension of the Capital’s tram line down Leith Walk would be “a spectacular failure of leadership”, a senior councillor has warned.
Edinburgh’s Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Edie spoke out after the Evening News revealed SNP councillors are set to vote against taking the trams to Newhaven and senior coalition partners Labour will accept the Nationalists’ veto rather than create a split within the administration.
Council officials have recommended going ahead with the £144 million extension. A vote is due to take place at next week’s full council meeting.
Councillor Edie said there were “strong reasons” why the extension should go ahead. He said: “The stats add up so far as we can see. If we don’t take it down Leith Walk it’s going to cost more in the long run.
“People always use the excuse we are hard-up – but we are always hard-up.”
He said the tram extension would help stimulate development at the waterfront and allow large numbers of people to travel easily from there to other parts of the city.
“If the administration does not back this it will be a spectacular failure of strategic leadership. They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
“It is remarkable that a populist party like the Nationalists have not picked up on the fact that public opinion on the trams has changed since they started running.”
SNP sources have said their group is not opposed in principle to extending the trams, but does not believe the case for the plan is robust enough, especially at a time when the council is facing massive cuts.
Labour leaders have indicated they will not push the extension through at next week’s meeting if there is no consensus within the coalition, but they do not intend to abandon permanently the ambition of taking the trams to Leith.
Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said his group had consistently opposed the tram extension. He said: “We believe there are questions about the council’s ability to handle a project of this scale, given all the upheaval in top posts and the record from last time.
“Then there is the cost and affordability – in the current situation, the council is not in a position to fund a project of this size.
“And with the Hardie inquiry into the trams not long under way, it sends completely the wrong message to be pressing on with the extension without knowing what went wrong with the previous project. It shows a disregard for the sensible use of public funds.”
The Greens, however, are expected to back the extension.
Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith, said: “The emerging business case is strong and it would clearly be in the city’s long-term interests. It would be good for jobs, for investment, and could potentially unlock many of the brownfield sites at Western Harbour for much-needed housing. A great deal of the work has been done: Leith has taken the pain of trams and now needs to see the gain.
“But it is a critical decision for the city – the sums need to add up and the funding needs to be identified. Crucially, we need to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes and mismanagement of the previous tram project.”
Deidre Brock, SNP MP for Edinburgh North & Leith, said the Capital had other, more pressing transport priorities to sort out before embarking on another “vanity” project.
She said: “Thanks to Labour’s disastrous start to the original tram project, hundreds of millions of pounds were wasted and the people who live and work on Leith Walk had to suffer years of inconvenience, dirt and noise for no benefit.
“Any extension has to be based on a rock-solid business case that they make public before they make the decision to go ahead so the people of Edinburgh can have our say.
“There are massive transport problems all across Edinburgh that should be addressed. Roads need fixed – we’ve got the worst roads in Scotland – potholes, congestion and poor repairs.
“Long before Leith Walk gets dug up again the council should address the massive problems on our roads and pavements and before any new Labour vanity project gets started we need to know that it’s not just more years of misery for people along the route.”
‘I don’t want that disruption to happen again’
THE previous failed attempt to bring the trams to Leith remains fresh in the memory for many locals.
We took to the streets to ask residents and workers if they wanted to see the council administration press ahead with the planned extension when they vote next week.
Hazel Kane, 32, a barber, said: “I think trams in this area would definitely be a great idea.
“It’s another option of public transport apart from buses and it would only bring more tourists to this part of the city.
“I know it would cost millions of pounds but in the long run it would be well worth it.”
Mandy Noble, the manager of Welch Fishmongers on Great Junction Street, disagreed.
She said: “I think building trams down here would just be a waste of money. When they started the work the last time we were really affected and I just don’t want that to happen again.
“But on a positive note, when the work to build them is complete, it probably would bring more customers.
“But the question is would it be too late?”
Tom Gorecki, an employee at Ocean Terminal, believes that there is “no need for trams”.
But he said: “I don’t really mind if they do build them. I don’t think they are a necessity – there is a great bus service already available that gets us to and from work fine.”
Rita Croala, 22, who works at the Mermaid Takeaway on Leith Walk, is strongly against the idea of a tram line outside her takeaway.
She said: “I’m against the trams.
“From a tourism perspective it would be good for the community, because they are more likely to take the tram down Leith Walk than perhaps a bus.
“Obviously, when the construction work is finished it would be a positive thing for us because tourists always like takeaways.
“But my worry is everything that would need to happen before the trams get up and running.
“I think it’s just too much upheaval, to be honest.”
Ronnie Robertson, 77, Bill Martin, 77, and Tony Allan, 76, all from Granton, were sitting on a bench at the bottom of Leith Walk and had mixed opinions about the plans.
Mr Robertson said: “I think the trams would be a great idea – it’s giving people who live in the city more options for transport.”
But Mr Martin and Mr Allan didn’t agree.
Mr Martin said: “They started the construction work for the trams on Leith Walk the first time around and if they wanted them here, they should have kept going. It’s silly they’ve stopped, and now they might be start again.”