FRESH concerns have been raised about proposals to pump £20 million of Lothian Buses’ money into expanding the city’s tram network.
Kenneth Lawrie, chief executive of Midlothian Council, which has a five per cent stake in the bus service, expressed “serious” doubts about the impact of the move.
But bus chiefs have insisted they remain “fully committed” to meeting the needs of customers across Midlothian and said they would soon announce “enhanced services for the area”.
In a letter to Jim McFarlane, chairman and interim general manager of Lothian Buses, Mr Lawrie said: “It was always Midlothian Council’s understanding that Lothian Buses and the Edinburgh trams were two separate companies and would operate in this way.
“The recent announcements suggest that one is increasingly dependent on the other in terms of its future strategic direction and this can only be to the potential detriment of Lothian Buses’ future and areas outlying from Edinburgh.
“Overall, it is feared that in trying to meet the wishes of the City of Edinburgh Council, this may come at a cost to the public transport users within Midlothian.
“Midlothian residents are very reliant on the services provided by Lothian Buses.”
City chiefs voted in December last year to begin preparation works for the £162 million tram extension to Newhaven, but delayed making any final decision until after the next council election in 2017.
Conservative critics claimed the delay was a political fudge aimed at “stapling” together the ruling Labour-SNP coalition, whose members are seen as divided on the issue. Tory councillors were the only political group to oppose the extension in principle.
To help pay for the initial stages of the project, the council has asked Lothian Buses to hand over a £20m “extraordinary dividend”. But some fear this controversial move will impact on the popular provider, with the Unite union raising concerns the bus service would be “plundered”.
It is thought extending the trams to Newhaven would take six years to complete. Preparation works – including setting up a project team, site investigation and starting footway enabling works on Leith Walk – are set to take place over the next 18 months at a cost of £3.25m.
Mr McFarlane said: “We remain committed to providing an efficient, reliable and accessible service for Midlothian and we will shortly be announcing enhanced services for the area. Our position remains that any dividend payments are dependent on our continued strong performance, which is built on our long-term investment in staff, fleet and services throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians.”
The final cost of the original tram project is expected to amount to more than £1 billion once interest payments have been factored in.