Edinburgh councillors approve continued building of tram line extension despite Covid-19 impact as first tracks laid in Leith

Councillors have approved the continued construction of Edinburgh’s tram line extension after hearing the final business case for the project reflecting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Jamie McKenzie
Thursday, 19th November 2020, 5:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th November 2020, 5:40 pm

It comes as the first tracks of the 2.91 mile line were laid in Leith, with contractors currently working on sections by Ocean Terminal and Tower Street.

Financial modelling, carried out on behalf of the council by London-based consultancy firm Steer, outlined four possible scenarios for transport demand in Edinburgh post-coronavirus pandemic.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesperson said all of the scenarios demonstrate the economic case for the project “remains positive” and that, in all but one scenario, project cancellation had a higher cost to the local authority than continuing.

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The first tracks are laid at Ocean Terminal, Leith. Pic: Edinburgh City Council

The most pessimistic scenario projects a 20 percent drop in demand in the years following the pandemic, forcing the council to use £93 million of its reserves and taking until 2055 to pay back. In this case, scrapping the tram extension would cost the council less.

The report also noted that should the council decide to cancel the project, there would be a £32 million call on reserves in the current financial year - which would need to be funded through the cancellation or delay of other capital projects.

Council leader Adam McVey said: “It’s particularly encouraging to know that the economic and business cases for Trams to Newhaven remain sound, despite the challenges of this year.”

An updated programme shows that the Trams to Newhaven project is still working towards Spring 2023 for completion and should be delivered within the agreed £207.3m budget.

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