LABOUR leaders in the Capital are ready to accept an SNP veto on extending the trams down Leith Walk rather than split the coalition.
But they have indicated they are not about to give up on their ambition of expanding the route and that a “compromise” that keeps the process alive could yet be struck in the coming week.
Completion of the tram line to Leith and Newhaven should be a priority for investment by national government and the council should be looking to see if there are other sources of funding too.”Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith
The Evening News revealed yesterday that Nationalist councillors are set to vote against completing the line to Newhaven when the proposal is discussed at next week’s full council meeting.
They say they back the move in principle, but claim the business case for the £144 million project is not robust enough.
An SNP source said the sums only stacked up in the best-case scenario, which was not satisfactory.
Labour leaders hope a compromise which would allow the plans to proceed either now or in the future could be struck with their SNP coalition partners ahead of the vote next Thursday.
They are convinced extending the trams down Leith Walk would encourage development at the waterfront and boost the city’s economy as well as giving traders and residents in Leith some return for the disruption they have already suffered during earlier construction work.
Labour believes it would still have the numbers to win a majority at the council meeting, relying on the support of smaller parties. But a senior Labour source said it would not try to press ahead with the scheme if it was going to leave the coalition divided on a key policy.
They are all too conscious of the problems created for the previous Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition by the two parties’ different stances on the trams.
The Labour source said: “The political division at the heart of the council was one of the major reasons the tram project went wrong. The Lib Dems had to rely on other people to carry on with the trams and that became toxic. Whatever we do, we cannot have that split.”
Labour believes the Tories will vote against extending the trams, but the Greens and the Lib Dems would back it, giving a narrow majority to go ahead with the project. The council already has the trams and the tracks needed for the extension and it says much of the preparatory work has been done.
Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, said in the long term the trams would have to go to Leith. He said: “The council does have massive financial difficulties at the moment and it’s not for me to say what decisions it should make immediately.
“But in the longer term, it is financially necessary and will happen. That’s the only way to increase the customer base.”
Colin Howden, director of transport campaign group Transform Scotland, said: “Leith is the most densely populated part of the city and there are lots of plans for the regeneration of the waterfront area.
“Completion of the tram line to Leith and Newhaven should be a priority for investment by national government and the council should be looking to see if there are other sources of funding too. It’s our firm view the tram scheme should be completed by taking it down Leith Walk and it’s up to the council to work out how they do that.”
But Gordon Burgess, owner of The Bed Shop in Leith Walk, said he was “delighted” the SNP planned to vote against the tram extension.
He set up the Leith Business Association in 2008 in response to the disruption local traders suffered during the previous construction work.
“The effect on businesses was pretty horrific,” he said. And he claimed there would be “even more significant upheaval” if the decision was made to go ahead with the extension.
“It would be a complete waste of money. They talk about £144m, but the last estimate was grossly wrong. There are much more important things to be done in this city than extending the trams.”