NEW tram schemes could be supported and even funded by the Scottish Government, transport minister Derek Mackay has signalled in an apparent softening of the SNP’s past anti-tram stance.
Mackay pledged to back proposals if they fitted in with other public transport. He even suggested that Transport Scotland expertise could be used to assist in extending Edinburgh’s tram line.
Mackay told Scotland on Sunday: “We are not anti-tram. If it fits in with public transport networks, we would support it.” He said he would consider tram schemes and other projects on their merits.
However, Mackay stressed that the SNP would not fund the Edinburgh project, which ministers have opposed since coming to power in 2007.
Possible lines elsewhere include a link between Glasgow Airport and the city centre. The Fastlink segregated busway, due to open this summer between Glasgow city centre and the South Glasgow Univer-sity hospitals site in Govan, could be a future candidate.
Tentative proposals have also been made for Aberdeen but not progressed.
Despite massive controversy over the Edinburgh tram project because of delays and huge cost increases, the system has run largely smoothly since it opened nine months ago.
Experts expect the city council to press ahead with extending the line from the city centre to Leith and Newhaven.
The tone of Mackay’s remarks contrasts with the more hardline attitude of his predecessor Keith Brown, who is now infrastructure secretary.
Brown described an Edinburgh tram displayed in Princes Street as “incongruous” and has often repeated his “not a penny more” funding mantra over the project.
Transport experts said Mackay seemed to acknowledge that Scotland was likely to follow the lead of tram development elsewhere.
Colin Howden, director of public transport campaigners Transform Scotland, said: “It’s pleasing to hear Scottish ministers are coming round to the benefits of light rail.
“The success of schemes in English cities has led to many of them being extended, and it is certain the Edinburgh tram scheme will also have to be further developed.
“We are sure Derek Mackay, from his previous role as planning minister, knows the importance of high-quality public transport systems to the prosperity of our cities.”
Iain Docherty, professor of public policy and governance at Glasgow University, said: “There is little doubt the Edinburgh tram project was badly managed, but trams have proven themselves to be a high-quality form of public transport that contributes to urban regeneration and growth in many cities across Europe. Extension of the Edinburgh system and the re-introduction of trams in other Scottish cities should be positively embraced.”
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