Tram Enquiry: Edinburgh could have been '˜laughing stock of the world'

EDINBURGH would have been 'the laughing stock of Scotland, if not the world' had a dispute over the Princes Street tram works - in which workers downed tools for months - not been resolved.

Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 2:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:14 pm
An Edinburgh tram

Former TIE chairman David Mackay told the tram inquiry he had “no doubt” that Princes Street was used by the construction consortium as a tactic to bring the city to its knees.

Mr Mackay, who was chairman from November 2006 until his resignation in 2010, was giving evidence as the inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, began its twelfth week of public hearings.

He was asked about the Princes Street dispute, which arose in 2008 and involved construction consortium Infraco - made up of Bilfinger Berger and Siemens - asking for more money.

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He said: “Princes Street is the most important street in Edinburgh, if not in Scotland. To have it closed for any period of time was an obvious huge pressure on TIE to agree to all sorts of things.

“I believe the Princes Street tactics by Infraco were appalling.”

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A resolution was eventually agreed which allowed works to progress, with Mr Mackay telling the inquiry that he was told by John Swinney to “get it sorted”.

However, Mr Mackay admitted he was “very unhappy” about having to come to the one-off agreement, saying he felt it was “unjustified”.

He went on: “We had a contract and I was disappointed that we had stepped outside of the contract.

“But the pressure was enormous and I have to accept now it was the right thing to do at that stage.

“Edinburgh was at a standstill. Retailers were going crazy, tourists were going crazy.”

The inquiry has heard conflicting accounts regarding the nature of the Princes Street dispute, with the consortium previously claiming it was caused by TIE reneging on a gentleman’s agreement.

However, on the other hand, TIE officials have accused the consortium of using the street to hold them “to ransom”.

Mr Mackay continued: “I mustn’t beat around the bush here.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Princes Street was a tactic, a tactic to bring Edinburgh, TIE and the CEC [City of Edinburgh Council] to our knees - and it almost worked.”

He said if the issue had with the consortium had not been resolved, Edinburgh would have become the “laughing stock of Edinburgh, if not the world”.