Edinburgh councillors vote in principle to extend the tram route to Newhaven
Councillors in Edinburgh have voted in favour of an extension to the Edinburgh tram line as far as Newhaven.
The vote on Thursday 19 November does not guarantee the project will go ahead, but is an agreement that in principle that they would like to extend the route.
The proposal was put forward by the Labour-SNP Capital Coalition and supported by the LibDem and Green groups, with only the 11 Conservative members voting against it.
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Labour leader of the council Councillor Andrew Burns said they were “acutely aware” of the damage that had been done to the public perception of the local authority by the problems building the existing tram line, but lessons had been learned and that it was “incumbent” on them to focus on the longer term.
Councillor Burns told councillors that 5,000 more people per year were moving to Edinburgh and it would be a “dereliction of duty” not to plan ahead to accommodate that growth.
“I know there is still a deep degree of scepticism about the project, but the figures speak for themselves,” he said.
He noted that the trams have done very well, taking 5 million passengers in the first year, an average of 90,000 people a week, with revenues 3 per cent ahead of target and passenger numbers on Lothian Buses also up.
The extension to the route will open up residential and commercial developments and employment opportunities both in Leith and to the west of the city, according to the outline business case.
Projections also suggest that buses alone will not have the capacity to meet future demand for public transport in the Leith area. Leith Walk is one of the most densely populated areas of the UK and less than 50 per cent of households in Leith own a car.
Labour’s SNP coalition partners gave cautious support to the project. Depute council leader Councillor Sandy Howat said the he was able to stand “strongly” behind the proposal to extend to Newhaven because it offered the “best advantage, the best cost-benefit analysis”, but noted he had reservations “primarily, but not exclusively” about the finances.
The Conservatives criticised the costs and the decision to look at an extension before Lord Hardie’s Edinburgh Tram Inquiry had finished.
Councillor Iain Whyte branded the proposal to extend “fiscally irresponsible”.
If the project gets the go-ahead it will require around £144m of funding plus £15m for contingencies.
A number of different funding options are put forward in the outline business case, which will be considered in more detail during the initial phase of the project if a move to the next stage is approved, but they would all leave at least a £25m shortfall.
The proposal to meet the shortfall is to use £5m from the council’s reserves plus a £20m dividend from Lothian Buses over four years so it would have no impact on future revenue budgets.
Council officers will now gather additional detail to supplement the outline business case, including requesting information from Lothian Buses about the dividend and legal advice about the purchase of 67 plots of land along the route.
If the scheme gets the go-ahead, there will be two initial phases of project development lasting 30 months before any work on the tram line would commence.
The first phase, lasting nine months, would involve setting up a project team, including external advisers; exploring funding options in more detail; consultation; and beginning site investigation and enabling works.
Following that, if approval was given by councillors to proceed to stage two, the site investigation and enabling works would be completed and a tendering process set up to find a contactor to carry out the work.
Councillors will vote at the next full council meeting on 10 December on whether to proceed to stage one of the project.
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