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Edinburgh Trams Inquiry Delayed

Edinburgh TramFirst Minister Alex Salmond says that he will hold a public inquiry into the plagued Edinburgh trams project. However, this inquiry won’t be started right away; only after the project has been made clearer. Originally, the tram line from Edinburgh Airport to Newhaven was to cost £545 million, but now the cost has continued to steadily rise. Estimates for the partial completion to St Andrew Square have jumped to over £830 million. The construction has been hit with delays and a row between tram company Tie and contractors Bilfinger Berger – resulting in the budget being pushed way over.

Officials’ recommendations for the controversial project to be taken from Edinburgh Airport to St Andrew Square were rejected on Thursday by councillors, who supported a Labour amendment for it to be taken only as far as Haymarket railway station. This means the council won’t have to borrow £231 million in order to complete just part of the project to the city centre. However, it also opposes advice from council officials that a tram line stopping at Haymarket will result in financial losses, as it will need a £3 million to £4 million ongoing yearly subsidy. This will also have an impact on Lothian Buses’ profitability.

With Salmond putting the inquiry off, he has been challenged by MPs to stop lolly-gagging around and get the inquiry underway. He had agreed in June to hold a full public inquiry and hasn’t done anything yet. Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Lothians MSP, says it’s time to forget about politics, stop trying to blame someone for it and get to the bottom of the fiasco. The only way to find out how the tram project has been allowed to get so out of hand is to conduct a full, independent public inquiry. She’s pleased Salmond has backed calls for the inquiry, but there’s no reason to delay getting it underway.

Willie Rennie, Sottish Liberal Democrat leader, also called on John Swinney, the finance secretary, to review Edinburgh City Council’s decision to opt for the shortened line. The government had previously said it would contemplate the implications of the decision due to an essential change to the business case. It hasn’t supplied the last £60 million of its £500 million investment into the market. Rennie commented that the government won’t want to fund a scheme that will lose money and have a low benefit-to-cost ratio. It needs to intervene now before time runs out, he added, as taking action could help halt the Haymarket project and revive the St Andrew Square option.

This comes as Sue Bruce, Edinburgh City Council chief executive, said the council is developing a plan to implement the work. They haven’t made anymore decisions on the works coming up on Princes Street, which will be a topic of conversion in discussions with the contractor. They will give more information about it as soon as it’s available after the Council meeting.

 

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