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The shambles of Edinburgh's tram scheme

All the seats on Edinburgh City Council are up for election next year, as part of the full Council elections across Scotland. At present the Council is run by a Lib Dem/SNP coalition. One of the main local issues is likely to be a blame game between local politicians over the troubled scheme for a tram.

The Herald reports that the plans have been scaled back after Labour and Conservative councillors voted together to defeat the Lib Dems - the SNP abstained. The Conservatives would have wanted the scheme terminated altogether.

Originally the tram was supposed to open in February this year. By last year it was announced it would not be ready until 2014. It was supposed to cost £375 million for the whole project - but £440 million has already been spent. Later estimates for the total cost went up to £545 million, then £770 million, then "over £1 billion."

In 2007 the Labour MSP Wendy Alexander said:

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change claimed that the costs were out of control, but they are not.

Thank goodness for that. Wendy, sister of the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was made Scottish Labour leader, shortly after these comments. She then had to resign over a scandal involving a foreign donation.

Anyway the Herald says:

The decision to opt for a six-mile tramway between Edinburgh Airport and Haymarket, west of the city centre, will still leave City of Edinburgh Council with a £100 million funding shortfall to meet a construction bill of £700m. Official estimates suggest it will run up further debts of £4m a year as operating costs outstrip the numbers who will use it.

Even that prospect looked uncertain last night as LibDems and the SNP warned the council could be hit with an immediate bill of £161m – leading to hundreds of job losses and service closures – if a new agreement could not be struck with contractors to build a shortened route and the project had to be cancelled.

That suggestion was played down by sources close to the project, though it is understood the BSC consortium – made up of Bilfinger Berger, Siemens and CAF – is yet to decide on whether to agree to build the new route.

The tram project was originally planned to connect the airport to Leith and the waterfront at Newhaven and was due to open this year at a cost of £545m. But it was hit by delays and spiralling costs that led to the section east of the city centre being postponed indefinitely.

The Conservative Manifesto for the elections to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year said:

The Edinburgh Trams Project has become a national embarrassment. By now, trams should have been running in Edinburgh. Despite a positive review on progress from the Auditor General in 2007, since then neither the Lib Dem/SNP City of Edinburgh Council, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, or the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland, have exercised any leadership of the project, which is now not only delayed and likely to be scaled back, but also substantially over budget. We will therefore not provide any more central government grant funding for Edinburgh trams.

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