After 5 hours of debate, on 30 June, a full meeting of City of Edinburgh Council agreed a way forward for the city’s beleaguered tram project.Council officers now have 2 months to provide detailed costings for the tram to go from Edinburgh airport to St Andrew’s Square, the preferred option of the council’s largest political grouping, the Liberal Democrats.
Each of the 5 political parties put forward its own preferred course of action. Green councillors won some praise for a constructive and considered proposal which identified flaws in the way project had evolved, backed a public inquiry so that lessons be learned and sought more detailed costings for the “St Andrews Square” option. This contrasted with Labour who wanted to go only far as Haymarket, irrespective of further information, and the Tories who simply wanted more information and hence further delay.
Like all parties the Greens rejected the option of scrapping the trams which could cost up to £750 million and with no source of revenue to fund that massive deficit. The Greens were particularly scathing of the SNP’s 11th hour attempt to put the future of the project to a referendum. This was simply a political gimmick, Green councillor, Steve Burgess argued, as it would cost an estimated £700,000 and delay the project beyond a 1st September deadline for signing an agreement to continue with work. In addition, the referendum, if it came up with a majority to scrap the trams,would take the city into exactly the same problem: of how to pay for scrapping with no source of revenue.
Cllr Burgess, who is leader of the Green Group in the Council, added:
“The trams project has been utterly mis-handled by the SNP-Lib Dem Council. It is so important now that the project is managed well for the remaining period. There appears to be consensus amongst opposition parties – Labour, Tories and Greens – that there should be a public inquiry into this fiasco. The public needs to know what happened and we must ensure at least that Edinburgh never gets itself into such an appalling mess again.
“The SNP group must take a hard look at itself. Its attempt to put the tram project out to a referendum was nothing but a cheap political gimmick, designed to try to deflect blame for its own role in this process. Either it is part of the Council trying to deliver for the people of Edinburgh or it is not. SNP councillors cannot have it both ways.”
GREEN AMENDMENT TO TRAMS MOTION 30 JUNE 2011
1. Regrets mismanagement of the tram project by the current political Administration but welcomes the recent positive change in relationship between Council officers and tram contractors as a result of recent mediation.
2. Understands that a fundamental problem with the project may have been a bespoke contract drawn up under the previous political Administration that has been open to legal challenges
3. Deplores the approach of the SNP group whose negative position has consistently undermined the tram project despite all five political parties of the Council signing off the project in May 2008
4. Therefore supports a public enquiry into what caused cost overrun and delays in delivering the project
5. Notes that the report states (at 2.1) that ‘Neither option (terminating the project or continuing under the terms of the existing contract) is likely to be materially less expensive than completing the first phase of line 1a’
6. Further more notes (at 3.36) ‘that termination liabilities will have a direct impact on Council revenue budget and could not be supported by borrowing of alternative methods of private finance’
7. Therefore believes that promoting cancellation (termination) as an option is irresponsible and that the only rational options are to continue to the line either to Haymarket or St Andrew Square
8. Understands from the Director of Finance that the difference in Overall Revenue Impact between constructing the tram line to Haymarket and constructing to St. Andrew Square is estimated at £1m per annum, equivalent to approximately 0.1% of the annual Council budget
9. Further notes that a tram line from the Airport to Haymarket could be loss making and therefore require £3-4m ongoing annual subsidy, which could also impact on the profitability of Lothian Buses, whereas a tram line from Airport to St Andrew Square has then potential to generate an annual profit of £2m
10. However, acknowledges that the financial risks of constructing the line from Haymarket to St Andrew Square are not yet known as far as they could be.
11. Therefore: rules out options (i) the status quo, and (ii) separation (termination, cancellation); agrees to recommendations b), c) and d)i and requests the Chief Executive to bring a further report at the Council meeting on 25th August after:
(a) more exact determination of the cost of continuing the line to St Andrew Square
(b) confirming the estimated loss or profit from both lines
(c) investigating external and internal funding sources for both lines
END of MOTION