Greens today supported the funding of trams in a parliamentary vote which united all opposition parties and resulted in the government declaring that it would now fund the tram scheme for Edinburgh. Greens also welcomed the SNP government’s intention to examine the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) project in more detail and to look at alternatives.

A Green amendment proposing an examination of alternatives to EARL was not chosen by the Presiding Officer for debate but the Transport Minister announced an intention to do this over the summer.

Green MSPs supported a pro-tram amendment that had been agreed between all the other opposition parties. (1) Although the final amended motion (which was won by 81 votes to 47) partly supported the proposed Edinburgh Airport Rail Link, Greens pointed out that the EARL project would be subject to further examination, and that the most important message to send from Parliament was overwhelming support for the Trams.

Greens agree with Scotland’s key sustainable transport organisations that EARL is the wrong project, in the wrong place, at too high a price and is predicated on a massive unsustainable increase in air travel. 

Greens say that Edinburgh Airport could be better connected to the national rail network through for example, an interchange at Gogar and extending the tram line, as well as a possible additional station on the main Fife rail line. 

The Audit Scotland report published last week also showed that the financial management of the tram scheme is under control, but that the EARL project has many failings and uncertainties.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “We voted in favour of trams today because that was the right thing to do. I am delighted that the parliament has spoken loud and clear on funding for trams in Edinburgh. There is no doubt now that the trams should go ahead and I welcome that fact that the SNP have accepted the majority vote in Parliament. The fact that the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link is to come under further scrutiny is also welcome. However the two projects should be considered separately and I share the frustration of many people that the other parties continue to pretend that these projects are inseparable.

“On EARL, we agree with the SNP and the Auditor General that the case looks shaky to say the least. I am pleased that the Executive intends to look at alternatives, not least by making maximum use of the tram scheme in conjunction with improved rail services around the airport. These could be delivered for a fraction of the cost of EARL and should be explored.

“Basing EARL’s business plan on massive expansion of the airport is absurd and untenable if we are serious about tackling climate change – and nobody wants to be responsible for another Scottish public project that ends in financial disaster.”

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Notes to editors
1. Motion and amendments lodged for debate:
S3M-243 John Swinney: Transport—That the Parliament endorses the Government’s transport priorities and notes that the Government party proposed during the election campaign not to proceed with the Edinburgh Trams and current EARL projects, but planned an additional crossing for the River Forth.

– Labour amendment supported by Libdems and Tories:
Delete after “Parliament� and insert –

“notes that the Edinburgh Trams Project and EARL were approved by Parliament after detailed scrutiny; further notes the Report of the Auditor General for Scotland on these projects and in light thereof (a) calls upon the Scottish Government to proceed with the Edinburgh Trams Project within the budget limit set by the previous administration, noting that it is the responsibility of TIE and the City of Edinburgh Council to meet the balance of the funding costs; and (b) further calls upon the Scottish Government to continue to progress the EARL Project by resolving the governance issues identified by the Auditor General before any binding financial commitment is made and to report back to Parliament in September on the outcome of its discussions with the relevant parties.�

– Green amendment to Labour amendment which was not selected for debate.
Delete from “further” and insert:

“agrees that other options for an airport rail link, such as connecting trams and the airport to the mainline rail network with an interchange at Gogar and opening a station on the main Fife line, should be examined.”