LOSING TRACK OF TRAM FINANCES

Just as he started to hope for closure, KEN HOUSTON comes across yet another bleak postscript to the capital’s tram saga.

YES, dear reader, I do admit to rather going on about it. But that’s the thing with Edinburgh and its trams. Just as you start veering towards accepting that what’s done is done and it may really be time to move on, something new comes up to bite you on the bum.

Shortly before the Scot-buzz summer break, I related the fact that councillors and officials were brass necked enough to organise a ceremony to ‘celebrate’ the first anniversary of tram operation – and even posed happily for the media with a tram-shaped cake.

Now, during the summer break, came the farcical truth – the giant tram ‘cake’ which was ordered for the PR picture turned out to be a fake – a frame, thought to be metal or plastic, covered with icing.

Bizarrely, the council then added the cost of a real sponge cake to the bill – so that 200 officials and tram staff at the birthday party had something to eat.

As the council admitted to the Evening News, “The tram birthday cake shown in the media and on our website was not actually a cake but a frame made in the shape of a tram covered in icing.

“The complete cost for the ‘tram’ cake, the actual cake and the delivery of both was £380.”

But this example of hubris was mild compared to a report in the Evening News which revealed the council was seeking government money to part-fund ‘extensions’ to the line (even though these would not be extensions at all but simply completions of the original scheme).

The council put forward three options – taking the line to the foot of Leith Walk, Ocean Terminal or the former fishing village of Newhaven, which was supposed to be the original northern terminus. The costs of these are estimated to be £78.7 million, £126.6m and £145.7m respectively.

If there was one compensation for the several years of disruption suffered by traders on Leith Walk it was that if future funding became available, track and wiring could at least be installed without too much inconvenience as the biggest physical obstacle – the re-siting of utility pipes and cabling under the roadway – had already been completed.

So why should laying track and stringing up overhead wiring cost nearly £80m when the distance between the current terminus at York Place and the Foot of Leith Walk is just 1.3 miles?

The reason, apparently, is that there are still “hundreds” of pipes and cables beneath the route of the line that would need to be moved, inevitably leading to a second wave of disruption (and lost business) for the traders.

Cllr Lesley Hinds, the council’s convenor of transport, was quoted as being “surprised” at the extent of utility diversions still required, a statement which some might find ‘surprising’ in itself – did the council not insist on a final audit of the work on moving utilities on completion (or rather half-completion) of the scheme?

If work of this type has still to be done on Leith Walk then clearly someone among the contractors has been telling porkies – or the council was told the truth but preferred to keep quiet about it.

Either way, this does not seem to deter Ms Hinds who believes it is still worth talking to the government even though the latter has insisted it will not spend a penny beyond the £500m of taxpayers’ money already wasted.

She and her fellow extreme tramophiles keep saying that the time has come to move on and learn from the lessons of the past rather than keep banging on about them.

To which an appropriate response would be: if only we could move on, Lesley…..if only we could.

 

Twitter: @PropPRMan

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