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Running trams to Princes Street £60m cheaper

EDINBURGH residents will end up paying £60 million more for the truncated tram route approved earlier this week than they would for a line that extends all the way into the city centre, it was claimed yesterday.

The latest costings put further pressure on Edinburgh City Council to review the decision to terminate the route at Haymarket, west of the city centre, after business leaders branded the decision “bonkers”.

Figures prepared by council officials show operating losses on the Edinburgh Airport to Haymarket, the option voted through by Labour and the Tories on Thursday, would outweigh the higher borrowing costs needed to finance a route to St Andrew Square in the city centre, the LibDems claimed.

However, their hopes of having the decision reversed appeared unlikely to be realised as the SNP, which abstained from Thursday’s vote, said it did not want to “get involved” in any further decision on the trams.

In further revelations today, The Herald can report:

l The construction consortium blamed for cost overruns that have hit the project was given assurances these would be met from the public purse.

l Hopes of raising £40m by leasing surplus tram vehicles have been dashed as the operator of Croydon’s Metrolink cast doubt on their condition following an extended spell in “cold storage” in Spain.

Council officials were yesterday said to be analysing options of how to proceed with terminating the route at Haymarket. A decision on whether to close Princes Street next month for up to nine months is also under review. Sources close to the project said officials were in “total disarray”.

It was also unclear whether the decision to approve the loss-making shorter route would be sanctioned by the Scottish Government, as this would represent a breach of the grant conditions of the £500m funding provided by ministers.

A spokesman for Government agency Transport Scotland said: “The decision to continue the trams only to Haymarket represents a fundamental change to the business case and we will want to consider the implications.”

Gordon Mackenzie, the council’s LibDem transport convener, said yesterday the cost of the Haymarket option had already gone up from £700m to £715m because of delays and the need to insert a turnback for the trams.

“The net cost to the council tax payer will be more than going to St Andrew Square because the revenue from passengers will be far lower. We will borrow less but end up paying more,” he said.

He said loan repayments on the route to Haymarket would add up to £11.3m a year over 30 years, compared with £15.3m a year for a route to St Andrew Square. But the shorter route would incur annual losses of £4m, compared with a profit of £2m for the longer route.

However, Lesley Hinds, Labour transport spokeswoman on the council, said she had “no faith” in the figures.

“Part of the difficulty is they seem to change day to day and week to week,” she said.

“We were told by officials it would be £600m to get it to Haymarket. Then a couple of months later, in June, we were told it would be £700m, with a £30m contingency.

“There are 11 stops from the airport to Haymarket. I don’t see how you go magically from a £4m operating loss to a £2m operating profit by adding two stops to get to St Andrew Square.”

Steve Cardownie, SNP deputy leader of the council, said: “I can understand where Gordon Mackenzie is coming from. Having canvassed opinion of people in Edinburgh, I have not heard one of them say if you’re going to have the tram it should go to Haymarket.”

But Mr Cardownie said he was not prepared to “get involved”. “I’m not going to be tainted by this ill-fated project which we have consistently tried to oppose but been repeatedly rebuffed by other parties,” he added.

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