THE contract for the botched Edinburgh trams project was so flawed it was like “buying a car with three wheels”, according to the city council’s former legal chief.

In a frank submission to the trams inquiry, lawyer Alastair Maclean said the contract was “riddled” with “significant drafting problems” and claimed it was never going to deliver a “fixed price” cost.

He also wrote that Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) – the arms-length firm set up by the council to deliver the scheme – appeared “out of their depth” and criticised the performance of some of his colleagues.

The £776m trams project was around £23m over budget, opened three years late and ran to only from Edinburgh airport to the city centre – a much shorter line than promised.

Delays were also caused by disputes between TIE and contractor Bilfinger Berger, which ended up in mediation talks.

The public outcry prompted former First Minister Alex Salmond to announce an inquiry, led by Lord Hardie, which is currently taking evidence from witnesses.

Maclean joined Edinburgh council in 2009 – after the key contractual decisions had been made on the project – and became Director of Corporate Governance two years later.

He gave oral evidence to the inquiry last week, but his 64-page witness statement gave a more detailed account of this thoughts on the project.

On the trams contract he wrote: “The bespoke contract was extremely poor. It was riddled with significant drafting problems. The best way of describing it is that this was a contract that was the equivalent of buying a car with three wheels.

“That was done presumably to enable a certain headline price to be achieved at the time the contract was let. Because of this, the pricing assumptions, I’m assuming, were then introduced. This was not, and never was, a fixed price contract.”

He described the legal advice TIE received on the infrastructure construction contract as “questionable”, but noted: “For reasons of legal privilege I cannot expand on that.”

TIE’s strategy and project management were “inadequate”, he claimed, and he said there was a “reluctance” in TIE to provide information to the council.

About the council, he wrote: “I did have concerns about the performance of certain CEC officers in relation to the tram project.”

Adding: “At the time I became involved I perceived there to be an inertia, almost a lack of proper control, a lack of productivity or a passiveness that verged on helplessness.”

In 2012, the council published figures revealing that payments had been made to former TIE employees, including bonuses.

Maclean wrote that former council director Dave Anderson had negotiated these payments and added that he himself had “no role” in approving them: “At the time I did have a strong personal view as to whether these payments were reasonable or appropriate given the problems with the tram project.

“I thought they were wholly inappropriate in the circumstances and effectively a reward for failure but they were a fait accompli – Dave Anderson had already done the deal with senior personnel at TIE.”

Maclean left the council in 2015 and is now Head of Group Legal at Edinburgh-based financial services firm Baillie Gifford.

It was reported last week that the trams inquiry has cost £7m with Lord Hardie’s team having had to trawl through millions of documents.

The inquiry continues.