As expected the City of Edinburgh Council have approved the Outline Business Case to extend the trams down Leith Walk and to Newhaven, although a final decision on whether to go-ahead with the project will not be made until autumn 2018. What the approval does mean though is that a comprehensive tendering process can be started to find potential contractors for the extension.
The Business Case has been closely scrutinised and councillors were recommended by officials to approve it at this stage following this scrutiny which they have done. It is by no means the end of the road though and there is still the chance the final decision will be not to go-ahead but it is at least a step in the right direction.
The next 12 months will now see the affordability of the project tested based on tender prices and will also all a further year of evidence of tram patronage build-up. Any lessons learnt from the ongoing Edinburgh Tram Inquiry will also be able to be considered before the final decision is made and in addition work will be undertaken on traffic management arrangements and measures to mitigate disruption for businesses and residents.
The cost of the extension is currently estimated at £165.2 million – which includes risk and inflation. However it is anticipated that the number of passengers carried on the extended line will almost double within the first year of operation to 14 million.
It would take approximately three years to construct the whole line to Newhaven which would include 18 months on Leith Walk (a major bone of contention with locals). It is hoped that trams would start running in 2022, following an extensive period of testing. As well as new stops constructed along the route of the line the current terminus at York Place would be replaced by a stop at Picardy Place.
Council leader Adam McVey, said: “Given the rate of growth forecast for Edinburgh over the coming years, we simply cannot stand still. And yet we can’t proceed with work to take trams down to Newhaven unless we’re 100% certain we’ve rigorously scrutinised the business case and taken on board crucial lessons from the first phase. Having pored over the Outline Business Case in microscopic detail these past few weeks, including obtaining independent advice on it, I’m confident our project team – which retains key personnel from the team who got the first phase back on track – is now well placed to move on to the next stage and start the procurement process for a contractor. We will only make our final decision next autumn once the tendering process has completed and once we’ve consulted an independent assessor on the viability of the proposed construction contracts. We’ll also of course consider any lessons learned from Lord Hardie’s ongoing tram inquiry as we move forward.”
The Public Inquiry into the problems which dogged construction of the line between Edinburgh Airport and York Place is continuing with Lord Hardie still taking evidence from key players at personal hearings.