Trams to Newhaven project to be approved?

It is now just two weeks until the final decision is made on whether Edinburgh Trams is extended to Newhaven via Leith Walk with the full council due to vote on the issue on Thursday 14th March. The past few days have again seen plenty written and said on the topic with the possible decision seemingly swaying one way and then the other. The Liberal Democrats – holding six seats on the council – have come out against the tram to join with the Conservatives in their sentiments – although for different reasons – but just when you thought that might be a major blow for the scheme the Transport and Environment Committee met and backed the extension!

As was planned the City of Edinburgh Council’s Transport and Committee have met to discuss the issue and they have backed the proposal sending a recommendation to the full council that they approve it at a full council meeting due to take place on 14th March. Despite this backing that isn’t to say that everyone was in agreement with both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat representatives on this committee expressing concerns, but obviously enough members were in favour enabling it to go on to the next stage of the approval process.

Speaking of those against the proposal and shortly before the latest meeting the Liberal Democrats confirmed that they were not in favour of the extension at this time with several fears expressed. They feel that before any decision is made the results of the Tram Inquiry should be heard and acted upon first. In addition the Lib Dems don’t believe that the council have shown how the extension will link in with other public transport improvements in the city and are concerned over the impact of Brexit on the Final Business Case and whether the assumptions included will turn out to be correct.

Cllr Robert Aldridge, Liberal Democrat group leader, was quoted in the Edinburgh Evening News: “This has been an extremely difficult decision for us to take. However, after scrutinising the final business case and reflecting on all the different issues, we do not believe this is the right time to extend the tram. Given the problems with building the original line, I think people in Edinburgh expect us to wait for the independent inquiry to report before we press ahead with any extension. We need to be able to look our constituents in the eye and say we learned all the lessons from the inquiry report. We simply cannot do that yet.”

During the committee meeting, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, Transport Convener, said: “This project is one of the most important things we can do for this city. The tram can be a major player in providing what the city requires. This is a process that has been done well.”

Advice at the meeting also urged against delaying the project as it would increase costs with contractors having to be paid whilst the results of the inquiry were waited for and it would also be difficult to retain the advisory team during this hiatus.

Concerns have also been expressed by community leaders about safety aspects of the tram with some claiming that Constitution Street was too narrow for trams to run. Despite this the committee members voted to recommend the plan for approval.

The next stage will looking for full Council approval. Currently the Council is run by a coalition of the Scottish National Party and Labour. The SNP has 17 seats with Labour having 12 (a total of 29 councillors). The Conservatives then have 17 seats and the Liberal Democrats six (23 councillors) – both sets of whom have said they are against the tram. The rest of the council is made up of the Scottish Greens (eight councillors) and independents (three councillors). Some independents have previously come out against the tram and even the Greens spoke out against the tram in the Committee meeting with concerns regarding the financial risk to Lothian Buses. If councillors vote along party lines (with the coalition in favour, Conservatives and Lib Dems against) then the independents and Greens could well be the deciding force in the final vote.

Meanwhile after several months of silence the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry have released s statement but it gives no clue as to when we might hear some results – some nine months since the public hearings concluded. It would seem Lord Hardie is still considering all the evidence and is not yet in a position to release his report. The press release from the Inquiry was in fact a denial that they have been talking to the Trams to Newhaven project team (as alluded to in a recent newspaper article).

In the statement the Edinburgh Trams Inquiry said: “In a recent news article considering the business case for the Newhaven tram extension, it was stated the Tram Inquiry has engaged with the City of Edinburgh Council to make sure it ‘can cover every eventuality’. For the avoidance of doubt, the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry has had no discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council about the tram extension, or any eventuality in relation to it, as the tram extension does not fall within the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.”

The decision of Councillors whether to press ahead with the extension will have to be made without the Inquiry results and for that we only have a couple weeks to go – and with all the conjecture in the press and parties playing politics over it who can say whether they will go with their own committee’s recommendation or not?

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5 Responses to Trams to Newhaven project to be approved?

  1. Bigalasdair says:

    Generally, the “personalities” involved with Phase 1 construction are still present on the council. Now Phase 1 (Airport – York Place) was riddled with financial under estimates; moreover I will always cite the monumental waste of money (jointly funded by Network Rail and Edinburgh Trams project) which is the Gateway interchange which cost in the region of £55M and has never achieved anticipated passenger usage. It’s the same people who backed Gateway who have prepared the business case for the Newhaven extension. to put it briefly, in my opinion the projected usage is over ambitious and if approved, Edinburgh City Council will have to do something about the extortionate Airport tram fare.

  2. Peter Watts says:

    Recently the city of Nice in France has extended their tram network to the airport, and airport which is significantly bigger in terms of passengers than Edinburgh. The transport company already runs express bus services at 15min frequency to and from the city centre and these require a special “Aero” fare of 6€ / person. The tram is running with the standard fare of 1,50€ / person which is valid on all other bus / tram services in Nice. The tram serves both terminals, plus a new transport interchange just outside the airport boundary (tram / bus / train). Travel between the Terminals and the transport interchange is currently free of charge in order to promote access to the airport by public transport.

    The new tram line is not quite to the centre of the city; this will happen in a few months. At this time the transport operator expects to keep the tram fare at 1,50€ and remove the express buses instead. Quite a difference in strategy between the two cities.

  3. Bigalasdair says:

    As at 1 March 2019 return tram fare St Andrew Square (closest tram stop to Waverley station) – Edinburgh Airport costs £8.50; comparable return Airlink 100 bus fare, Waverley Bridge – Airport is £7.50. OK it’s only £1 difference bur nevertheless bus is cheaper. Timings by either mode of transport is comparable. Unfortunately, travel to Airport from any Edinburgh Trams intermediate stop (e.g. Gyle Centre)…….even although it may be closer to Airport willl still cost the same. In other words, you’re better bt bus in Edinburgh !

  4. Ian Nicol says:

    I live in Nice for most of the winter and the information given by Peter Watts is not completely accurate.Travel between the Terminals is not free. The tram will be extended from Magnam (the current terminus on the edge of the city centre) The tram is expected to reach the city centre in mid June and the port in the autumn.The fare will be 1 euro 50 or 1 euro if you buy a multi voyager ticket valid for 10 journeys.

  5. Peter Watts says:

    Although we are drifting off subject, regarding the free travel between terminals at Nice airport. According to the official web page ( plus discussion with the inspectors last week, travel is free between these points. Translation of the web page: “The journey is free for passengers between the stations Grand Arénas / Terminal 1 / Terminal 2 (and inverse). To other stations on line 2, the price of the ticket stays the same 1,50€ (Solo ticket) or 1€ (multi-ticket).” This section’s costs are covered by the Municipality of Nice and the Airport authorities. However what is misleading is that this information has not yet been correctly programmed into the ticket machines, so entering a journey between these stations still shows a 1,50€ fare!