Investigation launched into disastrous Edinburgh tram project
06 June 2014 -
First Minster Alex Salmond calls for quizzing of Edinburgh tram executives
Edinburgh's planned tram scheme is set to undergo an investigation by a judge-led inquiry after six years of disruption finally ended with the first trams running last weekend.
When announced in 2003 the project was due to cost £375m but the end cost equals £776m, in addition to more than £200m in interest of a 30-year loan taken out by the council to cover funding shortfalls.
Originally, the plan was to make a number of different tram lines, but building changed and instead a single track was launched running from Edinburgh's New Town to the airport. However, in time, organisers decided to operate trams on an 8.7-mile route between the two destinations.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said there was “considerable public concern" over the success of the £776m creation and its’ planning, but has called for a "non-statutory" option – stopping short of a public inquiry.
In the Scottish Parliament, Salmond said: "I am sure that everyone in Edinburgh, and indeed all over Scotland, will be delighted to see that the Edinburgh trams are fully operational and carrying passengers.
"We cannot, however, lose sight of the considerable public concern over the conduct of the project, the disruption it has caused to households and businesses in the city of Edinburgh.
"I therefore recommended to the Cabinet, and it has been decided, to establish a judge-led public inquiry into the Edinburgh trams project to establish why the project occurred significant overruns in terms of cost and timing, requiring in particular a considerable reduction in the original scope."
The inquiry led by a High Court judge will possess the power to require witnesses to attend and give evidence under oath, with key figures such as councillors possibly called to give their account.
At the forefront of the delays and costs is the fractured relationship between TIE and the contractor. This inquiry could therefore receive evidence from former Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) bosses such as Willie Gallagher and David Mackay, ex-council leader Jenny Dawe and ex-transport convener Gordon Mackenzie.
Council chief executive Sue Bruce called the scheme a “shambles”, adding: “It’s not a day for jubilation.” But the mood among the public was one of optimism.
“It remains to be seen how the service works out, but I think people will embrace it – it’s good to have the trams back, it makes the city seem a bit more cosmopolitan, you feel a bit more European,” said Alan Divers, who came with his eight-year-old son Ruaridh.
Since the project began to falter, there have been numerous calls for a public inquiry towards the Scottish Government. Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi believes the investigation will prove timely. He said: "All of us who opposed the tram project from the start as risky and over-engineered have been disappointed almost daily to be shown be right.
"Does the First Minister agree with me that now that the trams are rolling, if there is to be any faith from the public in future management or potential cost estimates for projects like this, we need to know for sure these mistakes will never be repeated?"
Many Edinburgh residents grew increasingly frustrated with the project as they had to put up with dug-up roads and traffic congestion while others remain angry at the cost.
The disruption convinced solicitor Daniel Donaldson, to create a campaign called the Trams Inquiry to gain a full public inquiry on the issue. The campaigner and his followers are utilising the portals of social media to grow the presence of their protest are looking solutions to the maladministration and lack of transparency concerning the Edinburgh Trams Project.
Donaldson said: “The Edinburgh trams project has now become an important human rights issue for a number of reasons. First, governance and oversight. The project lacked accountability, suffered from maladministration, poor financial management, was fraught with delays and lengthy contract disputes. No one disagrees with this. Second, financial trade-offs.
“While Edinburgh continued to bankroll the trams project without the appropriate oversight, the city was also pushing through cuts to essential public services to balance the books. How is it possible to cut and spend simultaneously? The building of an Edinburgh tram is no consolation to those who have or will have to endure a retraction to their support services in future.
“Third, economic justice. This is in addition to the six-year period where the beauty of the city was ruined, turning the city centre, Leith and peripheral areas into one massive building site.”
The petition can also be accessed through www.tramsinquiry.org.uk
Image of Edinburgh tram courtesy of Philip Cormack / Shutterstock
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