by Martin Hannan
Edinburgh Council has decided to take the trams from Edinburgh Airport as far as St Andrews Square in the city, but how the £773 million cost is going to be paid for remains a mystery.
After a five hour meeting today, the final decision was passed – on a Liberal Democrat motion, the council voted to continue the line through Haymarket to Princes Street and then to St Andrews Square.
The SNP’s motion for a referendum in the issue was not supported by any other party, though at one point the Conservatives said they wanted more information, especially after it was admitted that he £773 million cost is not fixed.
The heated and often personalised debate on the issue included some extraordinary claims, particularly one by council officials that for every £100 million which the council needed to borrow to complete the project, council tax would need to rise by 45%.
It was also stated that the Scottish Government would be “flexible on funding” and Council officials say they have two months to negotiate what will presumably be greater borrowing rights, since the First Minister has said there will be no increase in the Government’s £500 million cash contribution.
Almost as soon as the decision was announced, Labour MP for Glasgow South, Tom Harris, blew away any mirage of solidarity in Labour ranks by saying he would not have approved the trams project at all.
“I wasn’t convinced by the business case,” said Mr Harris. “If you’re going to spend that amount of money you are going to need the benefits to stack up. The last thing the light rail industry needs is what is going to happen here.”
The controversy is not over. It has barely started.