Scottish government may step in the deal with Labour’s “bonkers” tram shambles

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Scottish government Ministers are thought to be considering re-visiting the 2007 parliament decision to back the Edinburgh trams project after Labour and Tory councillors voted through a new plan described by business leaders as “bonkers”.
 
Speaking on Radio Scotland yesterday Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Culture Minister, suggested that the Labour group’s new proposal was a “big game changer” that could now mean the whole concept being re-examined by the Scottish government.

Ms Hyslop said:

“Quite clearly if it’s only a quarter of the original line that’s a fundamental change to the business case and I think there’s quite a strong case certainly for us to look at the implications of the project.”

“… I do think that on anybody’s assessment this is not the same scheme that was originally thought of and in terms of the business I think the business case has changed.

“I think the problem is in terms of how much money this is going to lose, I think that serious questions have to be asked and I think this is an opportunity to re-visit this.”

Speaking on the same programme Labour MSP Ken MacIntosh agreed that the current situation was “unsatisfactory” but insisted that as we had spent so much money then “we have to get something to show for it.”

The latest debacle happened on Thursday after a new proposal put forward by the Labour group was backed by the Tories.  The Tory support meant the vote carried after the SNP, who want the project cancelled, abstained rather than vote for the LibDem alternative.

The new plan, opposed by the SNP and LibDem group as well as the business community and many residents will see the route go from Edinburgh Airport and stop at Haymarket.  Analysts have claimed that preventing the line going into the city centre means that it will operate at a continual loss of £4 million per year.

The decision left the Labour councilor who proposed the new plan in shock and she admitted that she had not expected any of the other parties to support her plan.

The new project means that new negotiations will be required with the consortium in charge of construction as a terminus is now needed at Haymarket instead of the previously agreed St Andrews Square.  If a new agreement cannot be reached with the consortium by next Thursday then the council will be in breach of contract and may suffer £millions in penalties.

As calls for the Scottish government to step in mounted, independent MSP Margo McDonald voiced support for the new plan to be challenged and said:

“The partial route option is going to lose money and could have a devastating effect on the bus company in Edinburgh. There may be a case for an organisation or citizen to challenge this decision on the basis of maladministration.

“The next session of Holyrood starts in just under a week and if nobody has examined how this can be challenged by then, I will look into it myself.”

The trams project was forced through the Scottish parliament in 2007 by a Unionist alliance after the SNP opposed the move.  It has been plagued by problems and arguments and there are now calls for a full public enquiry into the project announced in March 2003, by the then Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, Iain Gray.