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Edinburgh tram gets green light, but EARL must wait

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EDINBURGH'S TRAM project is to go ahead after the minority Scottish National Party administration bowed to the wishes of the Scottish Parliament last week.

But the future for the controversial Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) project remains bleak after the Scottish Executive backed a new review of the scheme.

The surprise announcement by finance secretary John Swinney to back the tram scheme came after parliament voted 81-47 to fund the project with £490M as authorised by the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat administration. The same vote also called for a review of EARL after concerns over the project's management were raised by the Auditor General (NCE last week).

Confirmation of the funding will allow phase 1a of the tram scheme, from Newhaven to Edinburgh Airport, to be implemented as programmed. It should open early in 2011.

However, delivery of phase 1b is still contingent on contributions from investors in the Granton regeneration area.

Swinney said: 'l want to make it clear to City of Edinburgh Council that if they ask for more funding the answer will be no.

This government will not provide a single penny more for this scheme.' Edinburgh City Council executive member for transport, Phil Wheeler, welcomed the funding announcement and said he was very confident the scheme could be delivered on budget.

'We can now get on with introducing trams without any further delay, ' said Wheeler.

'Without them there is no practical way to meet the growing demand for public transport along the booming waterfrontto-airport route.

Despite election pledges to review the scheme, all of the non SNP members of the Scottish Parliament voted to back funding for the tram project.

However, Swinney remained opposed to EARL, 'The EARL scheme is pretty dead. There are a number of practical problems with it, ' he said. 'I will do what parliament asked and bring it back in the autumn but no more money will be spent on this project during the review.

Some things we are stuck with but there will be no new commitments.' The cost of the EARL scheme is estimated at £633M. Although the previous administration had accepted it would provide most of this, no detailed funding package has been identified.

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