The case for a £165.2M extension of Edinburgh’s tram system has been approved by the city’s council and the procurement process for a contractor will now start.
The outline business case for taking trams along the 4.6km route to Newhaven will now go forward to a second stage where factors such as affordability will be considered, once bids have been received.
The decision comes at a time when an inquiry into the Edinburgh Trams project has just got underway. The inquiry will look at why it went significantly over time and over budget, even when its scope was cut, and why the project was beset with disputes. It eventually opened in 2014, although it was originally due to open in 2011. The original plans were for Phase 1a which consisted of a tram line connecting Leith Waterfront to Edinburgh Airport and Phase 1b, which consisted of a tram line between Roseburn and Granton Square, but this phase was ditched early on. The first cost estimate was £454M but the final figure went to £776M.
The City of Edinburgh Council has vowed to learn the lessons from the past and said the business case has been “closely scrutinised” by members of all political parties. It has said the new scheme should have an industry-standard contract with rigorous project governance. It says there will be better traffic management so that the contractor can have bigger, more flexible sites.
Construction is expected to take three years, with the line running from Leith and Newhaven. Timescales include 18 months on Leith Walk and four months of testing and commissioning. The business case says the scheme will avoid a “double dig” as much of the major utility work has already been carried out.
Council Leader Adam McVey said: “Given the rate of growth forecast for Edinburgh over the coming years, we simply cannot stand still. And yet we can’t proceed with work to take trams down to Newhaven unless we’re 100% certain we’ve rigorously scrutinised the business case and taken on board crucial lessons from the first phase.
“Having pored over the Outline Business Case in microscopic detail these past few weeks, including obtaining independent advice on it, I’m confident our project team - which retains key personnel from the team who got the first phase back on track - is now well placed to move on to the next stage and start the procurement process for a contractor.
“We will only make our final decision next autumn once the tendering process has been completed and once we’ve consulted an independent assessor on the viability of the proposed construction contracts. We’ll also of course consider any lessons learned from Lord Hardie’s ongoing tram inquiry as we move forward.”