Sunday, 28 August 2011
Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I love Edinburgh. They'll probably say I tend to go on at some length about how beautiful Scotland's capital city is and how it is such an exciting, vibrant city to work and live in, particularly at this time of the year when the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and Fringe is in full swing. However, the reputation of this fine city is consistently tarnished by a group of individuals whose actions - or lack of action - turn Edinburgh into something of a laughing stock. Step forward the City of Edinburgh Council.
What started out as long ago as 1999 as a forward-thinking proposal to reintroduce trams into the capital has turned into a fiasco. In fact, such a farce may well have scooped an award at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
The original plan was to build a tram line from the city's airport through the west end, to the Haymarket then along Princes Street and Leith Walk to Ocean Terminal and Newhaven pier. Following years of transport studies in Edinburgh, two bills were submitted to the Scottish Parliament to reintroduce a tram network to Edinburgh and both bills were passed in March 2006. We were told public transport in Edinburgh would be revolutionised and while there would be considerable upheaval as much of the city centre would be dug up to accommodate the installation of tramlines etc, it would be worth the inconvenience as by 2011 the trams would be up and running. Inevitably, as with the Scottish Parliament Building in Holyrood, the estimated cost of the trams project - initial costs for the scheme were £498 million, with £375 million funding from the Scottish Government and £45 million by Edinburgh council - was millions of pounds out with costs spiralling with each passing year.
In April 2009, Phase 1b of the tram construction project was cancelled due to financial problems. The Scottish Government said the project would continue but no more public money would be given. Later, it was announced that trams would no longer be going down Leith Walk and would instead terminate at St. Andrew Square in the city centre - much to the chagrin of shop and business owners in Leith who had endured months of roadworks and traffic diversions thus affecting business, ultimately for nothing.
Last week the City of Edinburgh Council, having given serious consideration to cancelling the project altogether, announced that the trams would now only run from the airport to the city's Haymarket - stopping short of Princes Street and St. Andrew Square. The cost is now being estimated at £715m. This despite the fact tramlines have been installed in Princes Street for two years now.
The Council's latest decision beggars belief. How many visitors to Edinburgh will take a tram from the airport and get off at the Haymarket - a good ten minute walk from Princes Street? Very few I would wager, particularly as there is already a very good bus service on that route which carries on to Princes Street and Waverley Bridge taking just 25 minutes from the airport. It is another ridiculous decision by the people who run Scotland's top city.
On Edinburgh's Calton Hill sits the partially completed National Monument, the building of which was started in 1826 and was meant to to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Napoleonic Wars. It was never completed, partly due to a lack of funds and was labelled 'Edinburgh's Disgrace' - a moniker that has stuck ever since.
Nearly two hundred years later there is another use for this term. Not so much for the ill-fated tram system the good citizens of Auld Reekie have been promised for more than a decade. It's more the case that Edinburgh's Disgrace of the 21st Century can be found in the council chambers....