Edinburgh trams: Council backs St Andrew Square option
Councillors in Edinburgh have voted to run the trams into the city centre, ending the route at St Andrew Square.
At a special meeting, they threw out the decision made just a week ago to terminate the line at Haymarket.
The U-turn comes after the Scottish government said it would withhold £72m of funding for the £1bn project.
SNP members backed their Lib Dem coalition partners and Labour members also decided at the last minute to support the St Andrew Square option.
Last week, Labour and Conservative councillors joined forces to reject plans to borrow an extra £231m to run the line into the city centre.
Instead, a Labour amendment to stop the line at Haymarket, west of the city centre, was passed.
The Scottish government, which had originally agreed to pay £500m towards the project, said it would not make a final payment of £72m because stopping the route at Haymarket was a "significant departure from the original concept".
The council reacted to this move by convening another debate.
In this latest vote 28 councillors backed the option of running the route down Princes Street and ending it at St Andrew Square, more than a mile (2km) further east than Haymarket.
Fifteen councillors voted against.
Councillors had until 17:00 to hammer out a deal, otherwise contractor Bilfinger Berger could find them in breach and terminate the contract.
The Tories again lodged an amendment to tear up the tram contract and re-tender it, despite an estimated £160m cancellation cost, but their motion was defeated in the second round.
Workers from Lothian Buses, which is owned by Edinburgh City Council, later stormed out of the council debate, when it became clear that the St Andrew Square option was likely to go ahead.
In a statement released after the debate, Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty, who represents bus workers, said: "This is a total catastrophe for Lothian Buses, its workforce and the public.
"This world-class public service will now be saddled with the debt of the trams fiasco, leaving it to the mercy of the market.
"This shambolic council have unforgivably ignored the public and workers affected, burdening the city with eye-watering levels of debt that will cast a dark shadow over its public services."
The original budget for taking the line from Edinburgh airport through the city centre to Newhaven in the north of the city was £545m.
But the cost of the tram project grew steadily, with estimates for partial completion to St Andrew Square reaching more than £830m after delays and a dispute between contractors Bilfinger Berger and tram company Tie.
The latest council decision authorises chief executive Sue Bruce to enter a settlement agreement with the contractor on "an unconditional basis as to funding".
This means the council expects the additional funding needed, to take the line to St Andrew Square, to remain within the £231m previously set out. But costs could still rise further.
Ms Bruce said: "What we now have to do is go away and first of all speak to the contractor to confirm that funding sources have been identified, and to seek to extend the time from 5pm tonight for another week or so to try to get the contract details nailed down."
Edinburgh City Council leader Jenny Dawe said "We have asked the chief executive to continue with her team to negotiate downwards, and I'm confident that they have the right people who will now be embarking and ensuring that the figures that we have been given are as accurate as possible, and where at all possible, efforts will be made to pare down."
The Lib Dem councillor said the agreement could see trams running to the city centre by 2014.
She added: "The best estimate I could give for trams running on the test track would be possibly early next year."
The council leader said the whole process would have to be scrutinised at a public inquiry.
Work on the tram lines scheduled to begin on Princes Street on Monday will be further delayed while the contract is negotiated.
SNP group leader and deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council, Steve Cardownie, said his party had acted to stop the further humiliation for Edinburgh of stopping trams at Haymarket and to protect services from the £161m cost of the contract collapsing.
He added: "The SNP group and the council today had no option but to ensure the continuation of the tram to St Andrew Square.
"The SNP could not run the risk that the unholy alliance of Labour and Tory councillors which got Edinburgh into this tram mess in the first place would bring further embarrassment and do more damage to the city with their disastrous plan to stop the service at Haymarket.
"This tram project could and should have been cancelled in 2007 before this contract was signed."
Leader of the council's Labour group Councillor Andrew Burns said "the utter chaos" surrounding the political management of the trams had been "laid bare".
He added: "There are no winners today. It is another bleak day in a saga that lurches between chaos and farce.
"Now the SNP support the tram project again we need to get the expert advisers from Transport Scotland back on board the management, and I am urging the council to agree to that.
"It was a serious mistake for First Minister Alex Salmond to take them off in the first place."
The council's Conservative group leader Councillor Jeremy Balfour said the Tories "were the only party that did what the majority of people in Edinburgh wanted", by voting to scrap the existing contract.
He said: "I'm very disappointed in today's decision. We have written a blank cheque so that people can now go to St Andrew Square.
"But we don't know how much it's going to cost and we don't know when it's going to be delivered."