Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh tram inquiry announced

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Media captionEdinburgh's trams began operating last weekend, following years of disruption

Edinburgh's troubled tram project will be investigated by a judge-led inquiry, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced.

The Scottish capital's trams began running on Saturday, after six years of disruption and cost increases.

Mr Salmond cited "considerable public concern" over the £776m project, which he said had disrupted homes and businesses in Edinburgh.

The problems included a dispute between the city council and its contractor.

The first minister stopped short of announcing a full public inquiry, raising concerns over the timescale, and instead decided on a "non-statutory" option.

Speaking during first minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Salmond said: "I am sure that everyone in Edinburgh, and indeed all over Scotland, will be delighted to see that the Edinburgh trams are fully operational and carrying passengers.

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Image caption The trams run on an 8.7-mile route from the New Town to Edinburgh Airport

"We cannot, however, lose sight of the considerable public concern over the conduct of the project, the disruption it has caused to households and businesses in the city of Edinburgh.

"I therefore recommended to the Cabinet, and it has been decided, to establish a judge-led public inquiry into the Edinburgh trams project to establish why the project occurred significant overruns in terms of cost and timing, requiring in particular a considerable reduction in the original scope."

He added that the government had been assured by the City of Edinburgh Council that it would fully cooperate with the inquiry.

The first minister added: "There are lessons to be learned from the conduct of the Edinburgh trams project and I think the course of action we are proposing will be a substantial assistance in doing that."

Mr Salmond was responding to a question from Marco Biagi, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and an opponent of the city's trams, which run on an 8.7-mile route, from the New Town to Edinburgh Airport.

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Image caption Thousands of people travelled on the trams when they began running on Saturday

"All of us who opposed the trams project from the start as risky and over-engineered have been disappointed almost daily by being shown to be right," said Mr Biagi.

"Now that the trams are indeed rolling, if there is to be any faith from the public in future management or potential cost estimates for projects like this, we need to know for sure that these mistakes will never be repeated".

In the decade since the first money was allocated to the project, the price has doubled, the tram network has halved and it has taken twice as long to build as originally planned.

Four years ago, a bitter dispute between Transport Edinburgh Limited, the arms-length company responsible for delivering the project, and main contractor Bilfinger Berger brought the whole project to a halt for months.

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