A bit of a tram-a-lama ding dong…
I spent some time this morning making my first ever deputation to a full meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council. The Council will vote this evening on whether to scrap or continue with the troubled Edinburgh Tram project.
I was arguing in favour of continuation, alongside our colleagues at Transform Scotland, who made the factual case in favour of the trams based on transport and economic arguments. I spoke more on the environmental and social arguments.
Scotland has very ambitious and challenging targets to meet with regard to reducing its carbon emissions and tackling climate change. The de-carbonisation of Scotland’s transport networks will play a considerable part in our meeting these targets and projects like the Edinburgh trams have an important role to play in this.
We need to see more modal shift and sustainable travel, the movement of people from private cars to cleaner forms of mass transit and public transport. This needs to happen, not just because Edinburgh is failing to meet European air quality targets, or because traffic congestion is getting worse in the city, but because our oil is running out and the price of fuel is rising.
The people of Edinburgh will, in the coming years, be forced from their cars by high fuel prices, and will undoubtedly see bus fares rise for the same reason. If the City of Edinburgh Council fails to act now to prepare for that eventuality, by investing in the future of our city’s transport infrastructure, then they will be judged as having been short-sighted and unimaginative.
In the last few days, we’ve heard and seen a great deal in the media about a major Scottish transport project costing roughly £700 million, that’s way over-budget and way over-schedule. That project is the M74 northern extension – a five-mile, six-lane urban motorway in Glasgow, which was opened on Tuesday morning.
That project will increase car journeys in a city that is already close to gridlock, it will increase air pollution in a city that is already choking, it will increase carbon emissions at a time when we need to reduce them, and it will do little for the half of all households in Glasgow that have no access to a car.
Contrast that project with the Edinburgh trams, which is also costing roughly £700 million, and is also way over-budget and way over-schedule. That project will actually reduce car journeys and traffic congestion, it will improve on-street air quality and reduce pollution levels, it will reduce carbon emissions, and it will serve the poor people of Edinburgh every bit as much as
Scrapping the tram project at this stage would be a disaster, and will only make matters worse than they already are. Delaying the project for a referendum risks undoing the good work that has already been done, and adding additional cost and risk. Taking the trams only to Haymarket risks the project just becoming a glorified and expensive airport bus.
The first tram line must be delivered, and delivered to St. Andrew’s Square, so that it acts as a springboard for more tram lines and an increased network in the future.
This morning, I asked the Edinburgh Councillors to “be bold… be brave… be sensible” and urged them to help create the beginnings of a 21st Century transport network for our capital city. This seemed to cause a bit of a ding dong… and was certainly met with rudeness and aggression from some Councillors.
The future citizens of Edinburgh will look back at the decision these Councillors will make later today, and I hope they will have the chance to be thankful that the Councillors were willing to make a difficult, potentially unpopular decision in the short-term that will benefit Edinburgh, Scotland, and its citizens in the future.