Councillors back Edinburgh tram extension ahead of this month’s pivotal vote

An extension of Edinburgh’s tram service has moved a step closer after an Edinburgh Council committee backed plans that would see the line move out towards the north of the city.

The support of the council's transport and environment committee comes ahead of a scheduled full council meeting on 14 March where councillors will be asked to give the stamp of approval.

If approved, the extension to Newhaven would be funded through a £20m dividend from Lothian Buses and by borrowing paid back by future ticket sales – meaning no money is being taken away from public services.

Initially estimated as costing £165m, the final business case which has been scrutinised by councillors identifies a jump to £207m. If given the green light, the works are expected to be completed by 2022 and operational in the first quarter of 2023.

It’s proven a tricky time for extension after the original scheme came in over budget and double what was first anticipated. The council’s leader Adam McVey has previously attempted to reassure residents and taxpayers that lessons have been learnt and mistakes won’t be repeated.

The support for extending the line has been backed up by a rise in passenger numbers with statistics showing 7.3 million travelling on the trams in 2018. Construction to Newhaven would see the line lengthen by 2.8 miles from the city centre.

Commenting after the latest vote, the committee convener Lesley Macinnes said time was of the essence and that the project is “one of the most important things” for Scotland’s capital.

She added: “It’s not purely about transport, it’s about sustainable economic growth - building resilience into our public transport infrastructure, unlocking swathes of brownfield development opportunities to let communities in the north of the city achieve their potential and boosting employment and quality of life by linking one of Scotland’s most densely populated areas safely, securely and affordably with key hubs for jobs, leisure and travel.”

But councillors have supported the extension despite concerns arising around the budget and disruption to areas of the city through construction.

Conservative transport spokesperson, Nick Cook, has said he could foresee "significant operational disruption" leading to "higher fares and possible job losses" as a result.

"A decision on the tram is a choice. The money could be spent on other priorities. This is not a case of tram or nothing - to claim so is simply false,” he added.

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