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11.12.14

Key figures refuse to co-operate with Edinburgh tram inquiry, as council mulls expansion

Key figures involved in the Edinburgh Trams project have refused “point blank” to co-operate with the inquiry into what went so wrong.

Lord Hardie, speaking publicly for the first time in his role as head of the trams inquiry, said after initially contacting key figures on the project, some had “refused point blank” to co-operate, while others “just didn't answer letters”.

He told the BBC: “It became clear to me that if that persisted then the whole process could be frustrated and certainly take a period of time that was unacceptable to me.”

The inquiry was initially set up in a non-statutory capacity by then-first minister Alex Salmond in June, and did not have the power to compel witnesses to participate. However after Lord Hardie reported the lack of co-operation he had encountered last month, Salmond’s successor Nicola Sturgeon decided to convert it to a statutory inquiry.

The body set up to manage the tram project, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) Ltd, was closed down in 2011 as a result of its mismanagement of the project.

TIE, a non-profit organisation wholly owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, was disbanded following a long-running dispute with the tram project contractors Bilfinger Berger, which saw costs spiral and work on the project grind to a halt.

The trams project was originally to extend to three main lines, with the total cost estimated to be £375m, and two of the three lines expected to be running by the summer of 2009.

A link between Granton and Haymarket has since been shelved, as was the planned line to Leith.

The project also faced several threats of having its funding cut when the SNP came to power in 2007, however the then-minority administration was voted down by the other Scottish parties.

The tram project has so far cost £776m, with just one section now operating between Edinburgh Airport and St Andrews Square.

Work on the inquiry is well underway but it is not yet known when the first public hearings will be held. Lord Hardie said his inquiry team are currently procuring a system to assess documents and emails, which he says will identify any gaps in correspondence or email trails.

He added that he expects there to be strong public interest in the inquiry and urged members of the public to submit testimony.

He said: "There were consequences that I am aware of for householders, for shopkeepers, for developers not only along the route of the tram but along the diverted routes of traffic.

"I would put out a plea to them now to think about what they are going to say, to get together with like-minded people to present a joint submission to the inquiry at the appropriate time, which will be when we call for evidence.

"If lessons are learned, then the benefit of this inquiry will be that future public procurement contracts will be delivered on time, on budget and as promised."

Last week Edinburgh Council also announced plans to look again at extending the tram network to Leith. Councillors are being asked to commission a £400,000 report, examining the implications of extending the line.

Lesley Hinds, Edinburgh City Council's transport leader said: "We need to look forward, if you look at any capital city that's successful in Europe and throughout the world, we need to invest in our local transport and we need to encourage people to walk and to cycle.

"Therefore we are going to have an increased population and more visitors so we need to ensure we have investment in a public transport system and that means looking forward."

(Image: c. Hec Tate)

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