Axed tram line is back on track

A TRAM line which was axed following Edinburgh's congestion charge vote is back on the agenda as part of plans to improve transport links in the south of the city, it has emerged.

Tram line 3, which would connect Princes Street with Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the city's "BioQuarter", was shelved following the "no" vote in 2005's referendum.

But the route, which was initially priced at 198 million, is now set to be the subject of a new economic impact study into improving public transport in the south-east of the Capital.

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• Should the council and tram bosses go ahead with Line 3 to the south of the Capital? Click here to vote

Development agency Scottish Enterprise, which is a partner in the BioQuarter project around the ERI, has already offered to contribute 50,000 towards the cost of a study.

• Click here to see the tram route.

A further 1.3m has been earmarked in developers' contributions for the tram line – payable by 2020 – should the project be taken forward.

Council chiefs hope the importance of attracting multinational firms to Little France will also allow any proposed transport scheme to attract funding from the Scottish Government.

However, it is unlikely that any funding arrangements will be in place ahead of 2012, when the city's first tram line is expected to be up and running.

Business leaders today stressed the importance of improving connections between the city centre and the BioQuarter, but critics said the council should concentrate on delivering the Capital's first tram line.

Lothians SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said the council was unlikely to secure any more funding from the Scottish Government.

She said: "The most immediate priority is to make sure that the tram line currently being built is finished.

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"With regard to receiving any more money, the government made it clear the council will receive 500m and not a penny more.

"Given the state of the financial circumstances we all face, it will be a very difficult sell for the council to receive any more money for a project which is already unpopular in the city.

"It's ironic that the business case for line 3 was much more sound than the one for the line currently being built."

Tram line 3, which transport bosses had planned to fund through the congestion charge, was dropped in 2005 and does not have the parliamentary approval that line 1b – which was axed earlier this year – has already secured.

However, the route, which would connect Princes Street, Cameron Toll, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Fort Kinnaird, has already secured planning approval.

City leaders are understood to be concerned at a lack of public transport options in the south-east of the city, possibly putting off major firms from locating at the BioQuarter.

While residential development in the north of the city has stalled, depriving line 1b of its business case, the council's economic development unit is understood to believe there remain good arguments for tram line 3.

Brendan Dick, outgoing chairman of the Edinburgh Business Assembly and director of BT Scotland, said: "The BioQuarter represents a massive opportunity for Edinburgh, and Scotland beyond, to be recognised as a worldwide centre of excellence for scientific research. We have to play our part in ensuring the area has the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that this happens.

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"While the area already benefits from good transport links into the city centre, I am sure that improvements will be needed to cope with the growth and we need to think now both on a local and national level as to how we fund this going forward."

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the city's transport convener, added: "The south-east of the city is a key area of future growth and it makes sense to see how we can maximise the area's potential.

"Providing good, fast, reliable public transport links is an integral part of this and we intend to work with partners on establishing the benefits that these links will bring to the area and ultimately the whole city."