Last night (22 February) the first of the Council's "workshops" was launched under the chairmanship of Dr Ashley Lloyd. This was because legal advice from the city's solicitors decreed that no Councillors should take a leading role as this would debar them from taking part in any Council debate. There was anger expressed that the Council and Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (tie) should be able to effectively gag the elected representatives of the citizens. But while there was anger, this came as no surprise to many as the Council has a history of secrecy and what almost appears to be deception, on matters relating to the trams project.
A further example of this was evident when the Council officers present tried to insist that the press should be excluded from all meetings in the future. After a heated discussion when the Council were accused of wishing to avoid transparency, a motion was carried unanimously by the residents and the members of the West End Business Association - much to the disgust of the Council officers who indicated that they might have to withdraw from future meetings if the press attended. It was good to find that the motion to admit the press was supported by Councillors Mowat and Beckett who were 'observing' the meeting.
The meeting was skilfully steered through procedural points by Dr Lloyd. There was great interest in the accuracy of the recent Twitter statement made by Richard Jeffrey, the CEO of tie, that the tram might not get past Haymarket Station. Council officers eventually admitted that various scenarios were under consideration, but they insisted that they felt "positive" about the negotiations with the contractors' consortium due to start in early March.
Sceptical views were expressed by several residents who pointed out that the "Business Case" for the trams now simply failed to hold water, due to the demise of the anticipated developments at Newhaven and on the Leith waterfront. The Council seems to keep hoping that there will be more money from some source, although it was generally felt that the project was stalled and would not even look at completion for ten or fifteen years as money could not be found during the economic downturn.
Dr Lloyd stressed the pollution risk to the health of residents and again pointed out to the Council officers that the displaced traffic would result in very much worse pollution for 134,500 households - some 270,000 residents - in the city due to the traffic displaced along the route by the trams.
Council officials were keen to gloss over this, but several residents asked why the Council's own consultants, Mott Macdonald, should have warned them of this back in 2003, yet the Council chose to ignore this important fact. No satisfactory explanation was provided by the officials.
The Council was also accused of "wantonly destroying the World Heritage site of Edinburgh New Town " but the officials from the Council disagreed - unfortunately no one supported them.
Suggestions were made that general traffic might share Shandwick Place with the trams, causing a small time delay, however, this was glossed over. Doubtless it will be picked up again more vigorously in Workshop One which is to study the opening of Shandwick Place to all traffic. Should the tram actually stop at Haymarket, the meeting felt there could be no case for keeping the road closed - furthermore the West End Business community were suffering badly from the closure of the road and experiencing great difficulty in trading.
Workshop Two will examine "mitigating measures" that have been proposed should the trams run on Shandwick Place"; the third Workshop will examine the "Tram Business Case" and as this is a modified aim from the original proposal which was to scrap the tram entirely, it promises to be a lively group!
Dr Lloyd wound the meeting up after two hours of debate leaving the Council officials somewhat unhappy at feeling that they were no longer "in control" of the situation. It will be interesting to see if they reappear for the next Workshop meeting.