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"Trams to Newhaven" by Hannah Ross and Rob Leech: Wednesday 19 May 2021

An Edinburth Tram in Princes Street.d

An Edinburth Tram in Princes Street.

© John G. Fender 2021

The Scottish capital retains the distinction of possessing the UK's only light rail network to have been authorised in the present century, and when Edinburgh Trams opened a truncated 12-km 14-stop route mired in cost overruns and programme slippage from the city's Airport through the city centre to York Place in May 2014, it seemed as though the well-publicised struggles of the previous years had put the very future of light rail expansion at risk.

A public inquiry into what had gone wrong set up by Lord Hardie has yet to report, but there was unfinished business since the line still did not go to the areas where it might bring the greatest economic and social benefits. Communities that had borne the brunt of disruption during preparatory works still did not have a tram to show for their suffering, yet the fleet-size of 27 vehicles had been ordered with a larger network in mind. So work has proceeded on a 4.6 km route with 8 stops down Leith Walk and through the Port of Leith, past the Ocean Terminal shopping centre to terminate at the one-time fishing village of Newhaven to complete the original tram line 1.

Lessons aplenty were there to be learned, and without prejudice to Lord Hardie's eventual findings these are reflected throughout the structure of the Trams to Newhaven project. Previously an arm's length company had sat between the contractors and the Council, isolating the politicians from the risks for which they were paying. Bespoke contractual arrangements had exacerbated the players' unfamiliarity with building a tram. Diversion of utilities had proceeded on fragmented sites well in advance of tramway construction, exposing neighbourhoods to a double dose of disruption. Political divisions had left the project lacking the necessary stakeholder support.

With these experiences still fresh in people's memories, it was evident that there must be strong leadership from the top of the Council, strong political support across the parties and regular reporting on risks, issues and costs, clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, clear management information and professional project management. Governance needed to be consistent, remits written down, roles identified, escalation routes clear and communicated effectively. The need for knowledge continuity had to be considered from the outset, a one-team approach embraced, and the importance of cross-project intelligence recognised so that outcomes could be checked and lessons learned as the project went along. Best practice had to be taken onboard from other cities.

Plans for stakeholder engagement were built largely around the Scottish Government's National Standards for Community Engagement, identifying and involving the people, organisations and communities affected so as to ensure support, involvement, awareness and participation. Lessons of engagement were to accept recurring themes such as noise, vibration, impact on parking and loading, and to plan well. Triage and early resolution of key issues provided greater cost and time certainty and risk allocation under contracts. An understanding and recording of commitments from the outset prompted good engagement, bringing stakeholders on the journey and helping socialise the things that needed done. Making clear from the outset that there would be a staged approach allowed for the essential inclusion of feedback loops, and an early rationale for project boundaries helped recognition that stakeholders extended beyond the geographical boundaries. Consultation never ended, and was everyone's responsibility, while support for local businesses needed to go beyond simple compensation, understanding their requirements early on and recognising the bigger picture in which the project was operating.

An Edinburth Tram in Princes Street.d

An Edinburth Tram in Princes Street.

© John G. Fender 2021

The contract structure adopted a delivery model used successfully on the first phase after the mediation that had rescued it. Early contractor involvement brought all key participants together for a period of six months prior to any physical works being carried out. So as to avoid double-dig and encourage reliance on big sites with their own logistics hubs, a swept-path industry standard contract under NEC Option E provided for excavation and preparation of the tram clearance zone, utility diversions, resolution of all archaeology, installation of new manholes for Scottish Water and clearance for overhead line structures. The infrastructure and systems standard contract under NEC Option C provided for design and construction of all tram works, testing and commissioning and bringing into operational service.

Early contractor involvement sought to create a strong working relationship, obtaining additional cost certainty and defining scope of work, obtaining necessary approvals and finalising the road layout while ensuring a robust programme, finalising the construction delivery strategy, communicating plans to stakeholders and business, formally establishing groups such as those with utilities, developing supplementary projects while all the time staying within the £207M affordability envelope. Early contractor involvement was found to assist greatly in managing complex stakeholder requirements, allowing better management of contractual interfaces, improving cost and programme certainty, driving innovation, developing a more comprehensive understanding of project risk, assisting with resource mobilisation and with safety, health, environment and quality planning, instilling a collaborative ethos and enhancing knowledge exchange.

A particular challenge has been presented by archaeology, with the route encountering significant locations at York Place, Baxter's Place air raid shelter, South Leith Parish Church, Leith Fortifications and the Ocean Terminal dock wall. Over 360 bodies have been recovered where the route exposed the side of the Church's cemetery, and the University of Dundee has undertaken facial reconstructions so that present-day residents may see what their ancestors looked like. Three cannonballs, a medieval road, a whale-bone and lots of clay pipes have been among the other discoveries which have proved popular with the public through regular YouTube updates.

Construction was halted for a time during lockdown,but is now on course for completion in the spring of 2023. Trams to Newhaven will be very much more than just about transport since in complying with the Council's strategic objectives it will create employment opportunities and support sustainable high-density carless housing development. Bringing necessary quality and capacity to link Leith with employment centres in west Edinburgh, it will build on the strong city tradition of bus usage while offering opportunities for promoting active travel. In the policy context it is supported by the Scottish Government's latest strategic transport projects review and by the Council's vision for the city including the City Mobility Plan which endorses a further tram line running from Granton to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and beyond. Reduction in carbon emissions, an improved built and natural environment, enhanced health, well-being and safety will all be promoted by Trams to Newhaven, which will also spread tourist spend by encouraging new destinations.

Report by John Yellowlees and photographs by John G. Fender.

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