Trams mess rolls on 01 | 09 | 2010

    DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY, genuinely think the Edinburgh trams will ever trundle through the city's streets? The horrendously ill-fated project — currently on track (which is more than the trams are) to exceed its budget of £545 million — fell deeper into the mire after the city's tram developer rejected the findings of a former high court judge brought in to settle a dispute that has seen progress on major sections of the route stall for more than a year.

    Adjudicator Lord Dervaird has ruled that attempts to force construction firm Bilfinger Berger to begin work where there is no agreement on costs have no basis in law and, to a degree understandably, the council-owned company overseeing Scotland’s biggest transport infrastructure project have received the news as a major blow.

    The wrangle is set to fester away further and deeper

    No obligation to start work

    Transport Initiatives Edinburgh — which masquerades under the abbreviated form of Tie — had argued that the refusal by Bilfinger to undertake track-laying where there was a change to the original programme, but no agreement on additional payments, was having the “biggest impact” on cost overruns and delays.

    In what is a major blow to the council's stance, the adjudicator ruled Bilfinger is under no obligation to start work where there is no agreed cost estimate. In essence, he simply turfed out Tie's claim.

    Now though, the wrangle is set to fester away further and deeper as Tie fights to save at least some face in the mess which has caused disruption to Edinburgh's streets for years. Having disputed the ruling by Lord Dervaird, chairman of the Panel of Professional Adjudicators in Scotland, Tie — according to private correspondence — is insisting, while negotiations over costs continue, that it still has the right to force the construction firm to start work.

    Tie's new stance almost beggars belief. Does it really think disputing the adjudicator's findings, simply because they don't meet their requirements, amounts to anything more than mocking the dispute resolution process which was set in motion last August in an effort to break the impasse with Bilfinger?

    Nightmare of substantial proportions

    “Tie have been spinning that they were winning the adjudications and that this would enable them to force the contractors back to work," Shirley-Anne Somerville, the SNP MSP for the Lothians, said. “This is yet another example of Tie losing an adjudication. We’re now months and months down the line and Tie are no closer to delivering on what they promised.”

    So where are we, with Scotland's biggest and most expensive transport carbuncle? There remains grave concern the £545m project will ever, realistically, see the light of day. Will the full 11.5-mile route from the airport to the city centre and beyond to Leith and Newhaven harbour ever be completed? The mess in Shandwick Place continues to be a nightmare for the residents.

    Bilfinger claim they may need thousands of utility pipes and cables under the street to be moved before track-laying commences; Tie, not surprisingly, has challenged the figure saying it believes fewer than 100 items need addressing. The impasse relating to the laying of the remaining on-street sections east of Haymarket station continues, with bids to restart the project continually failing since worked ground to a halt last summer.

    There is no denying the Edinburgh tram project is a nightmare of substantial proportions; but the reality is, it is no closer to ever being resolved, or completed.

    Jim McGill

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