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Alistair Darling launches Future Of Transport White Paper

As part of this transport review Mr Darling made clear the costs of proposed light rail schemes needed to be better controlled. He said

Light rail can be very effective in persuading people to use public transport. Since 2000 new lines have opened in Croydon, Tyne and Wear, Manchester and Nottingham.

Manchester’s metro has been extremely successful. But plans for the extension have been dogged by successive cost increases. The central Government capital contribution rose from £282 million cash in 2000 to £520m cash in 2002, on top of which required annual central government payments have also risen from £5m a year in 2000 to £17m a year today - worth roughly another £150m.

There's a similar pattern with the Leeds and South Hampshire tram proposals. In Leeds the Present Value of the public sector contribution was capped at £355m, but is now estimated at £500 million. And in South Hampshire, the original £170m Present Value is now £100m more.

And in each case there's no certainty that costs won't rise further. The NAO was right to raise concerns; looking back over the last 20 years it has cost more to provide light rail here than elsewhere in Europe.

No Government could accept these schemes as they are on the basis of these cost escalations. We cannot therefore approve them. We need instead to look urgently at how light rail could be made affordable, including the best approach for procurement. We will work with local authorities on the development of schemes, building on the recent NAO recommendations.

This last statement is likely to infuriate local politicians. Greater Manchester Transport chairman Councillor Roger Jones is reported as saying:

Alistair Darling has effectively killed off light rail in Britain if he won't approve Manchester, because ours is the best scheme. We were expecting Manchester to be approved, or at least half-approved, but instead it looks as though the £520 million is not coming our way. ... I think it is a step back of monumental proportions for Manchester and for public transport. ... I am outraged by the decision.

The Minister did also say:

... I can tell the House that we will make it more attractive for authorities to introduce bus franchising through quality contracts in specified circumstances and approved by the Secretary of State. For example, as part of a congestion charging scheme. Or where authorities are deciding a new balance between rail and bus. As part of this we will streamline the statutory procedure for quality contracts, reducing the minimum period to implement a scheme from 21 to 6 months.

And one advantage of our proposals to give local authorities the ability to take decisions about public transport in the round is it will reduce some of the revenue risk on light rail schemes.

It therefore remains to be seen what the final outcome of this review will be for the future of light rail in the UK

20 July 2004

The Government Press release can be found on the DfT website.*

Excerpts from the White Paper relating to light rail can be found here.

What Greater Manchester PTE have said: press release**

What Manchester Evening News have said: Manchester Online* article

Manchester Evening News campaign: Manchester Online* article

21 July 2004

* links updated November 2011, also dead links removed.
** TfGM web site no longer has GMPTE press releases, October 2012

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