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£1.7bn fund for city transport links

midlands tram

The government has announced a £1.7bn fund to improve transport links in English cities and “drive forward” the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

The “Transforming Cities Fund”, which includes £250M for better transport in the West Midlands, is part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

The cash set aside for the Midlands will be used to expand the metro scheme, which is set to triple in size over the next 10 years as part of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) long-term transport plan. The tram network was expanded into Birmingham city centre last year for the first time in five decades.

Future network extensions will be built by the Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) formed of WMCA, Colas Rail and a consortium of design experts from Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann. The investment will fund the 11km extension from Wednesbury to Brierly Hill which will open by 2023, the MMA confirmed.

West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street said: “The extension of the Midland Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill has been a long time coming.

“This announcement means Dudley and Brierley Hill will be connected to the rail network for the first time since the 1960s.”

He added: “The scheme is shovel-ready, meaning we can crack on with delivering this vital piece of infrastructure for the people of Dudley and Sandwell.”

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “We have already seen the impact of better integrated transport links for both passengers and the local economy in cities like Nottingham and Manchester.

“This new fund will enable more English cities to reap these benefits, helping to deliver the opportunities and ambition of the Industrial Strategy across the country, as well as driving forward the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.”

Prime minister Theresa May and chancellor Phillip Hammond visited the West Midlands to make the funding announcement on Monday. The government also announced increased research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

The Industrial Strategy White Paper will be launched on Monday and will outline the four “grand challenges that will shape our future”, which are artificial intelligence and the data economy, clean growth, healthy ageing and the future of mobility.

May said: “Our Industrial Strategy will propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future, seizing the big opportunities of our time – from Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to clean energy and self-driving vehicles.”

Driverless cars without a safety attendant on board could be on the roads by 2021, Hammond told the BBC over the weekend. He is expected to announce regulation changes in Wednesday’s budget to allow developers to apply to test driverless vehicles on the road.

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