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Manchester pleads for metro extension reprieve

TRANSPORT EXECUTIVES in Manchester held urgent talks with the Department for Transport last week in a desperate bid to save the city's Metrolink extension from transport secretary Alistair Darling's axe.

The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority has developed a new plan for the project and secured a meeting with Darling in September.

The Authority plans to restructure financing for the £820M public private partnership scheme by asking central government to spread contributions over several years.

Initially the government was to have made a single up-front block grant.

Two phases of the Metrolink have been built since the scheme was conceived in 1984.

These comprise 36.6km of track, linking the north, south and west of the city (NCE 12 February 1998).

The threatened third phase would link Rochdale and Ashton under Lyne, Stockport and Manchester airport into the city centre.

To reduce costs, the Authority will also lease trains from a rolling stock company, rather than expect privately financed operators to finance and run the trains. This will reduce risk to the concession company.

Both the consortia bidding for the project have been asked to resubmit their bids on the basis of the new funding structure before the meeting with Darling in September.

Management company Serco, which operates and maintains the existing system under a private finance deal, is bidding for phase three with French company SNC Lavalin. Also in the running is Greater Manchester Tramways Ltd, made up of Stagecoach, John Mowlem and Edmund Nuttall.

According to the DfT, approval was given for the scheme in July 2000 on the basis that it would require government investment of £282M. But by December 2002 this had increased to £520M.

This prompted the government withdraw its funding offer.

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