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Tram schemes await make or break decision from Darling

TRAM SCHEMES in Leeds and Liverpool hung in the balance this week as their promoters struggled to convince the government of their financial viability.

Local transport chiefs in the two cities warned that the schemes would die unless transport secretary Alistair Darling made a decision on their future within the next six months.

'Trains have to be ordered by Bombardier by 4 October if they are to be ready for opening in June 2008, ' said a source close to Liverpool's £300M Merseytram scheme.

'If we don't have a decision from the government by then, the project will be cancelled.' Leeds' Supertram project could also fade away unless decisions are made on compulsory purchase powers for parts of the route within the next month.

Leeds passenger transport executive Metro warned that acquiring land for the project before planning permission expired would be impossible unless a decision was made by the end of this month.

It needs to buy 200 packages of land along the route by March next year, otherwise planning permission will lapse.

'The Supertram needs to start acquiring land in September otherwise the current scheme will be in danger of being cancelled by default, ' said Metro chairman Karam Hussain.

Merseyside passenger transport body Merseytravel must convince Darling that Liverpool can fi ll a £20M funding shortfall for the 18km scheme.

It has offered to cut the project's £30M contingency and underwrite cost overruns up to £20M instead.

It is hoped that this measure, plus extra package worth £110M put together by Merseytravel, will fill the gap between a promised £170M contribution from central government and the £300M project cost.

Merseytravel said this week that it would underwrite the cost overruns after Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral councils failed to agree on where the £20M extra money would come from.

Transport officials in Leeds said that they have now done all they can to revive their £400M, 21km project after the government announced last year that it would not fund it due to escalating costs (NCE 22 July 2004).

Bernadette Redfern

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