Leeds Supertram backers warn delays will derail project

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The Independent Online

The backers behind plans to build a £355m tramway through Leeds city centre believe that Government delays in approving funding could derail the entire project.

The backers behind plans to build a £355m tramway through Leeds city centre believe that Government delays in approving funding could derail the entire project.

The troubled Leeds Supertram public-private partnership has been on the drawing board for 12 years and project funding was rejected by the Department for Transport (DfT) last summer.

The original scheme would have cost over £500m. Leeds City Council and Metro, the West Yorkshire transport executive, have now submitted a slimmed-down £355m plan for the 21km tramway. They want 75 per cent of the costs to be paid by the DfT, but are awaiting approval from the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling.

According to a letter obtained by The Independent on Sunday, Metro is concerned that unless approval is given shortly it will be unable to buy the land for the tramway.

Written by Kieran Preston, Metro's director-general, and sent to Andrew Carter, the leader of Leeds City Council, the letter says: "There are over 100 parcels of land yet to acquire and the purchase was put on ice when funding was revoked by Alistair Darling. My serious concern is that if we don't get the go-ahead soon, we will lose the land acquisition powers. This will mean millions of abortive expenditure and a delay of at least three years before we get back ... to being able to make a viable bid."

The pair will meet Tony McNulty, a Transport minister, in the next fortnight to press the case.

Two consortiums are vying to design, build and operate the Leeds Supertram. Momentis is backed by FirstGroup, Bombardier and Bouygues while Airelink is backed by Arriva, Siemens and Amec.

A spokeswoman for the DfT said: "The department has held detailed discussions with Leeds City Council and is aware of the timetable implications. However, it is vital the revised proposal is carefully considered to make sure it offers value for money and is affordable."

David Rowlands, the Permanent Secretary at the DfT, reportedly said earlier this year that the Leeds Supertram had a 70 per cent chance of going ahead. However, Mr Darling is said to harbour concerns about the financial viability of some light rail and tram schemes.

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