Tory councils gear up to defeat Livingstone's plan for trams

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone's £648m scheme to build a tramline through west London is in severe danger after elections in the capital hardened opposition to the project.

The Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) want the scheme in place to relieve congestion, particularly on the Uxbridge Road, which is reckoned to be the busiest bus corridor in western Europe.

However, all of the three councils along the tram route - Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing and Hillingdon - turned Conservative in the elections at the beginning of this month. The former two were Labour while Hillingdon had no overall control. In each borough the Tories campaigned on an anti-tram platform.

In Ealing, Labour had strongly supported the project. But last week the new Tory leader of the council, Jason Stacey, voiced his party's opposition to the West London Tram, saying: "People made their choice. On 18 May there will be a special council meeting to discuss its future. Transport for London needs our co-operation, but we are going to become aggressive opposers to the scheme."

TfL, which is controlled by the Mayor's office, will apply for a Transport & Works Act order this summer that would allow the tramline to be built. The Mayor is adamant that he will go ahead with the scheme despite the opposition of the three councils.

"Nothing has changed in terms of the need to improve public transport in west London. The last independent opinion poll on this issue, conducted by Mori, showed 48 per cent for the tram and 37 per cent against," said Mr Livingstone.

He also pointed to the Tories' policy change, signalled by the party's leader two weeks ago. "I hope David Cameron's announcement that the Conservatives will reconsider their attitude to rapid transit systems like trams indicates a new approach to projects like the West London Tram."

Ultimately, though, if Mr Livingstone wins over the three boroughs, he still needs to convince the new Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander.

TfL has yet to find the budget for the tram scheme and will need central government to come up with at least half of the money.

Mr Alexander's predecessor, Alistair Darling, killed off tram schemes last year in Hampshire, Leeds and Merseyside.

Merseytravel is still battling to have its £340m project reconsidered. It is expected to lobby Mr Alexander in the next few days.